MINNEAPOLIS – When will they ever learn? When will they ever quit trying to shoo this Cowboys team into a shoe box?
Using but one game as evidence.
Lose to the Packers, 31-28, in overtime, and despite putting up 28 points, and despite putting up 49 in the previous game, Dak Prescott was having to answer questions this past week, and his head coach Mike McCarthy, too, about his erratic performance nine games into the season. And that's with Dak having played only three himself following his five-week injury induced absence.
McCarthy and owner Jerry Jones were having to answer questions about wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., as if he was going to be some savior of the season, even after No. 1 CeeDee Lamb caught a career-high 11 passes for a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns against those Packers, though one sloppy route leading to an interception bringing out the boo birds.
Then the call to run the football. Protect Dak from throwing two interceptions, although those two in the Packers game not on him, as if his performance during the 2021 season coming back from that horrific ankle injury in the fifth game of 2020 never happened.
And this defense, a bad trend. Giving up 29 points to the Bears and another 31 to the Packers in the previous two games. Giving up 240 yards rushing to the Bears and another 207 to the Packers. Would they ever stop another team?
Oh, and lost the first game in a month. Fell to 6-3, with eight games remaining, could they ever make the playoffs again, knowing the Cowboys have never appeared in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2006-07? Never won back-to back NFC East titles since those five straight from 1992-96, this history a heavy cloud over this organization, but having very little to do with this current team since only 10 players on the 53-man roster were with Dallas prior to 2019.
And then along comes Cowboys 40 – that's right, 40 dang points – Vikings 3, and that, too, is no typo. A measly 3, the largest margin of victory in franchise history on the road, and that's now 63 years of history. Ponder that.
Along came 458 yards of total offense, a season high, and a 70.6 third-down percentage, nearly doubling their season average. Along came a season-high seven sacks.
And along came something that's never happened in club history since going to a 16-game season in 1978, the Cowboys scoring on their first seven possessions of the game – field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, staking themselves to a 37-3 lead before first punting with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
Happened right here before our very eyes Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Cowboys not only silencing the majority of the 65,304 purple-clad people but sending them home early for their Sunday poutine.
And a few others to eat some crow. For now.
At some point folks will learn this NFL is a week-to-week proposition, and to refrain from drawing everlasting conclusions when only nine games into a 17-game season. See, this figured to be a tough stretch for the Cowboys, playing back-to-back games on the road, going to Green Bay, no matter the Packers wallowing in a 3-6 record at the time, losers of five straight, and then coming here to face the now erstwhile 8-1 Vikings, all leading into the Thanksgiving Day date with the Giants (7-3) four days later.
Plus, these Cowboys players were seething, knowing they let one get away at Green Bay, feeling deeply this was not them, not a team giving up a 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Not stopping the run. Not giving up a season-high 31 points. Just not bonking the Packers on their noggins.
They were highly P-Oed at themselves. Must have showed during the week in practice.
"But I can tell you I knew that this was coming, just in the fact of the preparation and the focus and honestly the way that the defense – I saw at practice, those guys, 100 miles per hour," Dak said. "I said this is going to be tough for the guys on the other side."
Think the defense must have ramped up to 200 RPMs. Seven sacks. Eight tackles for losses. Thirteen QB hits. Dorance Armstrong a monster game, two sacks, already giving him a career-high seven in 10 games, a fumble recovery, two tackles for losses and three QB hits.
The Cowboys defense only allowing the Vikings, averaging 355.8 yards a game, 183, but 57 of those consolation yards coming after the Cowboys stretched their lead to 40-3 with 10:04 still to play. That's the fewest yards the Cowboys have given up in a game since holding the Saints to 176 in 2018. That's 63 games ago.
No wonder defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was going around player to player, fist-bumping his way through the locker room, saying as he was going on his merry way, "Yeah, it was a response" to what took place the previous Sunday when he said that loss "stinks."
Then there was Dak. No matter he put up the third highest QB rating in the NFL last season (104.2). No matter his 37 TD passes last year set a franchise single-season record, with only 10 interceptions. Lose one game, and he's "erratic." Why, put up 28 points against the Packers, but shoot, none in the fourth quarter and the lone possession in overtime. Have two passes intercepted and here comes:
Is Dak the QB to lead the Cowboys into the future? Can he win without great players around him? Why doesn't he run more? Just on and on and on into ridiculousness.
Wonder how foolish all that seems now, Dak completing 22 of 25 passes against the Vikings for 276 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, adding up to a 139.3 QB rating. The ball rarely hit the ground, an 88 percent completion rate, Dak having said last week, "I'm my biggest critic. If there is ball one on the ground, then I need to get better, simple as that."
He nearly pulled it off, though when facing the outside music answering questions on Thursday to the point Ezekiel Elliott came to his rescue standing nearby for some comedic relief by exerting a loud grunt of disgust at one of the questions thrown Dak's way.
"But honestly, I don't usually get motivation from what other people say," said Prescott, very intuitively wearing a Triplets sweatshirt on the podium Sunday. "I'm very intrinsically inspired. A lot of things, people in my life that have moved me, and a great team in there. Guys I don't want to let down each and every day that make me the man that I am.
"But, yeah, when you hear some things about your performance, 'erratic' coming from you guys, yeah, things stick and stay. So, it's about, as I say, you're as good as your last game. So, for me, it's about keeping it in the forefront of my mind, making sure these guys in the locker room, once again being accountable for each other, building off how great we can be."
And then there is the Cowboys owner Jones, the one who also must answer those questions when asked about Dak, though those asking always prefacing the questions weakly with, "some people say" or "some fans think" to camouflage their very own thoughts.
"You saw the vintage Dak," Jones said, "and I hope to see it for 10 more years."
But like I said on Friday, let's get through Thursday's Thanksgiving Day game against the Giants. Then, with 11 games of evaluation under our belts we can start making long-term judgments of this Cowboys team. Win, beat the Giants, and they will be 8-3, a game up on the Giants in the loss column, but with the tiebreaker sweep in hand and with the next two games at home, Colts and Houston.
And who knows where the 8-2 Vikings will be, seeing as they will also play on Thanksgiving, at New England. And as for the Eagles, now 9-1 but showing vulnerability of late, losing to Washington then eking out a 17-16 victory over Indianapolis Sunday with the winning touchdown scored with just 1:20 left in the game, that one point difference thanks to a Colts missed extra point.
But the Cowboys, well, they can't worry about all that other stuff. They must just take care of themselves, and as Jones said, "I think we really watched our team grow today."
Today, though, is today, right? Should have learned that lesson this past week. Tomorrow, well, we'll see. Remember AT time period – After Thanksgiving.
"We've got to take it one game at a time," Dak wisely said. "And as I said, we can't have a winning hangover, start smelling ourselves after this win. It's about turning the page, getting in tomorrow, being our best tomorrow, staying in the moment, the preparation."
You are correct, sir, and about time a lesson those "some people" should learn.