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Spagnola: Maybe, Could Be, We'll Soon Find Out


ARLINGTON, Texas – Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back Cowboys.

Oh, how they have been missing, reminding of that old song by the band America, and in deference to "A Horse With No Name," as if they've been wandering through this NFL desert on a team with no _game._

Sitting at 6-7 after 13 games? That was not the team we saw in training camp.

A team crumbling away on a three-game losing streak? Not the team we saw winning the opening three games of the season.

A team having lost four of the past five games and seven of 10, and yet to beat anyone in the NFL with a winning record? Not even the team standing 5-3 halfway through the season.

Then out of nowhere this:

Cowboys 37, Rams 7, with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter.

Remember, it's the Rams, dude, the team that eliminated the Cowboys from the 2018 playoffs, 30-22. The team that ran for 273 yards that day at the LA Coliseum. The defending NFC champion team – "This is the team that played in the Super Bowl last year, the Rams I'm talking about," Cowboys owner Jerry jones emphasized – coming into AT&T Stadium before 90,436 on Sunday at 8-5, scrambling back into the NFC wild-card race on the strength of a two-game winning streak and having won three of its past four.

And the Cowboys did this to them, 44-21, giving up two touchdowns in the final b.s. moments, likely leaving the Rams with their heads swimming on the way back to Los Angeles, probably wondering, _which way did they go_ after getting run right over.

Where in the hell you guys been?

"We never left," Maliek Collins said, dead serious. "Even though everybody else counted us out, we still here."

Darn right they still here. Back to 7-7. Still tied for first place with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, with what I've been predicting and Dak Prescott claims is a "playoff game" coming in next Sunday's showdown at Philadelphia with the division title on the line.

Cowboys win, become the first team to win back-to-back NFC East titles since the Eagles in 2003-04. Lose, and the Cowboys will be at the mercy of the New York Football Giants. Even if they beat the Redskins in the season finale, they would need the Giants to beat the Eagles in the final game to tie them at 8-8 and win the tiebreaker on the basis of a better division record (5-1 to 4-2).

Not the precarious position you want to be in, because as we know, the NFL helps those who help themselves, and neither the Giants nor the Redskins these past two games have given the Cowboys any help whatsoever.

Like Prescott said, "It's a playoff game. Simple as that. It's a rival. It's a team in the division. It's a 'must win' game. We have to approach it as a playoff game and we will. Back to work tomorrow."

So these Cowboys, are they Jekyll or are they Hyde?

Schizo or in reboot mode?

See, all this blabbering about the team has no fight, no leadership. That head coach Jason Garrett has simply fallen on his head, that the team has tuned him out. That this team isn't motivated, thinks it is entitled. That the young offensive coordinator is no Sean McVay. All that intangible garbage.

Remember, Friday, Jason Witten told you, "Look, you can't confuse losing with fight. You can't confuse losing with leadership. You can't confuse it when you win or when you lose you're in disarray.

"You've got to _play_ better."

And how these Cowboys played better. Played even better than they did in their previous best game of the season when they battered the Eagles the first time around, 37-10. Probably played their best game against the best opponent since beating the Saints 13-10 last year. Offense, defense, special teams – only the third time all season, thanks to replacement kicker Kai Forbath, they were 100 percent on multiple field-goal attempts (3-for-3), including making two from 42 yards, one more 40-49-yard field goal than Brett Maher had made in 13 games.

Biggest difference on this Sunday?

Defense, defense, defense. Finally.

Don't need to remind you that the last time the Cowboys played the Rams, they were the ones run right over, Los Angeles piling up 273 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the playoff win. Two-seventy-three now, an opponent playoff record.

This time?

Uh, 22 yards, and seven of those came when trailing 37-7 on Todd Gurley's touchdown run, giving him a grand total of 20 yards on 11 carries. Twenty, now. Like the Rams ran for 251 fewer yards Sunday than they did in the playoff game. Gurley ran for 95 fewer than he totaled in that playoff game.

What the what?

"We learned schematically from things we did," said linebackers coach Ben Bloom of the playoff game. "We learned, better play, players executed."

"We understood their high tempo," DeMarcus Lawrence said. "We had to get set."

Set they got. Why, the Rams had all of three yards rushing in the first half. Gurley was two for two. Seriously, while the Cowboys were finishing the game with two 100-yard rushers for just the second time this year, Ezekiel Elliott schooling the Rams vaunted defense for 117 yards and two touchdowns before handing off to rookie Tony Pollard, totaling a career-high 131 thanks to a 44-yard touchdown run.

Like, 263 yards rushing.

Like, how good was that offensive line? Rams' all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald had only two assisted tackles at halftime, adding just one solo in the second half. On top of that, LA had zero sacks.

And how 'bout the two "old men," the tight end Witten turning a one-handed catch into a spinning 19-yard touchdown on third-and-10, finishing with four catches for 36 yards, and linebacker Sean Lee, who didn't practice all week with thigh and pec injuries – all he got were the walk-through practice reps – picking off Jared Goff, then returning the ball 25 yards to the Rams' 9, acting as if he was back in his Upper St. Clair High running back days. That was Lee's first pick since 2017, setting up what basically was the Cowboys' knockout touchdown, Zeke from 3 yards out giving the Cowboys a 28-7 halftime lead.

Some latter day Ponce de Leons stumbling into the Fountain of youth?

And this offense? The NFL's No. 1 offense (yards) totaling 475. Scoring five touchdowns, matching the season-high previously established in the season opener against the Giants. Scoring a season-high 44 points, the seventh time this season the Cowboys have scored at least 31 points – all seven victories.

Then there is this, and these coaches, these guys would never use this for the lackluster performances in the previous two losses, 26-15 to Buffalo and 31-24 to Chicago:

That aforementioned reboot.

This was just a tuckered out bunch following that grueling 13-9 loss to New England in the cold, wind and constant rain in Foxborough, Mass., followed by a 1:30 a.m. arrival Monday back in Dallas, no one getting to bed probably before 3 a.m., followed by playing three days later on Thanksgiving, followed by playing the following Thursday, totaling three of four road games in a 19-day span, starting with that 35-27 win at Detroit on Nov. 17.

This looked like a drained team – physically and mentally. Coaches under fire. Star players' hearts questioned. Whatever could go wrong did, including starting off the game with a nearly botched coin toss rectified by audio review, of all things, back in New York.

But now we find out if these Cowboys are one-week wonders or if they indeed are the team we thought they were – can be – knowing the importance of next Sunday's game at Philadelphia.

Can they duplicate this full-team, three-prong complementary performance.

"I don't know if it's a sense of replicating," Prescott said. "It's a sense of getting better from what we did today. We can't say that we need to go out there and have the same performance. We have to go out there and improve on this one offensively and defensively.

"We have to be even better. Those field goals have to turn into touchdowns. It's just about putting the pedal to the metal and trying to play our best ball when it means the most."

Then just maybe everyone will once again know their game.