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Spagnola: Yet Another Rerun Of This Picture Show

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ARLINGTON, Texas – This is starting to get mighty redundant. In fact, joyously monotonous.

The Cowboys defense holds an opponent to no more than 19 points for the fourth consecutive week to start a season. You must go back to 1973 to find the last time that's happened, and now two short of the franchise record of six straight established in 1968 and matched in 1969.

The Cowboys defense holds an opponent to but one touchdown for the fourth time in the first four games of the 2022 season, matching the 1970 and 1972 teams for fewest in the first four games in franchise history.

The Cowboys point total continues to slowly rise weekly, as if some sourdough concoction, from 3 to 20 to 23 to 25.

The Cowboys win their third consecutive game without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, something they honestly haven't done with a backup quarterback but maybe twice, sort of, since Steve Beuerlein won five straight, the last four of the 1991 season and another in the first round of the playoffs filling in for the injured Troy Aikman. Most recently accomplished, if you will, in 2016 when Dak was forced to start the season in place of the injured Tony Romo, actually winning 11 straight after a season-opening loss, then Romo himself in 2006 after Bill Parcells benched starter Drew Bledsoe six games into the season, stringing together four straight during his 10 starts.

But that's different, right? They did not come on in relief. Still, that's it over the previous 30 years.

Yet again meet backup quarterback Cooper Rush, now winner of three consecutive starts since Dak's hand fracture in the opener, and even more remarkable winning his first four NFL career starts for the Cowboys, something that's never happened in franchise history.

Put it all together, and splice in the triumphant return of Michael Gallup, another pick for Trevon Diggs, another No. 1 receiver-like performance by CeeDee Lamb and four more field goals by steady-Eddie Brett Maher, making 10 of 11 to start the season, his only miss from 59 – barely – and this is what you get:

Cowboys 25, Washington 10, that unlikely picture show we've seen for a month.

Cowboys 3-1, one game behind undefeated Philadelphia (4-0), the only undefeated team left in the NFL, and in a seven-way tie for the next best record heading to Los Angeles next Sunday to face the 2-1 Rams playing the 1-2 49ers Monday night.

Nothing could be finer considering the circumstances straddling the Cowboys and head coach Mike McCarthy to begin the season with all them buzzards hovering overhead and the button already pushed on the hotseat after the opening 19-3 loss to Tampa Bay.

"I think it shows the grit and the mentality of this team," Ezekiel Elliott said. "We've had to grind it out and none of it has been pretty, but we scratch and claw and find a way to get a win.

"We didn't play well that first game, but since then we've played some really good complementary football."

You bet, first win by three points on a walk-off field goal. Then by four, scoring the tie-breaking winning touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter.

Now by a whopping 15 points, appearing to be a laugher by NFL standards these days. But by no means was this easy, just grinding away after Washington dissolved a 6-0 deficit with their only touchdown midway through the second quarter to take a brief 7-6 lead. The Cowboys then sanded away with a 15-play, 75-yard drive immediately afterward, hogging the ball for six minutes and a second by converting five consecutive third downs along the way. But even at that, to keep things rather intriguing, the blocked extra point kept matters tenuous, 12-7 at halftime but a Washington touchdown from trailing again.

"That was a big drive," QB1-A said.

Sure would be much easier on us to just pinpoint the reason the Cowboys won their third straight and eighth straight in the NFC East going back to the 6-0 of last year, and already 2-0 this season with Philadelphia coming up in two weeks, on one big factor. But the Cowboys, well, they are like one of those electric sewing machines, pop, pop, pop, pop, collectively stitching this win together.

Why, Rush finished a workman like 15 of 27 for 223 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 107.5 QB rating, first in team history to record at least a 90.0 rating in each of his first four starts, a slash line any team in this league would take from its backup quarterback.

Would be great to say the Cowboys leaped on Lamb's back, six catches for 97 yards and a beauty of a 30-yard touchdown reception when he went in motion left to right to run a fine route on Washington cornerback William Jackson III, leaving him in left field when he sauntered into the center of the end zone, nary a safety to be seen.

But then there was Gallup, too, erupting that Cowboys sideline emotionally with his third-and-6, nine-yard touchdown grab. Welcome back Gallup, his second catch in his first game returning since tearing his ACL in Game 16 of last year nine months ago to the day, perfectly executing the scramble drill, reversing his route and crossing the back of the end zone left to right with Rush scrambling to his right for the grab.

"Just classic 'MG' play," Rush said, then adding, "that was big for him, to go back out there, 'I'm still Michael Gallup, I can go make plays.'"

While the Redskins (OK, I did it), uh, the Commanders I mean, made it tough on the Cowboys running the ball (29 for 62 yards) – especially Tony Pollard, eight carries for six yards with a long of nine, that's right, do the math – the offensive line did a decent job protecting Rush, sacked just once and hit but three times.

That allowed this somewhat stop-and-go offense to produce four plays of at least 23 yards, including shots for 45, 31 and 30 yards.

Or it would be great to say this third win was all on the defense. Now a lot was, but it wasn't just one person. No Micah Parsons four-sack performance. Once again, as the Giants did, so did the Commanders not only devoting extra attention to him, but also running right at him those first-half times the Cowboys chose to line him up at defensive end on too many running downs.

But seems as if everyone had a hand in this one. Donovan Wilson following up his 11-tackle performance against the Giants with nine more Sunday afternoon, again playing every defensive snap (74). Leighton Vander Esch came up with eight on 68 snaps.

There was Diggs, with a beauty of an over-the-head interception when the Commanders tried him deep with 17 seconds left in the first half, making a catch Willie Mays would have been proud of. And more than that, he had three passes broken up, one on fourth down in the end zone preventing a Commanders TD, and almost another pick. Maybe more telling, he had no tackles, mostly meaning whoever he was tailing didn't catch many, if any, passes.

How about rookie corner DaRon Bland, in his first NFL start, getting his first NFL defensive snaps, 59 of them, registering his first NFL interception, snuffing out any Commanders late comeback thoughts.

And while the two sacks the Cowboys did register – Neville Gallimore and Dante Fowler Jr. – might seem meek after the Eagles last week sacked Carson Wentz nine times – they did hit him 11 more and the pressures likely reached double-digits again.

Look, this defense growing steadily with each game before your very eyes held Wentz to 170 yards passing and a 56.6 QB rating. And after giving up 101 yards rushing in the first half, settled down in the second, holding Washington to just 41 more.

Again, one touchdown, one field goal. Thus, 10 points.

This allows an offense without its starting quarterback to keep chugging along, and this team to stitch together another win. Rush to stitch together yet another win. The head coach to keep this team afloat facing long odds, Sunday the first time the Cowboys actually were favored to win a game, but by a meager 3½ points over the Commanders when the home team normally has to cover at least three points.

Yep, here we are four weeks into the season and the Cowboys likely underdogs facing the Rams in L.A. next Sunday. And if we are betting folks, likely still without Dak for a fourth straight game, maybe their sternest Dak-less test so far. On the road. Facing the defending Super Bowl champs. A stout defense. The top defensive player in the NFL in Aaron Donald.

"Most importantly is you've got to find ways to win," said McCarthy, now 8-2 since the final six games of last year. "I think the fact that we've recognized and committed to it. The players are doing an excellent job. Once again it's all about expectations and just staying persistent. Not trying to do much.

"Defense keeping the point totals down has given us some great opportunities to try to go the long way on offense, not feeling like we have to be wide open and explosive. Obviously, that's where we were last year. We'll build back towards that.

"This is the way we need to play right now, and it's been very effective for us through the month of September."

And we've sure seen it coach. Same song, third verse.

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