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Spagnola: From bums to next week's champions


FRISCO, Texas – Week … to week … to week.

And from AT&T Stadium on this Sunday, with 93,719 witnessing, along with half the country's TV audience tuned in, we have exhibits A, B and C to prove this very valuable point about hastily jumping to conclusions in this National Football League 18-week reality series.

Remember the handwringing and accusations of frauds after the prior Sunday's 28-16 loss to the previously winless Arizona Cardinals? Seemingly an anomaly after that 2-0 start while beating down their two New York opponents by a total of 70-10?

Well, that was so last week.

This week we present you this:

Cowboys 38, Patriots not even this close 3.

For real. So this Sunday, the Cowboys administered the worst loss in the career of Patriots future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Belichick, losing by 35 points, four worse than the previous worse 31-pointer in the 2003 season opener to the Bills 20 years ago.

"This is a week-by-week basis," Dak Prescott said for emphasis.

Sure shootin', since this time last Sunday there were those who didn't think the Cowboys would win another game over their next three, the bums they were leaving Glendale, Ariz.

Well, uh-uh, they start preparation for their Sunday night showdown with the 4-0 San Francisco 49ers now at 3-1. Alone in second place in the NFC East, just one game behind the 4-0 Philadelphia Eagles who had to go into overtime – at home – to defeat the Washingtons 34-31, the Cowboys likely rising up those seesawing "power rankings" with this victory, along with their three-win margin of victory total to 108 and 13.

Let's recount.

The inability to stop the run reared its ugly head last Sunday, the Cardinals running for 222 yards, the third time in two seasons giving up more than 200 yards rushing in a game.

This week, la-de-dah, and this with Ezekiel Elliott coming home, the Patriots finishing with all of 53 yards rushing, Zeke just 16 in six carries with New England averaging only 2.3 yards a carry.

Last week, after seven takeaways in the first two games to tie for the league lead, would they ever get another after finishing with nada for the first time in nine games and only the second time in 16.

Forget about it. The Cowboys stole the ball three times from the Patriots, two DaRon Bland interceptions – one returned 54 yards for a touchdown – and another TD from linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, returning a fumble recovery forced by Dante Fowler's strip-sack 11 yards for his first touchdown since high school. That's now 10 takeaways this season.

And get this, these two upping the total of defensive returns for a touchdown to 12 since defensive coordinator Dan Quinn arrived in 2021.

We continue.

Heard all these questions about the Cowboys needing to trade for a cornerback to replace Trevon Diggs, out for the season with a torn ACL. Please meet Mr. Bland, already with three interceptions in just four games this season – watch out, Everson Walls, the second-year player is on pace to become the first corner in NFL history with more than your 11 interceptions in 1981 – and now has eight picks in the first 20 games of his NFL career. And this with only 10 starts, Sunday's his second of the season in place of Diggs at left cornerback.

There has been this persistent worry that no Cowboys receiver had yet caught a touchdown pass. Well, 13:30 into Sunday's game, CeeDee Lamb crushed that worry, Dak hitting his leading receiver for a 20-yard TD pass, and for some reason the Patriots singling up Lamb with a backup corner when the Cowboys lined up in a 13-formation (one running back, three tight ends, one receiver), leaving Myles Brandt, who was replacing injured rookie Christian Gonzales, out on an island by his lonesome.

Oh, and while that doesn't officially qualify for their first red-zone touchdown, technically must be "inside" the 20-yard line, good in my books. And just for good measure, there was rookie fullback Hunter Luepke lining up in a one-back set knifing his way past Terence Steele's sealing block for a three-yard score. That's a start.

Hey, one week penalty-prone with 13, this week but five.

And for those wondering if rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey would ever miss a field goal attempt in his career, having made 10 straight over the first three games? Well, not yet since he connected on three more to push his streak to 13 straight. And think about this: During this 2023 year, having already played for Birmingham of the USFL – and blame me for jinxing this if his streak comes to an end the next game – that means Aubrey has made 27 of 28 field goals in the calendar year over 16 games.

Week to week to week.

"Didn't we already talk?" veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said rhetorically, referencing what he said this past week about one week does not a conclusion make.

Yep, we did.

Another thing, and not sure many put much stock into this, but this win after last Sunday's loss now means over the past two-plus seasons, the Cowboys only once have lost back-to-back games, now 10-1 after their 10 regular season losses in 2021-22, including winning that first-round playoff game last season following the season-ending loss to Washington.

"It's all about adversity," Lionbacker Micah Parsons insisted. "Coming back after it, I think that's what true champions are better at. Anybody can come in and win games, but once you face adversity, I think when you look a man in his eyes and say, 'Are we going to get better? How are we going to overcome this?'

"Adversity makes true champions."

Well, the Cowboys bounced back so high they nearly left Belichick speechless after this drubbing, finishing his first statement after the game with, "There's really not much to say."

Not when you get beat by 35. Not when having to mercifully pull your starting quarterback Mac Jones from the game with 3:41 left in the third quarter trailing 31-3, having completed just 12 of 21 passes for 150 yards with a QB rating of 39.9. And the Patriots completing just seven of their 16 passes to wide receivers in the game, none with more than two catches.

Not when the Cowboys return two takeaways for touchdowns, the first time that has happened since 2013. Not when you have contributed to the Cowboys now having three defensive returns for touchdowns in four games this season, the first time that has happened in the NFL since 2015. And just think they have 13 more games to go.

But just as tried to preach last week about no need to start ducking from those pieces of the sky falling, no one is grandfathering the Cowboys into the playoffs even after a dominating win like this. It's one win. It's one week.

And as if the schedule-makers had something up their sleeves, now comes San Francisco out there next Sunday night. Yep, the 4-0 49ers, the same ones who have eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, first 23-17 here and then 19-12 there last season.

Benchmark game?

Well, for one week, but a great test. Just as this was supposed to be here on Sunday. But a better team next these Franciscans, and remember, the Cowboys did have to kick three field goals Sunday with the ball sitting at the Patriots' 5-yard line twice and once at the 15. You know, that "Twilight Zone" so far this year has not been conquered. No can do twice leaving those four points on the field against a team of San Francisco's quality and expect to win.

This NFL is about consistency, offense, defense and special teams, which by the way, how about that two-point conversion, punter/holder Brian Anger to defensive lineman Chauncey Golston in lieu of the extra point kick.

And during this week there will be many a reminder of those playoff losses to San Francisco, the first to Dak after the game, asking if that loss last year still leaves a bitter taste, provoking a stare and this:

"It's obvious," he said. "We're so far past that, to be honest with you. But it's obvious. You just want to piss me off going into this week, and I appreciate it. I do actually. I do. I appreciate that."

And as if that wasn't aggravating enough, the follow-up question came with if that playoff loss was now driving this team, knowing he said on Thursday how he still had been "pissed off" over the loss to Arizona.

"Every day," Dak said, about to lace his answer with an expletive, before finishing with "Every day."

So here these Cowboys go. It's already "next week."

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