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Spagnola: Watch Out, Cowboys Just Might Be Comin’ Round The Corner

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Now that’s more like it.

         40 points.

         501 total yards of offense.

         265 yards rushing.

         147 yards rushing for Ezekiel Elliott and two rushing touchdowns, 219 total yards and another touchdown.

         134.0 QB rating for Dak Prescott, three passing touchdowns for the third consecutive game and one running.

         5 sacks for the defense.

         3 fumble recoveries for a plus-3 turnover differential.

         290 opponent total yards.

         103 opponent rushing yards.

         10 opponent points, final seven in garbage time.

         Let these numbers do the talkin’ loud and clear:

         Cowboys 40, 49ers 10.

         Seems like old times, Dak, Zeke, Dez, Witt and most refreshing the offensive line, knocking down those Niners defenders as if they were but a bunch of bowling pins.

         And not a minute too soon.

         And before we go any further, let’s be careful with the yeah-buts, as in yeah, the Cowboys did all this but against a now 0-7 San Francisco football team that hasn’t won a game since Christmas Eve of last year, and prior to that, the only other win coming on Sept. 12 of last season.

         Remember what the narrative was before the game, all that talk about, yeah, the 49ers are winless, but they had lost the previous five games by a grand total of 13 points? They lost every one of those games by no more than three points – two in overtime – a streak that somehow was figured to be an NFL record.

         Plus, the Cowboys had lost two straight themselves, causing many to wonder if the sixth game of the season already was a “must win.”

         Well, first of all, the Cowboys did what they should have done to an 0-6 team, dismantling the 49ers play by play, series by series, quarter by quarter, half by half. Ran right through them. Passed right over them. Treated a rookie quarterback like a rookie quarterback starting his first NFL game should be treated. With malice.

         And darn it, on a gorgeous Sunday before seemingly as many Cowboys fans as Niners fans, these Cowboys made plays. Like DeMarcus Lawrence’s sack-forced fumble-fumble recovery play with the 49ers trying to make this a 20-10 game by halftime on a second-and goal play from the 5-yard line, adding to his sack total of now 9.5. Lawrence is on pace for a club-record/NFL record 25-sack season and just a half sack away from producing the first double-digit sack season for the Cowboys since Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013.

         Like letting the 49ers know after they turned the ball over on downs their first possession of the third quarter at the Cowboys 28-yard line, we aren’t letting you back in this ball game with Dak’s short screen pass to Zeke that rolled down hill 72 yards for a touchdown, with the offensive linemen scattering 49ers like a covey of doves in a field, to take a commanding 27-3 lead.

            And as Zeke said, pointing out this was the same play as last year’s 83-yard screen for a touchdown against Pittsburgh, “I tell Dak that every time, that I have the longest receptions of his career so if he wants to throw a long touchdown, just throw the ball (to me).”

Like Jeff Heath, the emergency kicker, stepping up to hit two of three extra points after Dan Bailey strained his right groin warming up on the sideline during the Cowboys early second-quarter touchdown drive. Why, this is the first time he’s kicked in a game since nailing the winning kick in the state championship in his senior year of high school, and remember those extra points now are from 33 yards out. This ain’t some state fair stuff to win a kewpie doll.

         Like Kavon Frazier letting the Cowboys know they shouldn’t be making him one of the inactive players anymore, causing a fumble after the Cowboys went three-and-out on their first possession of the game that was recovered by Xavier Woods at the Niners’ 20-yard line, leading to the Cowboys’ shortest touchdown drive of the season.

         Like a blitzing Jaylon Smith’s sack/forced fumble that Tyrone Crawford recovered at the Niners’ 29 to set up the Cowboys’ sixth touchdown – that’s four consecutive games totaling at least four touchdowns in a game – to put this game away at 40-3 with 10:49 left. And how great was that, allowing rookie quarterback Cooper Rush, in the first game he’s been active as the backup quarterback, the opportunity to make his NFL debut in mop-up time, a luxury the Cowboys rarely produce.

         Oh, and how about one more: “Old Man Witt” hauling in that one-handed, over-the-shoulder, 18-yard touchdown pass on a honey of a throw from Prescott to give the Cowboys a 20-3 lead.

         These are the things that had been missing during the two-game losing streak. Someone making a critical play on offense or defense or special teams, especially on defense, simply playing as Sean Lee said, “that complementary football.”

          Maybe, just maybe this team is turning a corner after the slow start … er, should we say after a two-game losing streak. This is now four straight games the Cowboys have scored at least 28 points – a 32.2 average – and third straight game they have scored at least 30. More like last year when this offense carried the team to the 13-3 record.

         After a slow start, Zeke now has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, 116 against the Packers and now the 147, third highest of his career. So look, let’s quit with all the nonsensical conclusion jumpers spewing about how he’s lost a step; how he’s overweight; how he’s not seeing holes. You see anyone haul him down from behind in this one? As Zeke said when asked the same, “Shut up.”

         And defensively, you saw the difference with Lee and Anthony Hitchens on the field, Hitch contributing eight solo tackles, Lee five and the guidance this unit missed with him out the previous two games. Even Smith was more active in a reduced role, playing 32 of the 65 defensive snaps, closer to the plan before Hitchens missed the first four games and Lee the previous two.

By the way, if you saw Lee sort of hobbling off the field at one point in the second half, he said he got hit in the quad, and it was not his hamstring issue again.

         That’s three times now in six games that the Cowboys have held an opponent to no more than 17 points, and no coincidence they have now won all three of those. And this was the second time in six games the Cowboys have held a team to no more than 10 points, a trick they turned only twice all of last year.

         Now, the Cowboys are not out of the woods yet. They are just 3-3 and know two of the next three games are on the road, including their coast-to-coast double heading to Washington next Sunday then at Atlanta after the home game against Kansas City. And with the exception of the 5-1 Eagles, the .500 Cowboys are just one game in the loss column behind five other teams.

         Also looks like going forward, at least for a couple of weeks, the Cowboys will be playing without Bailey, meaning they will be hunting down a replacement kicker to bring in by Wednesday, representing the first interruption of this fine-tuned kicking operation in five seasons.

         Plus, we will find out more about the Eagles and Washington (3-2) Monday night. One of them has to lose, meaning the Cowboys will either be tied with Washington for second in the NFC East at 3-3 or just one loss behind the Eagles and Redskins. And another good thing, too: The Cowboys still have four games left with those two teams, meeting Washington next Sunday on a short week for the Redskins, so another opportunity to help themselves.

As Witten pointed out at the bye, there still is a lot of football left to play.

“Yeah, obviously you want to grow,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “You want to get better each week as a football team in all different areas.”

And obviously, this team has a lot of room to grow if you count the players playing key roles in no more than their third seasons: Dak, Zeke, La’el Collins, Chaz Green, Ryan Switzer, Jeff Swaim, Jaylon Smith, Rod Smith, Keith Smith, Irving, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton, Damien Wilson, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, Byron Jones, Heath in his first year starting, Kavon Frazier, Chidobe Awuzie when he gets back from his strained hammy and youngsters like Brian Price and now Richard Ash rotating in on the D-Line. And trusting the rookie Rush with backup duty behind the second-year starter.

That’s mighty young.

But as Sean Lee says, “This was the most complete game we’ve played.”

And he is right, start to finish, unlike during the two-game losing streak to the Rams (35-30) and Packers (35-31), winnable games they frittered away with costly turnovers and spotty defense, just unable to close.

“We talked about building on the good and learning from the bad and improving,” Capt. Witten said of coming out of the bye. “I thought it showed up today and to get some momentum going forward.”

         The numbers seem to be trending that way, too.

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