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Spagnola: Here Is The 'Mess' We're Talkin' About


ARLINGTON, Texas – Well, that was about time.

Told you so on Friday, "Time to unleash the beast. The offense. Let's go."

And, oh my, did the offense go, compiling a season-high 442 yards, the most since Game 4 of last season.

Producing six touchdowns, as many as this offense had totaled over the previous three games and half as many as the offense had scored this entire season.

Dak Prescott told everyone, "The passing game will get there."

Well, brother, did the passing game ever get there, Prescott throwing for 250 yards and three touchdowns, one more than the Cowboys had in the previous three games and half as many as they had totaled in the previous seven games.

Dak had also promised this past week, "My expectations, the ball doesn't hit the ground."

Well, in the first quarter here Sunday afternoon, with the sun shining brightly through the open roof of AT&T Stadium for the first time this season, he nearly met that expectation, completing 10 of 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, nearly matching his second-half production the previous Sunday against the Lions in his first game back from a thumb injury in six weeks, completing 10 of 11 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Meaning, in those three quarters Dak went 20 of 22 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, a combined QB rating of 136.9.

Ya think Dak is back?

Mike McCarthy tried to tell you, too, saying last week, "Our situation on offense, we need to be better on third down."

Well, the Cowboys converted nine of 11 third downs, going six for six in the first half, only failing on the first possession of the second half and basically the last possession of the game, their 81.8 conversion percentage a franchise high in the past 40 years of tracking that stat. Three of those conversions turned into touchdowns, too.

And finally, this premonition from Jerry Jones, basically trying to tell everyone three weeks ago, "When we get (Dak) back that will be a real additive. We'll be a mess if we can keep playing defense like this."

Well, the Cowboys were a huge "mess" out there before 93,767, with far too many loud, orange-clads infiltrating the stadium, and that without the defense playing like it had been

Thus, Cowboys 49, Bears 29.

Yep, what a "mess."

And from a talent standpoint, this one wasn't that close if not for two plays, another one of them borderline roughing the QB penalties on the Cowboys nullifying a Trevon Diggs pick, and an unnecessary interception in the final minute of the first half, contributing 10 points to the Bears' cause after the Cowboys had pulled to a 28-7 second quarter lead.

Otherwise, we are looking at a 49-19 domination even though the Bears rushed for 240 yards, reminiscent of the atrocious 2020 defense that got defensive coordinator Mike Nolan fired, getting hit for even more than 240 three times – 307 to Cleveland, 261 to Arizona and 294 to Baltimore.

See, told you at some point this defense would get nicked and that this offense would need to score more than the 19 points the Cowboys were averaging over those first seven games of the season. That it was high time the offense, in Dak's second game back since his season-opening injury, would have to kick it in gear with the 42 points scored.

And, boy, did the Cowboys kick it. And maybe most of all adding to this offensive mess was one Tony Pollard, starting for the injured Ezekiel Elliott, who now gets three weeks between games with the hyperextended knee injury he suffered against Detroit. But also adding to the perception the Cowboys need to vault Pollard over Zeke when it comes to carries.

But how is this for an unforeseen coincidence? Going into this start for Pollard, his previous single-game highs for carries had been 14, twice in 53 games played. Well, Pollard had exactly 14 carries in this one against the Bears' 29th-ranked rushing defense. They likely fell into the 30s after this one.

Because Pollard, his lone self, turned those 14 carries into career-tying highs of 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns, the fourth quarter 54-yader basically Bear repellant, along with adding another catch for 16 yards, adding up to 147 yards from scrimmage. And for context to the three rushing touchdowns, that is more in a single game than he had in three of his four previous seasons, with the high of four in 2020.

And the Cowboys' 200 yards rushing? Well, most since 201 last year in Game 5 against the Giants, with even Dak adding 34 yards, including that opening 7-yard touchdown keeper.

"The reality is, we performed. We had a three-score victory today," McCarthy said, and let me point out the 20-point spread sure beats the 9.1-point average margin of victory over the first seven games. "That's the facts, and I recognize that, but it's all about getting better. It's about winning. Don't get me wrong, you've got to win. I don't care how you get there, you've just got to get it done."

Let's also consider what the Cowboys overcame. They began the game without Zeke, starting safety Malik Hooker, starting nickel cornerback Jourdan Lewis, starting wide receiver Noah Brown and one of their top pressure players Sam Williams, all injury inactives. Then, on top of that the Cowboys lost top three linebacker Anthony Barr to a hamstring strain late in the second quarter. Also, safety Jayron Kearse was temporarily out of the game on two different occasions and they also had lost safety Donovan Wilson for a few plays, not to mention corner Anthony Brown as well for a few plays when Bears wideout N'Keal Harris beat backup Kelvin Joseph on Justin Fields' 17-yard touchdown pass.

So, consider at a few points in the game, the Cowboys were playing defense with Joseph at corner, rookie DaRon Bland filling in for Lewis at nickel corner, rookie free agent Marquese Bell at safety, Israel Mukuamu at safety, newly acquired defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins rotating in for his first snaps with the Cowboys and Dante Fowler Jr. picking up the slack from Williams' absence.

Oh, and think about this: Rookie linebacker Damone Clark, a fifth-round draft choice who was just placed on the active roster this week after recovering from neck vertebrae fusion surgery in March, and while thought to possibly miss the entire season and then in his first game back just as a special teams addition. Why, Clark ended up going in for Barr in the second quarter and actually playing 51 percent of the defensive snaps (40) and 17 more on special teams.

"I knew I was going to be on special teams," Clark said. "I'm standing next to 'Big Cat' [defensive line coach Leon Lett] and I hear Coach George [Edwards] screaming 'Damone, Damone, Damone let's go!' They had told me I had to be ready to play."

Well, by gosh, this future starting linebacker was ready for his first NFL defensive snap and his second and the 38 more, tallying his first NFL tackle and first assisted tackle during the Bears' first possession of the second half. In all, the former LSU linebacker finished with six total tackles, just two short of the four leaders with eight.

And when he first entered the game the first time on defense, it was Leighton Vander Esch, one of the guys with eight tackles in the game, who gave Clark a big hug, knowing how much the moment meant to him, Clark saying, "He just told me, 'Let's go brother. Let's do it.' I know he had my back."

This also meant a whole lot to Britt Brown, Cowboys associate trainer in charge of rehab, saying, "I just want 'em to play."

Well, play he did. So did the others. So did the offense, Dak and Tony and CeeDee Lamb with another five catches and third TD reception and Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz and rookie Jake Ferguson with his second career touchdown reception. And every one of the 47 guys to take a snap in this game.

Think about this, too: The 28 points the Cowboys scored in the first half is three points more than they had scored in any of the previous seven games, taking a 28-17 halftime lead over the now 3-5 Bears.

And sure, while the defense gave up those 240 yards rushing, 60 of those thanks to Fields, they did hold the growing QB to just 151 yards passing, sacking him four times, hitting him another five and registering seven tackles for losses.

"The reality in my experience has been you know some of the biggest games of the year are going to be in November and December," McCarthy said when speaking of the young guys contributing. "You don't really want those guys going out there for their first time in November and December. It's always great to get young guys involved."

Oh, and let's not forget that heads up play by Micah Parsons – again – scooping up the fumble caused by LVE and instinctively breaking out of a scrum when realizing he hadn't been touched to go 36 yards for a touchdown, weaving his way as if returning to his high school running back days with the ball in one hand all the way.

"Obviously very excited," McCarthy said of the defense's second touchdown return this year, "but part of me is annoyed because he wants to be on offense already now. I'm going to have a hard time keeping him out of my office. His ball security is awful, so he still needs to focus on defense."

And with all that, that's how the Cowboys get to 6-2 heading into the bye, having now won six of their last seven games to pull into an NFC East second-place tie with the 6-2 Giants, though having already beaten them once.

"This was a huge step, especially going into the bye week, making sure that we have that confidence heading into the bye week," McCarthy said. "That we can win any way we need to whether it's the defense going out and winning the game, whether it's us running the ball or us throwing the ball, playing damn close complete game like we did today. That's important."

All creating that "mess" out there.

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