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Spagnola: Trying To Untwist A Losing Perception


FRISCO, Texas – Can we be frank?

Drop the perceptions and deal with reality?

Just the facts. A lost quality in this country of late, with the Cowboys heading to Minneapolis on Sunday to take on the resurgent, yet 4-5 Vikings riding a three-game winning streak.

The Cowboys just 2-7. Last place in the NFC East, causing some serious give-up out there in Cowboysland still with seven games to go. Like, notice who bought tickets to the Cowboys' last game? If indeed there were 31,700 socially distanced at AT&T Stadium that Sunday afternoon, my guess is 20,000 were wearing black and gold.

Makes me wonder. At 3-7, are the Giants fans begging for losses and a higher draft choice with their guys owning as many wins as the first-place Eagles (3-5-1), but just one more than the Cowboys? The Washington fans at 2-7, as many wins as the Cowboys but just one less than the Eagles? And heck, bet those hard-core Eagles fans, known to turn on their team at the drop of a pass, you know, those well-known Boo Birds, have hopes of playoffs dancing like sugarplums as the holiday seasons near with but a win and a tie more than the Cowboys.

But here it seems? Forget about it.

Why gracious, so many scoffed when DeMarcus Lawrence, one of the unquestioned competitors on this Cowboys team, said the other day, "Don't ever get this twisted. We're a good team. And it's all about winning games at the end of the day, but we're a good team. Seeing how other people are playing and stuff, I don't think we're far behind at all. We can make a pretty good run."

And we are about to find out, the Cowboys trying to break a four-game losing streak during this annual holiday stretch of now having to play three games in 12 days, Minnesota Sunday, Washington Thanksgiving Day and Baltimore the following Thursday.

Twisted? Like the adjective. And we certainly aren't trying to twist the fact that the Cowboys desperately need to stop the Vikings running game, averaging 153.6 yards a game. Led by the NFL's leading rusher, Dalvin Cook, with 954 of those yards and an NFL-high 13 touchdowns, 12 of those rushing, plus three two-point conversions for a league-high 84 points. And to think he's only played in eight of their nine games.

"He's a playmaker," defensive tackle Neville Gallimore emphasizes. "He's a stud, stud running back."

Yep, big chore.

But as big a chore, if not even bigger, will be the Cowboys' ability to score points, scoring only 41 in the past four games – just two touchdowns. Never a good idea to play quarterback roulette, the Cowboys fixin' to rotate quarterbacks at a higher rate than legendary coach Tom Landry did from play-to-play for that one game against Chicago in 1971 with Roger Staubach and Craig Morton that didn't turn out so well.

With 10th-year veteran Andy Dalton scheduled to start Sunday against Minnesota, the Cowboys will now be starting a different quarterback in each of the past four games – from Dalton to Ben DiNucci to Garrett Gilbert to now Dalton. In fact, if we can think back to Oct. 11, Game 5 against the Giants, when Dak Prescott suffered his season-ending ankle injury, this will be the fifth time in six games, encompassing four quarterbacks, starting a different guy.

And you wonder why the Cowboys have scored just three touchdowns since Dak went down with 6:16 left in the third quarter of their 37-34 win over the Giants to pull to 2-3? Just three touchdowns in the last 261 minutes, 16 seconds of play?

Come on.

But please do not get twisted why the Cowboys are going back to Dalton, despite the inspiring performance by Gilbert in his first NFL start, losing to Pittsburgh, 24-19. That's what they should be doing, banking on a guy having started 135 of his 137-game NFL career instead of the guy having thrown just six NFL passes before his first NFL start in his seventh NFL game.

And let's remember, because it was Dalton having suffered the concussion and some memory loss, along with loss of taste and smell while also testing positive for COVID-19, the protocol combo causing him to miss starts in the past two games and nearly a half in a third, not those campaigning for Gilbert to remain the starter.

Please don't forget:

· When Dalton took over for Dak in that Giants game at the New York 27-yard line, he led the Cowboys to a touchdown on that drive and also to the game-tying field goal at 34 and the game-winning field goal as time expired.

· In his first start, the 38-10 loss to Arizona, the Cowboys lost Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin (concussion) with 10:50 left in the second quarter, leaving the Cowboys with two rookies starting on the offensive line (Terence Steele at right tackle, Tyler Biadiasz his second NFL start at center), second-year guard Connor McGovern coming in to play his first significant NFL snaps, a second-year player (Brandon Knight) at left tackle and then the comparatively third-year seasoned veteran Connor Williams at the other guard.

· Dalton was sacked three times in that game, hit another eight, the Cards credited with seven tackles for losses.

· Oh, and then there were these: Ezekiel Elliott losing fumbles on consecutive possessions, Dalton intercepted twice, one of those when intended receiver CeeDee Lamb was pulled to the ground by Dre Kirkpatrick who intercepted the pass, and Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup dropping a touchdown pass on third-and-goal from the 16.

· Somehow, Dalton did manage to complete 34 of 54 passes for 266 yards.

And if you thought the offensive line was a mess in that game, the following week against Washington veteran Cam Erving, who missed virtually all of training camp and all but two special teams snaps the first six games of the season, was making his first start for the Cowboys at left tackle because Knight, the previous backup starter to the IR-ed Tyron Smith, injured his knee that week in practice. Then there's McGovern making his first NFL start in place of Martin, still in concussion protocol and the rookie Steele still struggling at right tackle.

Dalton had no chance, completing just nine of 19 passes for 75 yards and one interception against a strong Washington defensive front before suffering the blow to the head from Jon Bostic with 6:20 left in the third quarter of the disheartening 25-3 loss. And that left the rookie DiNucci taking his first NFL snaps, followed by his first NFL start the next week in the 23-9 loss to Philadelphia that was 15-9 until the Eagles returned a sack-fumble for a touchdown on a play Washington's recovered fumble should have been ruled down.

So that brings us to this: Dalton, having turned 33 on Oct. 29, back in the QB saddle, just where he should be, giving the Cowboys the best chance to win.

"I will say this," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Friday morning during his segment on 105.3 The Fan, "I don't in anyway give us a negative, a real handicap going up here against Minnesota. … We know they're solid, but I feel we can play a solid team and play well enough to win."

So there, time to find out if all this is not as twisted so many think.

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