ARLINGTON, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys made a statement here Sunday afternoon.
No, wait. Statements. That's plural.
First to the visiting, erstwhile undefeated Carolina Panthers. Take all that No. 1 defense stuff – total, run, pass, sacks, QB hits, third-down conversion percentage – back to Charlotte, OK? The Cowboys made Brunswick Stew out of those guys.
Second, from Trevon Diggs to our podcast teammate Everson Walls. Dude, no joke anymore. He's coming after your franchise record 11-interception season of 1981, his two picks before 93,262 folks at AT&T Stadium giving him five now in four games and putting him on an unimaginable 21-pick pace, or at least to become the first NFL player in 40 years to top Walls' near dozen picks that season.
Now to the entire NFL. We be serious, and this is not just quarterback-speak when Dak Prescott reiterates, "We want to be the best, and we want to win. We want to win late in the year, and we want to go play in that last game in California."
They mean it, too.
Boom, and this 36-28 dismantling of the Panthers (3-1) for the Cowboys' third consecutive win is the exclamation point on these statements, and really, after their three-touchdown, third- quarter eruption to take a 36-14 lead, this game wasn't as close as the eight-point differential might suggest.
And let that be a lesson to this somewhat young team. No matter a 22-point lead in this NFL with a quarter to play, do not let your guard down. Oh, and don't sit your best guards of such a lead down, as the Cowboys did, giving a few of their primetime defensive players like Diggs and Randy Gregory time off while the Panthers were saying not so fast by scoring 14 straight points.
Still, this Cowboys offense is becoming an irresistible force, scoring at least 29 points in three of these first four games and now averaging 31.5 a game.
And as for that supposed "unmovable object," that Panthers highly touted defense, why, the Cowboys offense, after a slow start, ended up mowing 'em down, scattering those Panthers like bowling pins hit by one of those lefty hooks in the pocket.
In so many ways.
The Panthers came into the game having given up just 30 points combined in three games. The Cowboys scored 36.
The Panthers came into the game having given up just three touchdowns in three games. The Cowboys scored five. Hell, they matched those three touchdowns in the third quarter alone.
The Panthers came into the game giving up 191 yards a game in constructing their 3-0 record. The Cowboys totaled 433.
The Panthers came into the game giving up 135 yards rushing, or 45 a game. Well, the Cowboys racked up 245, their most since rushing for 265 in 2017 against San Francisco and then 263 against the Rams in 2019.
The Panthers came into the game touting no individual player had rushed for more than 25 yards against them in those first three games. So much for that trend, Ezekiel Elliott cruised for 143 by his lonesome, like eight more than their previous three-game total.
Want more? Zeke ripped off a 47-yard gain, the third longest of his career, the only longer runs coming in 2016, a 60-yarder in Game 5 and 55-yarder in Game 16. Oh, and his 7.2-yard average is the fourth best of his career.
Anyone still want to suggest Zeke's over the hill or that he's the second best running back on the team?
And you know this stat, the Panthers leading the NFL with 14 sacks and 27 QB hits. Well, the Cowboys nearly zeroed them out. They still have 14 sacks and now 28 QB hits.
And in turn, the Cowboys sacked a resurgent Sam Darnold five times, their most single-game sacks since 2019 when they did so twice and one more than they had totaled in the first three games.
Now, the two by Randy Gregory were his first two of the season. Then another went to Micah Parsons, in this game starting off at nickel linebacker, repeatedly blitzing the A-gap, and then the second half transitioning to a pass-rushing defensive end. Then there was the first of the season for Tarell Basham and another half-sack for Osa Odighizuwa, giving him two in the past two games, and the first half-sack of rookie Chauncey Golston's NFL career.
And if that were not bad enough, the Cowboys registered 11 QB hits, four by Gregory and three by Odighizuwa. The defense also collected eight tackles for losses.
With numbers like that, it's hard to imagine the Panthers did score 28 points and totaled 379 total yards.
"I think every week we keep getting better, keep trusting each other knowing when to lock in and knowing when to get silly," Parsons said of this ever-improving defense. "Like, we all hang out now after practice. That's the team bond that we're building here. You can say that team chemistry is really high right now."
Same for this offense registering the third 400-yard effort in four games, missing going four-for-four by 20 yards against the Eagles. Chemistry is really high, and versatility is becoming a handful for opposing defenses. The Cowboys' five touchdowns were scored by five players, one a 1-yard run by Zeke and the other four on Prescott TD passes – Blake Jarwin (18 yards), Amari Cooper (35), Dalton Schultz (6) and Cedrick Wilson (23). Zeke leads the team with four touchdowns, while Cooper and now Schultz are next with three each.
"We feel like we can beat you with the run, we can beat you with the pass, whatever you're going to give us," Dak says. "The openings, we're going to take them. \[Offensive coordinator\] Kellen \[Moore\] is doing a good job of dialing it up and the guys are doing a good job of executing it and communicating.
"Even tonight, we left some meat on the bone, so to speak. We left some plays out there. We want to finish that game with another touchdown on one of those last two drives. That's just the expectation and the standard of this offense."
And you know what is amazing since Dak had four touchdown passes, the fifth time of his career? He only totaled 188 yards passing, his lowest total when playing four quarters since throwing for just 161 in a 27-20 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 15 of the 2018 season.
"I didn't realize I didn't even break 200," Dak said afterward, while the fans on the other side of the glass wall to the interview room were pounding away on the glass, partially upstaging his interview session. "That's kind of the strength of this offense, getting the ball in these guys' hands and you see what they can do afterwards. And what Kellen's dialing up.
"Just being able to mix it around and get it in different guys' hands. All these guys are greedy. They know the next guy is going to go and try to make a touchdown if they don't get theirs with their opportunity. So, as I said, that's the strength and that's the plus of it."
Unfortunately for the thought-to-be defensive minded Panthers, at their expense on this day.
And seemingly each week now, the Cowboys are proving they just might be for real, guaranteeing you they are starting to raise eyebrows around the league.
This was a statement game to me, loud and clear.
"You could say that, but we aren't really too worried about that," Zeke said of any sort of statement on this day. "We're worried about competing week in and week out, getting better week in and week out and trying to stack these wins."
And if they do, how irresistible will this team be?