Spagnola: Cowboys Go About Their Business Shutting Down All That Noise

ARLINGTON, Texas –Lose three consecutive games after winning three straight and scoring at least 28 points in six consecutive games.

         Get beat by a combined score of 92-22.

         Fail to score at least 10 points in three consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.

         Flounder in three consecutive second halves.

         Let your quarterback get sacked 14 times over those three games.

         Get yourself just one sack in those three games.

         Then it's:

The coach has to go.

         The coordinators, too.

         Dez is done.

         Witten is old.

         Dak ain't what everyone thought he was.

         The beat-up offensive line no longer is the best in the NFL.

         Can't draft. Can't adjust. Can't hit gold in free agency.

         Worst of all, the Q-word started floating around. As in quit.

         You name it, we heard it. For 18 straight days. This

noise encompassing the Dallas Cowboys belly-flopping from 5-3 to 5-6 deafening.

         Well, maybe The Star comes equipped with noise-cancelling headphones.

         Because you know what, Cowboys 38, the skinned Washingtonians 14 did just that. Screamed in response similar to what Ezekiel Elliott flippantly said in response earlier this season when someone tried suggesting to him he had lost a step, that he was not as fast, maybe overweight:

         Shut Up!

         Now, I get it. This is only one game. The Cowboys are just 6-6. The victory basically the first of logically what will need to be five straight if they have any hopes of becoming a playoff team in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-99. They got a long way to go. But the hardest part of a journey is the first step.

         Consider that step taken.

         "Yeah, we really live inside our building," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett began after Thursday night's somewhat revival victory here at AT&T Stadium. "We don't spend a lot of time listening to the noise inside or outside of our building – good, bad or indifferent. We come back to work, and you know, our guys got back to work on Thanksgiving Sunday.

         "Everybody else was enjoying breakfast on Sunday morning after Thanksgiving. We had a Wednesday practice."

         And by then the noise was burying the Cowboys. Fan frustration had boiled over. The NFL threw up a red flag, already flexing them out of the Dec. 10 game at the Giants from 3:25 p.m. (CT) to noon, suggesting they, and for sure the 2-9 New Yorkers, were not fit for primetime.

Hey, you, too, shut up!

What the Cowboys did on Thursday night is what all those legal folks couldn't do for Zeke: Granted themselves a stay on the season.

There is so much more to still play for with four games remaining.

"We had to come out and get this win for sure to keep our season alive, and that was the main thing," said current NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, his two sacks in the game upping his total to 13.5, the most by a Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 in 2011.

So what in the world happened, the Cowboys going from what increasingly had become dead team walking to breathing life back into what seemed to have been a dying season?

  Start with the offensive line. That group was the healthiest it's been since the Cowboys notched their fifth win back on Nov. 5 over Kansas City. Tyron Smith was back. Zack Martin was back. La'el Collins gutted out a game after not practicing all week because of back issues. And it showed.

After being sacked 14 times during the three-game losing streak, Dak Prescott was sacked only once by the Redskins (5-7). He was hit only five other times. That's acceptable.

Then there was the running game, Alfred Morris looking more like the running back who previously terrorized the Cowboys when with the Redskins. He didn't suddenly remember how to run the ball. He had somewhere to run, gaining 127 yards, his first 100-yard game since the 2015 season finale with the Redskins (100). In fact, that was his most single-game yards rushing in the past 65 games.

The big guys were mauling up front. Maybe the return of former starting right tackle Doug Free, having retired this offseason, inspired his young pups with his presence. Whatever, the Cowboys ran for two touchdowns, something they had not done since Kansas City, Zeke's last game before the start of his six-game suspension (two remaining).

Throw the defensive front in this revitalization game, too. Four sacks, three more than those guys had in the previous three games. Why, the Cowboys had given up 428 yards rushing during the three-game losing streak. The 'Skins waddled along for just 56.

Then there were the four takeaways, three more in one game than they had during the three-game losing streak. The Cowboys were hittin' and that seemed to become contagious.

Even special teams got into the act, forcing one turnover, and rookie Ryan Switzer demonstrating why the Cowboys used a fourth-round pick on the North Carolina receiver/return specialist. He returned a punt 83 yards for his first NFL touchdown and first return for a touchdown since the 10th game of his junior season with the Tar Heels.

"So complete team effort," Garrett was proud to say. "Guys battled all week long, fought throughout this ballgame, played for 60 minutes and played the right way."

And while 6-6 is nothing much to write home about, think about the youthful exuberance in the game and their contributions for those with no more than three years of experience: Dak (2), La'el Collins (3), Rod Smith (2), Switzer (R), Taco Charlton (R), Chidobe Awuzie (R), Jourdan Lewis (R), Xavier Woods (R), Kavon Frazier (2), Maliek Collins (2), Jaylon Smith (1), David Irving (3), Byron Jones (3), Anthony Brown (2), Damien Wilson (3), Lewis Neal (R), Richard Ash (1) and Noah Brown (R). Oh, and had Zeke been there, then add another (2).

These are not just some Joes from the neighborhood. If Zeke had been there, 10 of those guys were starters against Washington.

Let some of that sink in.

So here is where the Cowboys are with four games remaining: Zeke must miss the next two games. There is a real good chance Sean Lee returns for the Dec. 10 game against the Giants. Now, they might be 4.5 game behind the Eagles in the NFC East, but when removing the four division leaders from the equation, there are then four non-first place teams with better records than the Cowboys vying for the two wild-card playoff spots: Carolina 8-3, Seattle 7-4, Atlanta 7-4 and Detroit 6-5.

And for a quick reference of this weekend's games, Philly is at Seattle, Carolina is at New Orleans, Detroit is at Baltimore and Minnesota is at Atlanta. Someone has to lose.

We can bother ourselves with that kind of stuff, but as for the Cowboys, they must worry only about themselves.

As for all the rest, all that noise out there, even from those who might have said after 38-14, Well, the Cowboys finally found a team bad enough they could beat – hey, I heard that heading down the elevator after the game – the Cowboys' performance, at least for this Thursday night, had two words for all that:

Shut Up!

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