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Spagnola: What a Dolly good Thanksgiving time


ARLINGTON, Texas – Happy Thanksgiving, Cowboys style.

This is my 39th Thanksgiving Day spent with the Dallas Cowboys in the past 40 years, and never, ever have seen anything remotely like this. Never. Not the drama. Not the records. Not the 25-point fourth quarter feast.

Not turkey legs galore coming out of everywhere. Not this much attention to these glitzed-up Red Kettles, The Salvation Army absolutely giddy with the attention, and can attest to at least a $20 bill headed its way after finding one laying on the press box steps, telling a Cowboys community relations member to throw it in the Red Kettle if no one came to claim.

And certainly not this much attention to a halftime show, creating a Dolly good time for 93,711 here at AT&T Stadium and guessing for the millions and millions of people watching live on the TV with their bellies full on this holiday Thursday.

Like how much would we have paid to dare the 77-year-old Dolly Parton to strut out on stage at halftime in a sequined up, only slightly modified Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders outfit? And she did it for free while singing "Jolene," then "9 to 5" and creating a stadium uproar by finishing with renditions of Queen's "We Are The Champions," following up with "We Will Rock You" too.

And certainly the Cowboys "rocked" the Washington, uh, Commanders, not those Harlem Globetrotters' punching-bag Generals, 45-10.

Why, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was still beaming a good hour after the conclusion of this game moving the Cowboys to 8-3, now riding a three-game winning streak, assured of at least tying for the third-best record in the NFL when the Week 12 dust settles. That means no more than two games behind the now 9-1 Eagles, having to play the 6-5 Buffalo Bills on Sunday and possibly just a half-game back of the already 8-3 Ravens if they should defeat the 4-6 Chargers.

After losing that 42-10 game to the Niners six weeks ago, sort of makes you want to shout with the Cowboys now having gone 5-1 in the next six games by averaging 35.5 points a game.

No wonder Jones, who at times is susceptible to hyperbole, doubling down after saying the first time, "This might well be one of the top days I've had with the Cowboys," and he even qualified that by going on to say even with those Super Bowls.

Yes, this Thanksgiving was that kind of day.

Especially when you think, and with deference to Dolly, these Commanders were forcing the Cowboys to grind through three quarters. Must have felt they were really working 9 to 5 trying to secure this third consecutive win against a 4-7 team having lost four of its past five games. The Cowboys were only leading 20-10 at that time, Commanders quarterback Sam Howell giving them fits.

And really, it was only 23-10 with 13:36 yet to play after – oh, and here is another one ­– rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey stretching his NFL consecutively made field-goal record to start an NFL career to 22 by converting from 51 yards out.

At that point, the roof caved in on Washington. Micah Parsons sacked Howell, pushing his game total to 1.5. Linebacker Markquese Bell almost picks Howell for a PBU. And when Howell's next pass to Byron Pringle on third-and-17 from the 18-yard line came up a yard short, Washington head coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera might have made a job-ending gamble on fourth down, going for it and, of all Cowboys, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins sacks Howell for a 10-yard loss, the Cowboys taking over at the Washington 24.

And the lady holding up a sign in the stands earlier in the game that read, "Forget Turkey, We Want Lamb," got her protein of choice three plays later with Dak Prescott hitting CeeDee for not only a 15-yard touchdown, but also Lamb for the two-point conversion upon further review to make up for Aubrey missing the second of his last four extra point attempts, giving the Cowboys a commanding 31-10 lead with 10:32 left.

The rest basically was pecan pie for this holiday feast, KaVontae Turpin hauling in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Dak, giving him four TDs this season, behind only Lamb's seven and then now five for … wait for it …

Good gosh, DaRon Bland's five, bringing the house down, nearly the locker room, too, a little later on, this week's reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his Carolina game performance producing another Red Kettle leap of sorts. Why, after tying the NFL record for most pick-6 returns in a single season with his fourth just five days ago in Carolina, this kid picks off his seventh pass of this season, and then goes Tony Dorsett 63 yards as if a man on a mission, running, weaving and busting tackles for the NFL's all-time record fifth pick-6 with still six games to go.

Unreal. And Everson Walls, Bland is coming after yours and Trevon Diggs' single-season franchise record of 11 interceptions, most in the NFL since 1981. And get this: His now five interception returns for touchdowns also sets a franchise career record. And for context, Deion Sanders had just two interception returns for touchdowns during his four seasons with the Cowboys, and nine during his 14-year NFL career. Bland already has the five and a grand total of 12 interceptions in just 28 games. Only Walls (18) and Diggs (14) have more in their first two Cowboys seasons.

Might as well give Bland NFC Defensive Player of the Month right now.

Remarkable, and but a 2022 fifth-round draft choice out of Fresno State, the second Red Kettle celebration of a different kind, probably making the first Kettle jumper, Ezekiel Elliott, proud.

Dak must have run more than 40 yards down field to celebrate Turpin's touchdown, Jake Ferguson helping the 5-6 speedster into the Red Kettle where a pre-wrapped turkey leg was awaiting. Then nearly the whole Cowboys team celebrating Bland's record-setting pick-6 by heaving him into the sequined Red Kettle, seen once getting back to the bench taking a turkey leg bite.

Oh, the overflowing joy, so many so happy, guessing there might have been a tear shed or three.

"I mean, for him to break the record here at home on Thanksgiving, understanding how many fans were watching, sure, having family here, is incredible for him," Dak said, knowing on this "John Madden Thanksgiving" he and Bland eventually took their CBS postgame Players of the Game turkey-leg bites. "I ran into the locker room first and got ready for him to come in a couple of seconds after and the team welcomed him just as he deserved.

"A lot of cheers, a lot of excitement and Coach (Mike McCarthy) gave him the game ball. He gave a short, quick speech just as he said – a man of a few words. But it was right up to par with who he is and who he's always been."

That gave the Cowboys 45, the fourth 40-burger of the season. That stretched the Cowboys' NFL-high home winning streak to 13. That stretched the Cowboys' average scoring total to 31.5 a game. This 431-yard total offensive performance stretched the Cowboys' streak of more than 300 yards to six straight, half of those now more than 400 yards. Also, this now is beating seven opponents by at least 20 points, tying the club record set back in 1968.

And Dak, whew boy, his sizzling streak continues. Another 331 passing yards. Another four-touchdown performance. For the fourth time in 2023. Another season high QB rating, this time 142.1, his highest since the 143.3 in the third game of the 2021 season. And for good measure, his four-TD passing performance is the 10th of his career, tying Tony Romo for the franchise career-high, and his third this season.

Yep, was that kind of Thanksgiving. And you know what, haven't even mentioned the defense sacking Howell four times, hitting him another eight, registering five TFLs and making enough critical plays to hold the not-so Commanders to just 10 points, the fifth time this season an opponent has scored no more than 10 points against the Cowboys and the second in a row.

"Well, we've just gotten to be a part of such a great tradition for the Cowboys to be able to have this Thanksgiving game for the NFL," Jones gushed, going on to point out how Dolly donated $1 million to The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign Kickoff. "I've never dreamed that it could evolve into what it is, to today have Dolly Parton, the great star that she is, the millions of people who are watching the game and then the Dallas Cowboys to show out and break, if you will, an almost unattainable record it seemed like. This is a surreal day.

"I wouldn't even dare, as much as I imagine or as big as I might dream or think, I couldn't have drawn a day like today up. I couldn't have imagined it. … So to be able to do that, and football, be a part of an effort like this is really more than you can almost understand.

"Thank you for Thanksgiving."

Nothing more need be said.

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