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Spagnola: Now That There's A Lot More Like It


ARLINGTON, Texas – Take that.

And that.

And that.

Poor Falcons. They unknowingly had to take the brunt of the Cowboys' latent frustration from last Sunday, this team foaming at the mouth the minute it stepped into AT&T Stadium Sunday morning for this noon start against the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons, who had won two of their last three games, including going into New Orleans a week prior to defeat the Saints. Formidable, right?

Well, Cowboys 36, Falcons 3.

Oh wait, sorry. That was the halftime score, the 29 points the Cowboys lambasted Atlanta with in the second quarter the most points any team in the franchise's now 62-season history has scored in any quarter, and the 33-point halftime lead the largest since 1971 with a 35-point lead over the Jets.

Let that sink in. Just the first half.

A week ago against the Denver Broncos, the Cowboys trailed at one point 30-0. Lost the game, 36-16, those 16 points mighty inconsequential, the Cowboys' six-game winning streak ending in a great big thud.

"Last week just wasn't us," Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. "Everybody in the locker room knows that, and it left a bad taste in our mouth."

No kidding. Must have been rancid. Here to tell you that last week was an anomaly in this now 7-2 season, a half-game off tying for the best record in the NFL (8-2) and most importantly in the NFC.

This, Sunday before 93,436 folks at an aroused AT&T, was more like it.

Cowboys 43, Falcons still 3 after four quarters.

Yep, this convincing 40-point victory is the largest since beating Arizona 48-7 in what turned out to be just one of five victories in that 2000 season of 5-11.

Why, by time Dak bulldozed his way in for a 4-yard touchdown with but 31 seconds left in the third quarter and 31-year-old rookie Lirim Hajrullahu booted the fifth of his five extra points in place of Greg Zuerlein on Reserve/COVID-19 for the 43-3 lead, the Falcons were only wishing they could leave the building.

They had checked out, but as the Eagles sing in "Hotel California," well,You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

That the Cowboy scored 43 points was no surprise, eight of those coming on Dorance Armstrong's blocked punt that this week went backwards and into the end zone where, with a little poetic justice, rookie Nahshon Wright – who mistakenly touched a Cowboys' partial block past the line of scrimmage last Sunday that the Broncos pounced on for a first down – recovered the ball for a touchdown. And the Cowboys followed up that with a two-point, in-your-face Ezekiel Elliott smash into the end zone.

Guess ol' Vic Fangio didn't leave that self-purported blueprint of how to stop the NFL's No. 1 offense and scoring offense in the visitor's locker room out here. Blueprint my footprint. Guess he also trashed Sunday's blueprint for that Eagles game afterward, huh?

Dak threw for 296 yards, and two touchdowns, with a 127.9 QB rating, a significant improvement over last Sunday's first three-quarter performance. CeeDee Lamb caught both TD passes, the second on a 9-yard lob to the back corner of the end zone with the Falcons blitzing. Zeke ran for two touchdowns from 1 and 2 yards out, and this offense that took the fourth quarter off piled up 431 yards of total offense as opposed to the mere 290 last Sunday.

Oh, and how 'bout this? Against the Broncos', uh, blueprint, the Cowboys went oh-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. Against the Falcons they were 3-for-3, the first one on a fourth-and-5 from the Atlanta 33 on a 21-yard CeeDee reception at the end of the first quarter with the score still 7-3 to set up Zeke's 1-yard touchdown smash.

That came on the possession after the Falcons failed to pick up their fourth-and-7 from the Cowboys 32-yard line when slot corner Jourdan Lewis broke up the pass, that coming after he had broken up the third-down pass.

Huge swing.

"The tone was set the minute we walked in the building," Lamb said, finishing with six catches for 94 yards, virtually uncoverable for the Falcons.

You can say that again, and sure helped that offensive cause with Terence Steele playing significantly better in his second start at left tackle for the injured Tyron Smith and La'el Collins starting at right tackle for the second time since his five-game suspension. Dak wasn't sacked once, and only suffered two QB hits. His pocket was clean.

Guess his right calf is just fine, completing 62 percent of his passes as opposed to the 48.9 percent last week.

All of this canning last Sunday's B.S.

"Seven days ago we didn't like where we were when I was standing up here," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "That was the response we needed and our guys did a hell of a job."

But most encouraging was the defensive performance. Rather outstanding as opposed to looking like the same ol', same ol' against the Broncos, getting rocked for those 36 points, 407 total yards and 190 rushing yards, along with getting tagged eight of 15 times on third down.

This was more like the 16 points and 278 yards the Cowboys gave up to a good Minnesota offense, causing me to subscribe to the notion afterward that this defense was turning the corner. That the offense didn't have to score Thirty-something every week to win a game.

But this? Three points. The fewest they've given up in a game since the 2017 season finale, a 6-0 victory over an Eagles team having the NFC East and playoff seeding sewed up and nothing to play for. So really, fewest points since a 19-3 victory over the Giants to begin that same season.

But hey, even sweeter when remembering all this past week the talk about fearing the passing of Matt Ryan. The dangerous all-purpose Cordarrelle Patterson and how in the world would they ever cover rookie sensational tight end Kyle Pitts?

Three points. Why, 214 yards. Just 111 net passing yards. Ryan completing just 9 of 21 passes for 117 yards, a QB rating of 21.4, while being sacked twice, intercepted twice, and along with backup Josh Rosen, the two having 10 passes batted away. Patterson having just 39 scrimmage yards on five touches and didn't even get a chance to return a kickoff, Hajrullahu going seven for seven on touchbacks.

As for Pitts, he had three catches for 52 yards by the time 5:39 was left in the first quarter. He only had one more catch for 8 yards the rest of the way.

The Falcons finished with their fewest points scored of the season, fewest total yards, fewest passing yards and fewest first downs, the 11 less than half the 23 the Cowboys gave up to the Broncos. And this from a team that, coming into the game, would have been a wild-card team?

Get out of town.

And to think the Cowboys were without three-quarters of their projected starting defensive line, missing Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence and Neville Gallimore. Yet Dallas finished with three interceptions, two sacks, three tackles for losses and five QB hits.

Dan Quinn, stand up and take a bow. No, two, since this defensive performance came against the franchise that fired him just five games into last season.

For this massive one-week turnaround, Quinn received a game ball.

"You don't really get to that until you get back in the environment," Quinn said of the one-week turnaround, that possibly these are the real Dallas defenders, not those imposters of last week. "You can talk about it, but you've got to be about it. You don't really get to show it wasn't how we want to do it. You have to get back in that moment to do that. We took a good step today.

"We're going to continue to push to improve and keep going on. You want to get better and better with your execution. I thought we took a step in that direction today."

Especially the starting cornerbacks, each having a pick. Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown his career-high third of the season and Jourdan Lewis, playing his most impressive game in recent memory, finishing with three tackles, the pick and three passes defensed.

For Diggs, it was his league-leading eighth interception in nine games, the most in a single season by a Cowboys player since Everson Walls had nine in 1985, thus bearing down on Walls' franchise single-season record of 11 in 1981 – with no NFL player having more than 10 interceptions in a single season ever since.
And speaking for that step in the right direction Sunday, this defense, after giving up that first-possession field goal, then shut out the Falcons over the next 53 minutes, 24 seconds, allowing the visitors to only twice cross the 50-yard line in their next 10 possessions, with six three-and-outs.

A far cry from last week.

So merely a fluke last week? Just one of those days the NFL is known for?

"If that's the word you want to use for it, that's fine," an agreeable CeeDee said. "But we definitely, we weren't ourselves last week and that's understood."

Yes, siree, and now loud and clear for one and all around the NFL to see.

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