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Spagnola: Just Rolling On Down The Road


Dallas Cowboys?

Er, Dallas Road Warriors?

One week it was New Orleans.

The next week was in Landover, Md.

Sunday was in East Rutherford, N.J.

You'd have thought the Cowboys were more interested in earning AAdvantage Miles.

Instead, they have been earning victories, three of them in a row.

First, 27-17 over the Saints.

Then 27-20 over Washington.

Sunday, 21-6 over the New York Giants before 77,413 at a 17-mph wind-swept MetLife Stadium, once again packed with Cowboys fans, staying to the feel-like 31-degree end.

Spectacular? Not really.

Overwhelming? Naw.

Crushing of an erstwhile 4-9 team? But a two-score, 15-point victory not decided until 58 minutes, 42 seconds were played.

But that's 10 wins now, 10, matching the most since 13 in 2016 and second most in the past seven seasons. And good enough to be on the verge of at the very least clinching a playoff spot and most likely sewing up the NFC East title for the third time in the past six seasons by winning at least one of the next three games.

"We're at 10 wins, and clearly understand what 11 wins gets us," head coach Mike McCarthy says of turning around last year's 6-10 season.

And while none of these three consecutive wins were by knockouts – "We played field position, played to the strength of the defense," McCarthy said – the Cowboys actually accomplished something Sunday afternoon they had not done since 1969:

Win three consecutive games all on the road in a single season.

Why, they couldn't do it in the playoff season of 2006, the last time they had a chance, going 2-1.

They couldn't do it in the Super Bowl-winning season of 1992, going 2-1.

Couldn't do it in 1991, going 1-2 in that 11-win season while returning to the playoffs as a wild-card team for the first time since 1985.

Couldn't do it in the 12-4 season of 1983 (2-1), nor during the 11-3 season of 1976.

You must go back to 1969, and quick math says that's like 53 seasons ago, to find the last time the Cowboys won three straight games all played on the road – at New Orleans, at Philadelphia, at Atlanta.

And this is only the third time in 11 tries for this 62-year-old franchise to accomplish this feat, the only other time occurring in 1964, the same year original owner Clint Murchison Jr. extended head coach Tom Landry's contract for 10 years, a move surprising most everyone at the time while the Cowboys were going on to a losing season for the fifth consecutive year before finishing 7-7 in 1965 and then reeling off those record 20 consecutive winning seasons.

"It speaks the world for us to be able to come in to these environments and stick together, stay together, continue to build off week by week what we're being able to develop. It speaks tremendously to our team," says Connor Williams, who returned to the starting lineup at left guard for the first time in five games, and coincidence or not, the Cowboys actually ran for 101 yards in the first half, the first time going for 100 in a first half since beating the Giants, 44-20, earlier in the season when they finished with 201 yards rushing, most in the previous 10 games.

Remember, too, when looking for style points, when asked when the schedule first came out what worries you the most, for me it was having to play three consecutive road games, the first of those three against the Saints part of that grueling stretch of playing three games in 12 games.

Put up the caution sign right there.

Yet the Cowboys, gritting their teeth, ground right through them.

"It's tough to go get a win on the road, especially in hostile territory, a division game," Ezekiel Elliott said. "To come out of the stretch 3-0, but we have three more left to finish off the season before we have to get ready for the playoffs."

And let's remember this, too, for those unimpressed. The Cowboys only had a 17-13 lead over the Giants on Oct. 10 with 11:14 left in the third quarter that first time around at AT&T Stadium in a game they eventually won, 44-20.

And this, too: The Giants had held five of their previous seven opponents to no more than 20 points while going 3-4 during that stretch.

A win is a win is a win three straight weeks. Go ask Arizona, losers now of two straight games. Go ask New England, that seven-game winning streak coming to an end. Go ask Tennessee, once an 8-2 team now having lost three of their past four. Go ask Baltimore, now losers of three straight, dropping to 8-6.

And guess what? Go ask the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers if they would have rather beaten New Orleans 10-9 than getting skunked 9-nil Sunday night and dropping to 10-4, leaving Green Bay leading the NFC at 11-3 by one game over Dallas, Tampa Bay and Arizona, with the 9-4 Rams playing Tuesday night. Oh, and the Cowboys with an 8-1 NFC record currently are the No. 2 seed.

Sure, the Cowboys must play better offensively. Although just two for five in the red zone, though one of those five with time running out in the first half. At least this was better than the one for five full red-zone possessions the previous Sunday against Washington.

At least Dak Prescott looked more comfortable in the pocket, throwing for 217 yards and completing 76 percent of his passes, although many of the shorter variety. But once again he was sacked three times and hit another seven times. That must be better.

At least Zeke was running the best we've seen him now that he's worn a knee brace these past two games. At least Tony Pollard, with his torn plantar fascia, looked good as new after missing last week's game.

But you know what? Third straight game on the road, second straight division game (now 4-0 in the East), cold, windy weather. Nothing wrong with playing toward your defense, knowing the Cowboys were up against Giants backup quarterback Mike Glennon and in the end against Jake Fromm making his NFL debut.

Made me look into that 1977 Super Bowl winning season. Doomsday II, by the way. That season the Cowboys had the No. 1 defense, holding 10 of 14 opponents to no more than 21 points. And get this, they finished the season with 31 takeaways, 21 of those interceptions. In 14 games.

Well, with three games to go the Cowboys have 31 takeaways in 14 games, 23 of those interceptions. And add another fumble recovery, making that eight, but also extending their streak of four takeaways in each of these past three victories while playing three consecutive games against backup quarterbacks. Just what they should do in games like these.

The Cowboys also held the Giants to 302 yards, a 28-yard Devontae Booker run leading to New York's first field goal and Booker's 31-yard run, plus another 15 for a Cowboys' horse-collar tackle, totaling 46, setting up the Giants for their second field goal.

Believe it or not, the Giants were unable to capitalize on their longest play from scrimmage, 36-yard Fromm pass to Kenny Golladay down to the 14, when the Cowboys stopped them on fourth-and-5 at the 9-yard line with a seven-man blitz led by Randy Gregory forcing a Fromm incompletion.

And even after recovering a Dak sack/fumble at the Cowboys' 27-yard line, Trevon Diggs snuffed out that possession on second down, Glennon throwing into the end zone for Golladay where Diggs made a leaping pick that video review overturned a ruled incompletion into his 10th interception in 14 games – now just one behind Everson Walls' Cowboys single-season franchise record of 11 set in 1981 that no NFL player has yet to equal in 40 years.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, and never have been a believer in this, but maybe defense can win championships. If not that, but at least three consecutive road games for the first time in 52 seasons.

"I can't say enough about our defense," McCarthy said. "It's something we put a lot of time in, but I think it really plays to our skill set. We have a number of guys, when the ball's in the air that it's – I don't even know if it's 50/50 sometimes – and they're playing with great confidence and confidence is probably the most important component of December victories.

"We need to continue to build off that."

And for now, leaning on it, too.

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