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Sullivan: Despite Another Bad Loss, Sky Is Not Falling On These Cowboys

On my return elevator trip back to the press box after Sunday's game, the man standing next to me, not a journalist, says, "Might be time to tank the season and take a quarterback in the first round."

Yes, for sure, that's the answer. It's been nice, Dak. Congrats on having the second-highest career passer rating in NFL history and winning nearly 80 percent of the games you started and finished. Heck, even this season he ranks third in ESPN's Total QB rating. But alas, another former Cowboys quarterback is headed to the broadcast booth.

Upon leaving the stadium, another man approached me on my walk to the car. He wanted to know if I was a writer as I was still wearing my press pass. I made the dreadful mistake of replying yes. At that point, and with more than a few adult beverages in his system, he unleashed a tirade for the ages. It was definitely uncomfortable. Among his "suggestions," at least the printable ones and those not involving the relocation of my head, were firing Jason Garrett, releasing Ryan (well, he called him Barry) Switzer and throwing more screen passes. He also highly recommended that Jerry Jones should sell the team.

Yes sir, no overreaction whatsoever. The Cowboys are 2-2. So are the New England Patriots, who were supposedly destined for undefeated domination this season. So are the New York Jets, who were supposedly destined for defeated domination. The league is ever-changing, week-to-week, more so than ever because of the younger rosters and limits on physical practice time.

There are so many teams that, honestly, we have no idea who they are. From Carolina, the Panthers suffering a 21-point home loss to the Saints the week before beating the Pats at Foxboro, to Pittsburgh, who sandwiched a loss to Chicago around 17-point wins over Minnesota and Baltimore. And those are just two examples of many.

Among those searching are the Cowboys. Let's go back in time to the morning of Sept. 10, which seems like ages ago in a galaxy far, far away. Imagine being told the Cowboys would beat the Giants and Cardinals by double-digits, Ezekiel Elliott wouldn't miss a game, DeMarcus Lawrence would be leading the NFL with 7.5 sacks and Jaylon Smith would rank among the top-10 in tackles. With that information, most guesses at the record would be 4-0, with 3-1 being worst-case scenario.

I am more times than not guilty of being an optimist. That's not going to change after any one loss. However, this was a bad loss. There are no moral victories in the NFL, and as Bill Parcells liked to say, you are what your record says you are. Still, there are losses and then there are bad losses.

This was a touchdown favorite at home, where Dallas had finally established a sense of home-field advantage with eight straight wins. This was having a double-digit lead with a chance to add more and demoralize the Rams before halftime. That was before the muffed punt on what should have been the most obvious of fair catches. This was allowing five unanswered scoring drives from the end of the second quarter until midway through the fourth. Even still, 30 points without the defense forcing a turnover, that's not bad production from the offense. That's going to win most days in the NFL.

The Rams are obviously much improved and they could very well win the NFC West. Jared Goff is third in passer rating behind just Alex Smith and Tom Brady while Todd Gurley is second to Kareem Hunt in yards from scrimmage. And no one works miracles with defenses like Wade Phillips. The man has led 19 defenses that have finished in the top 10.

Also, there's no way of underestimating the importance of Sean Lee's absence. Smith is going to be a star in this league, as I've written before, he has no ceiling. His knee, the nerve, both fantastic. He's exceeded all expectations thus far. He just doesn't have the experience in pass coverage at this level.

And to his credit, Goff took advantage, took what the defense gave him, which was underneath. Of his 36 pass attempts, 22 were thrown less than 10 yards downfield. Known for doing just that himself last season, Dak Prescott threw only 17 of his 36 attempts 10 yards or less.

More times than not, every team wins a game they have no business winning and every team loses a game they absolutely should not have loss. Think back to the 2014 season. They shocked the Seahawks on the road as 10-point underdogs, but then lost at home two weeks later as 10-point favorites against Washington. For me, at least for the time being, I'm going to chalk up the Rams game as the should not have loss.

I still feel good about 11-5, my preseason prediction. David Irving is returning, and as explosive as DeMarcus Lawrence looked at training camp, which I wrote about multiple times, Irving was every bit as impressive. In many ways, Irving could be the key to this defense the next three months.

There's no reason to think Lawrence is going to stop playing at the level he has shown, it's just that until someone else generates a consistent pass rush, offenses are going to block him as the Rams did, like he's Lawrence Taylor. I really focused on him from the press box during the game and again on tape, and it was two and three blockers, a chip here, a chip there, every single passing situation. It's a minor miracle Lawrence tallied four pressures and the forced fumble.

One final point: Of the last 10 Super Bowl winners, four had .500 records through four games or later, including the 2011 New York Giants, who were 7-7. The sky is not falling. The Cowboys are relatively healthy compared to the other 31 teams, have the bye on the horizon, rookies Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods are improving by the day, never mind the week, and we have to hope the offensive line comes together.

This feels like a team that will peak later rather than sooner. Until then, we just have to remain rational.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at

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