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Spagnola: Cowboys Stifle The Noise For Now


ARLINGTON, Texas – Well, well.

Get my drift?

This is why you don't call for the head coach's head on a platter after just three games.

This is why you don't replace the offensive coordinator after three games.

This is why you don't give up on your third-year quarterback who had a 22-10 record in his first two years in the NFL after just three games.

And to use Jason Garrett's term, this is why with a team as young as the Dallas Cowboys, undergoing drastic offensive personnel change at receiver, tight end and the offensive line, you don't start taking global views after going 1-2 in the first three games of the 2018 season.

This, right here:

Cowboys 26, Lions 24.

Cowboys a season-high 414 yards of total offense.

Dak Prescott a season-high 255 yards passing and two touchdowns.

Dak a season-high 118.6 QB rating.

Ezekiel Elliott a season-high 152 yards rushing, third most in his 2¼-season NFL career.

Zeke a season-high 88 yards receiving and one touchdown.

Zeke a career-high 240 yards from scrimmage, no matter he banged up his right knee, which didn't stop him from catching that 34-yard pass to set up the winning field goal, or from afterwards jogging with a noticeable limp to where his mom was standing in the first-row of the west end zone stands to give her a kiss, and still show up for his postgame television interview when the last guy out of the locker room here Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Brett Maher going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts from 32, 43, 22 and the game-winner with time expiring from 38.

DeMarcus Lawrence putting up a NFC Defensive Player of the Week stat line of eight tackles, three sacks, three tackles for losses and three QB hits.

An anemic Cowboys offense scoring on six of eight full possessions.

And no matter the Cowboys' erstwhile third-ranked defense allowed Detroit's Matthew Stafford to pass for 307 yards and two touchdowns, including with 2:17 left to play a go-ahead 38-yarder to Golden Tate, which should never happen when you're in a Cover 3 defense, the Cowboys won for only the second time when missing Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee in all or parts the past 12 times.


Strange bird, this NFL, rendering early-season conclusions moot.

I mean, one week New England loses to the 0-2 Detroit Lions and the next the Pats hand the 3-0 Miami Dolphins their first loss, 38-7.

Lose your first three games of the season, Texans, then come back the next week to beat the Colts, 37-34, in overtime.

Think all is right in the world when your quarterback, Carson Wentz, returns to win his first start of the season one week, and then lose the next, in overtime, Eagles.

And get this: The previously much-maligned Mitchell Trubisky throws six touchdown passes Sunday against Tampa Bay, one short of the Chicago Bears' all-time record of seven, set by none other than Sid Luckman in 1943.

Let all that sink in.

And having said all this, no one is planning a parade downtown Dallas because the Cowboys have pulled even at 2-2 after the first quarter of the season. While they were significantly better on offense on this day, by no means were they without flaws, and just maybe a Detroit team that has given up an average of 28.5 points on its way to a 1-3 record might have had something to do with the Cowboys' offensive step in the right direction.

Or as a much-relieved Garrett said afterwards, "Trust me, it was not a work of art.

"But they go about things the right way. They compete the right way."

That the Cowboys did. They fell behind 7-3 in the first quarter. They fell behind 10-6 in the second quarter. And they fell behind 24-23 with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter.

Yet, they drove 55 yards in 2 minutes, 15 seconds, mostly thanks to a 34-yard dime Dak dropped to Zeke facing second-and-10 at their own 41 with 1:23 to play, that moved the ball within Maher's striking distance at the Detroit 25.

"It was an inside fade," Zeke said of the play when the Cowboys went empty with three receivers, tight end Blake Jarwin and Zeke out in the right slot. "They had split me out a couple times and we saw the linebacker was manning up on me.

"I saw that. Coach (Scott) Linehan saw that same thing."

And unlike in losses to Carolina and Seattle last Sunday, the Cowboys executed. And unlike in the 24-13 loss to Seattle last week, Zeke didn't drop the ball as he did that one time at CenturyLink when uncovered in the flat, or step out of bounds before he caught the ball as he did to nullify that touchdown pass to him against the Seahawks.

Big difference, no?

"I told the guys (before the game) this game will define the season," said Zeke, who, without Lee dressed for the game, brought the team up after pre-game warmups, oozing with emotion. "Either we walk out 1-3 or we're going to be 2-2."

So, the Cowboys are 2-2, tied with the 2-2 Eagles and a half-game behind the idle 2-1 Redskins, but ahead of the 1-3 Giants they've already beaten.

And to get there, they didn't really do anything exotic in this game. They didn't come in with any of those "wrinkles" everyone was talking about, or as Dak said, "Sometimes I just tell y'all things, but I don't necessarily think we had new wrinkles. We just executed a lot better."

Exactly. They didn't turn the ball over three times. They didn't have two passes clang off their receivers' hands into interceptions. Instead of losing fumbles, they recovered their two fumbles. Instead of letting Dak get sacked 11 times in those two losses and hit another 20 times, he was officially sacked three times – though on one he ran out of bounds for a one-yard loss – and was hit just four times in the game.

They only committed two penalties, and at least converted their third downs 42 percent of the time instead of the 23.5 percent over the first three games, and even converted a fourth-down opportunity.

Now Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was taken to task this past week when he talked about the talent he believed his team possessed on offense, even if they came into this game with the NFL's 30-ranked offense and 31-ranked passing offense. But at least in this game we saw some of 'dat Dak we've previously seen. We saw receivers make contested catches, Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley, and saw rookie Michael Gallup show he could get deep on a nice 37-yard catch.

Even saw Geoff Swaim catch his first career touchdown pass, by the way, matching the number of touchdown catches totaled last year by a Cowboys tight end not named Jason Witten, that being James Hanna's one.

"Sure, we have some talent," Jones said after sweating this one out. "I think we have talent in many different areas. We all know the three times we got down there and kicked field goals, and I think you see that haunting us and coming back for not getting touchdowns. Still, this is the way to win games.

"This is football."

Yep, this is the NFL, where three-game conclusions are foolish.