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Spagnola: Recent Success Must Become Sustainable


FRISCO, Texas – Here we are, Thanksgiving, and as the old ball coach Bill Parcells taught us when assessing his teams, you basically are who you are once reaching Thanksgiving.

So who are these 7-3 Cowboys?

Are they the team that had won two straight once Dak Prescott returned from injury, seemingly on a roll?

Are they the team you can't trust, losing in overtime, 31-28, to the then 3-6 Green Bay Packers, losers of their previous five games?

Or are the Cowboys the team going into Minnesota this past Sunday, stomping out the 8-1 Vikings 40-3, giving them three wins in their past four games while dominating the Vikings in all three phases of the game?

Well, we are about to find out, 3:25 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, facing the equally 7-3 New York Football Giants, their NFC East compadres they already have defeated the first time around, 23-16.

But none of that matters. Only what happens on Thursday.

So encouraging, right? The defense holding the Vikings to but three points and just 73 yards rushing. Crushing Vikings quarterback Kurt Cousins to the ground seven times, hitting him another 13 when trying to pass.

The offense putting up 40 points, running, throwing, kicking. And face it, since Dak Prescott has returned, the Cowboys offense has scored 24, 42, 28 and 40 points, that's an average of 33 points a game. And if we factor in Dak needing to get his feet under him that first half of the first game back when scoring just six points, since then, with the Cowboys scoring 18 second-half points in that game, the offense has averaged 36 points in the past three and a half games.

So leave it to Mr. Reasonable, Micah Parsons, to put all this in perspective.

"We don't want to flash anymore. We have to stay consistent," Parsons said, referring to that 40-pointer against the Vikings, the defense registering its seventh game giving up no more than one touchdown and the offense actually setting a record scoring on its first seven possessions of a game. "Yeah, we all saw it last week.

"But how can we sustain it? Greatness has to be sustainable."

Couldn't have said it better myself. And sure would be great if the Cowboys could beat the Giants, move to 8-3 and ahead of them into second place in the NFC East, with 10 days before the next game and starting their stretch against the AFC South – Colts, Texans and Jaguars, three teams with a combined eight wins after the first 11 weeks of the season.

Time to take that shot at "sustainable."

  • Line Of Contention: The Giants are about to find out just how much depth they have on the offensive line, already ruling out three of the five starters, right tackle Evan Neal, center Jon Feliciano, left guard Josh Ezeudu, then his backup Shane Lemieux, Neal's backup Tyre Phillips questionable and starting left tackle Andrew Thomas listed as questionable too. Oh, and starting tight end Daniel Ballinger out. And this is not to mention both starting cornerbacks out, Adoree Jackson and Fabian Moreau.
  • Illness Strikes: But maybe Mother Nature is trying to even things up since the Cowboys will be without linebacker Anthony Barr (hammy), with defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (illness) and defensive end Tarell Basham (illness) doubtful. Then there are questionable defenders defensive end Dante Fowler (illness), defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (illness), safety Donovan Wilson (illness), defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa (illness), defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (foot/illness), cornerback Kelvin Joseph (illness) and the linebacker Parsons (knee/ankle), though at least limited in Wednesday's practice. As head coach Mike McCarthy said of the flu bug hitting the defensive side of the ball hard, there was a lot of masking up and ginger shots going down.
  • Maher Touch: What an amazing story. Kicker Brett Maher is 19 of 21 on field goals this year, including going seven of nine from 50-plus (both misses being 59 yarders) and now having hit an NFL record four career kicks from 60 yards, his latest twice in the win over the Vikings. Amazing how absurd instant replay was handled on Maher's 60-yarder waived off to his surprise when the officials were buzzed down to review CeeDee Lamb's sideline catch. Maher said, "I never heard the whistle," and to think the replay booth had a total of 1 minute, 51 seconds to look at Lamb's catch through a Cowboys timeout, eventually ruling it a catch. "I thought I did a good job of handling the situation," though Maher adding the long delay during the review helped him to calm down, a tad ticked off at first over the late buzz down.
  • Madden. Honors: The NFL and network partners Fox, CBS and NBC will fittingly honor the late John Madden on Thursday, certainly a Thanksgiving Day staple in the broadcast booth. Each network will run visuals tracking Madden's description of Thanksgiving holiday games in their game intros, plus various tributes to Madden during the games. Pretty neat, too, to place 25-yard line stencils and end zone stencils honoring Madden on the fields, along with decals placed on player helmets. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called Madden "the face of Thanksgiving," going on to say, "John understood the attractiveness of the game, he understood what was down in the dirt, he understood the magic of how to describe it."
  • On Guard: Oh, and center too, the Cowboys preparing for the mid-December return of Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith following his hamstring surgery before the start of the season. As Jones said, "Tyron is our, and will be our left tackle when he returns." That is why you saw current starting left tackle Tyler Smith getting snaps at left guard toward the end of the Minnesota game, but that move is twofold. One, to get some snaps and keep active backup tackle Jason Peters. And two, when Tyler Smith moves to left guard, that will free up Connor McGovern to serve as the backup guard/center, too, since currently the Cowboys must elevate a center from the practice squad to serve that game-day role. And with Dakoda Shepley now out of practice squad elevations, the Cowboys elevated on Wednesday Aviante Collins to the 48-man game-day roster to serve in that backup role. Remember, it takes a village to get through a 17-game season.
  • Side Dishes: How is this for a 150 Club? Because on Sunday the victory over Minnesota was McCarthy's 150th career win, coinciding with Dak Prescott's 150th and 151st career passing touchdowns … Parsons has followed up his 13-sack rookie season with currently 10 in 10 games this year, becoming the first Cowboys player since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982 to record double-digit sacks in his first two seasons, and keeping that goal of a 20-sack season in sight with seven games to go … So when Ezekiel Elliot was asked if he planned to jump into The Salvation Army Red Kettle once again on Thanksgiving Day if scoring a touchdown, he smiled, saying not unless the Cowboys had a big lead late in the game to compensate for the 15-yard personal foul.

Let's turn to owner/GM Jerry Jones for this Thanksgiving edition of the last word, when admitting the Cowboys plan on speaking with free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after the Thanksgiving game, but not wanting to get into any details of the negotiations. Jerry, as is his purpose, caused a bit of a stir when saying after the blowout of the Vikings that he feels this Cowboys team is a Super Bowl contender.

Well, on Monday, McCarthy had fun with it, downplaying the Super Bowl stuff by saying, "When speaking today with general manager Jerry, he's focused on the Giants." But leave it to Jerry to twist the Giants game's importance and the Beckham possibility into this:

"(The Giants) are our biggest threat we have for the rest of the year, so that's No. 1, but the same guy talking about going and getting a receiver and going out here and making a move like that right now has to be thinking past Thursday. Would you think, Beckham, huh? So how do you wear that?

"That's one of the advantages of being the owner and the general manager because if you're the guy having to make that decision both ways, you're cutting the check and you've got it all right there in front of you, so when you have the opportunity to strike if it's there, you can get it.

"That's the way it's always been around here."


And now my shot to day, Happy Thanksgiving.

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