ARLINGTON, Texas – Rolling down 360 about 8:30 Sunday morning, heading here toward AT&T Stadium, the Rolling Stones came on the radio, one of those oldie but goodies.
No, you can't always get what you want,
You can't always get what you want,
You can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.
Now I get it. Know what all you guys wanted, the Cowboys going into the game a 22-point favorite against an 0-2 team, beaten 102-10 those first two games of the season. Blowout City here we come, right?
Then at halftime, the scoreboard read, Cowboys 10, Dolphins 6.
Gosh almighty. What the what?
The Cowboys stumbling all over themselves. The team averaging 33 points a game vs. the worst defense in football just 10 points. Dak Prescott, Mr. 82.2 Percent Completion Percentage in two games. Mr. 142.9 QB rating. Dak Prescott, Mr. Sports Illustrated Cover Boy.
Why after 30 minutes Dak was 9 of 20. Threw for just 106 yards. Just one touchdown and a sloppy interception. And as for the QB rating, 57.5. You're kidding me. Against the Dolphins, who already had been beaten 59-10 and 43-0.
Well, in the true words of the Stones, and granted these lyrics had nothing to do with football, and frankly, far, far from it, yet indeed, if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.
Because in the end, the Cowboys definitely got what they needed before 90,127 mostly fidgety fans.
Cowboys 31, Dolphins 6, style points notwithstanding. This isn't figure skating. Nor wrestling, when earning riding points for controlled domination.
This is football. NFL football. It don't come easy. Rarely does. You have to earn every inch. Earn every win.
But the bottom line is this: A win is a win. No matter if it's 31-6, by 25 points for those who worry themselves about spreads, or if it had been 10-6.
There are no asterisks next to 3-0. Why 3-0 is 3-0, especially since this is a first for the Cowboys since 2008. This is first place in the NFC East, by no less than two games over the other three members, and tied for first in the NFL with (six) other teams and just three others in the NFC. Why last year at this time the Cowboys were tied for third in the East and didn't win their third game Game 6.
That's what you wanted, too, didn't you, after three games. The Cowboys 3-0 and heading into the teeth of this schedule, having to play the (2-1) Saints in New Orleans next Sunday night, and don't minimize the difficulty of that task even if Drew Brees won't be suiting up for this one. Hey, without Brees, the Saints went into Seattle and put 33 on the Seahawks Sunday in their 33-27 victory.
Plus, you ever been to a night game in the Big House. There ain't a tetanus shot around to diffuse how rabid that place will be.
And then the Green Bay Packers the next Sunday.
Two weeks after that the Eagles.
So the Cowboys had to grow a little hair on their chest here Sunday to win their third game by double-digits; to score at least 30 points in three consecutive games for the first time since four straight over Games 4-7 in 2017; rack up at least 474 yards offense in three consecutive games; produce two 100-yard rushers – Ezekiel Elliott 125 and rookie Tony Pollard 103 and his first NFL touchdown – for the first time since 1998 (Emmitt Smith and Chris Warren), and that's 22 seasons ago; and hold a team without a touchdown for the first time since the final game of the 2017 season when the Eagles basically pulled their starters with nothing to play for (6-0) and hold a team to the fewest points in a game with the opponent playing all out since the 2017 season-opening 19-3 win over the Giants.
Pretty darn impressive in the end, especially if you consider the last time the Cowboys were 3-0 without Tony Romo at quarterback was 1999.
"It doesn't matter what the score of the game is or who we are playing," veteran safety Jeff Heath said. "We have standards. It's never about our opponent, no matter who it is. We have a certain standard (to uphold) and that's what we're competing against."
On offense and on defense.
Heath went on to explain defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is a stickler about those "standards," a word used liberally in the locker room after this game.
"According to Marinelli standards, we were 0-2," he said of their defensive "standards" record in the first two games.
What you think? Maybe a win in this one? The defense holding Miami to two field goals, to just 283 total yards, but a mere 67 in the second half – and 35 of those coming on Miami's final drive when trailing 31-6? How about three sacks, first multiple-sack game of the season, along with 11 QB hits, eight passes defensed and a recovered fumble? And the debut of Robert Quinn, not to mention three defensive starters inactive.
"It was better," Heath said, hesitant to award the defense a "standard" victory until the Wizard of Defense speaks.
Even the offense met some high "standards" that second half after committing four penalties in the first half, Dak throwing an interception, failing for just the second time in three games to score a touchdown once inside the red zone (9 of 11 now) and scoring a first-half, season-low 10 points, Just looking sort of out of sorts.
"We had to settle back in and play the way we play," head coach Jason Garrett said, minimizing any extravagant second-half adjustments.
Boy did they settle back in that second half. First five possessions went touchdown, touchdown, punt, missed field goal off the right upright from 55, touchdown. And it took a sack and a personal foul penalty at the Miami 22 to derail those two drives.
After a miserable first half, Dak goes 10 of 12 for 140 yards, throwing for a touchdown, running for a touchdown and handing off to Pollard for a touchdown in the second half. And on top of that, the Cowboys in that second half left tire tracks all over a Dolphins defense already having given up 391 yards rushing in two games. Zeke and Pollard (nickname to come for sure) ran for 130 of their combined 228 yards rushing over those final two quarters.
Then there is this: The Cowboys showing they can win games with Dak throwing for a season-low 246 yards, completing less than his 82.3 average completion percentage (59.4 percent) and a quarterback rating more humanely than the 158.3 and 123.5 he had in the first two games at 91.4.
"We're definitely a run-first team," Zeke says. "The running game, that's our identity, we're tough, we're physical. You can't forget about those big guys up front, they made it easy for us."
Remember the "pick your poison?"
Now add to that remember "our standards."
Because, "we got rolling towards the middle of the game," Zeke said, "and we took it over and we got the win . . . .
"And that's all that matters."
Getting just what they needed.