Sullivan: More Beautiful Than Ugly; Lawrence's Play, Among Thoughts

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • This isn't figure skating or the floor exercise, so for me there is no such thing as a bad or ugly road win in the NFL. Never mind against arguably the best defense in the league. This was a beautiful win for the simple reason that it was a win. It's almost like the media and fans alike, we've been programmed over the years to always find the negative rather than vice-versa.

The Cowboys are 11-1, without question the most accomplished team in the league this season, and, oh yeah, the Patriots just lost Rob Gronkowski for likely the remainder of the year. Also, Dallas has the luxury of a December mini-bye week and is probably the healthiest team in the NFL. So life is good. Chill.

  • Here's what was impressive about the win at Minnesota. They proved to themselves that they can win when their game plan – let's call it offensive philosophy – isn't clicking. It's easy, not just in football but any aspect of life, to have a plan and execute it when there's no adversity. That's not difficult. Goes back to the famous Mike Tyson quote, "Everyone has a plan until they are hit in the mouth."

Dallas finished the game with 13 first downs. The offense was 1-for-9 on third-down conversations. It committed more penalties and turnovers than the Vikings did. And Minnesota easily controlled time of possession, by nearly six minutes.

If those facts were rolled out before kickoff, the Vegas line would have had the Vikings favored by at least a touchdown, probably more. The win probability for Dallas would have been around 10 percent. These are the games, the grinders, that separate those needing a win in Week 17 to make the playoffs and truly great teams.

  • Also, don't buy into that nonsense that only Super Bowl winners are great teams. Arguably the most dominant squad in NFL history, the 2007 New England Patriots, didn't win the Super Bowl. This Dallas team, what it has accomplished this season, this is a great team. I'd put them already, no matter what else happens, as a top-eight team in franchise history. That could be top five before the playoffs even start. And remember, this isn't exactly the Detroit Lions in terms of franchise history.
  • There were three players who really stood out for me: DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens and Dez Bryant. Before delving into that trio, though, it should be mentioned that the offensive line has been brilliant since Week 2. Like, playing as well as any unit ever has in the 32 years I've been watching football. Like, comparable to the pass rush of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
  • Lawrence, who still has just one sack this season, finished the game with nine QB pressures. For comparison, he entered the game with 11 on the year. This goes back to my longstanding theory on statistics for defensive players being ridiculously overrated. Go look at the box score. It says that Lawrence finished with zero tackles and two QB hits. That's the official NFL box score, which will more or less serve as the historic barometer going forward for how Lawrence played in this game. When in reality, he dominated. He was the MVP of the game, on either side of the ball, for either team.
  • That's the best all-around game Hitchens has played in his three-year NFL career and should have been even better if not for his instinctive, athletic, sensational interception being overturned on one of many ridiculous calls by the officiating crew. I should stress it was fairly brutal for both sides, the Cowboys weren't cheated or anything. As for Hitchens, wow, he looked like Zach Thomas out there, just everywhere. He was like Bugs Bunny in that baseball game, playing all three linebacker positions at once. Finished with 10 tackles, two QB hurries, a sack and a pass defensed.
  • And Dez. I was worried about Dez coming into training camp. I wasn't entirely convinced after receiving his second pro contract that he wanted to be one of the great ones. I knew he loved football, I knew he adored his teammates and Jason Garrett. I just didn't know if that same hunger and commitment would be there. Thankfully for the Cowboys faithful, my fears were baseless. Dez has worked as hard this year as he did from 2012-14. And it's showing.

Again, like Lawrence, his numbers are camouflaged. Yeah, he caught four balls for 84 yards and a touchdown. But Dak Prescott only completed 12 passes for 139 yards. In terms of percentage, if Prescott throws for 300, Dez would have had 180 yards. Dez has been open more than a Kansas farm these last two weeks. And he's been blocking like Hines Ward the last three or four weeks as well.

  • We all like Lucky Whitehead and he has some dynamic moves, no one is questioning that. He tries almost too hard at times. Here's the thing about when you are a fifth receiver/return specialist who is used once a game on offense. You can't fumble. You can lose yards, you can fall down without anyone tackling you, you can lose your cleats and have holes in your socks, but you can't fumble. Kind of like you can't return punts at the 3-yard line. And you shouldn't run backward inside your own 15-yard line when returning punts, either.
  • Orlando Scandrick, after losing his starting gig to rookie Anthony Brown – at least for the night – played easily his best game since 2014. Lot of folks don't appreciate how much he brings to this secondary, to this defense. And if he's angry at the world, all the better. He didn't allow a catch longer than 5 yards and was really in the zone, hitting with attitude and force. If he plays like this down the stretch, it's different defense altogether. There are like a handful of people in this world who realize how good Scandrick was from 2012-14. Should have made two Pro Bowls.
  • The tackle Leon McFadden made on Minnesota's first punt return was quite possibly the singular most spectacular individual play of the season for the Cowboys. I've watched it three times now and am more impressed with each viewing. Holy wow, just go watch it. Dude broke away from being double-teamed and before that a block in the back, but didn't allow himself to be taken out of the play, which would have still graded him an A-plus on the snap. And then somehow made the tackle.
  • Not entirely sure what to make of this, maybe nothing, just report my information and move on. Dak has 19 touchdown passes and two interceptions through 12 games, which made me wonder, has a quarterback ever thrown 25 scores and three or fewer picks. No way, right? Well, it has been done. Once. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, some old-school legend? No, not exactly. Nick Foles finished with 27 touchdown tosses and two interceptions with Philadelphia in 2013. He's still 27 years old, but is a backup quarterback with Kansas City.
  • Appreciate the health of this football team. In many ways, it's amazing the Vikings are 6-6. They lost their starting quarterback, a Hall of Fame running back, and they have used 11 starting offensive linemen. Wasn't that long ago when the Cowboys were signing guys off their couch this time of the year who were starting on the defensive line a few weeks later.
  • Alfred Morris has had exactly one carry in each of the last two games. They have gone for 12 and 11 yards. I'd be OK giving him three or four next time around, I really would. He's going to end up with between 300 and 400 yards by season's end, and honestly, I was expecting him to be used more. Certainly not second-guessing, it's worked out fine, just saying.
  • The key play of the Cowboys' first touchdown drive was Dak's 14-yard scamper on third-and-13 from their own 13. Love that he's running more these last few weeks. Always thought Tony Romo could have run more often. Not sure if it's part of the offensive philosophy or what. I know there aren't any designed quarterback runs, which is fine. Romo was just such a ridiculous athlete and scrambler yet never rushed for more than 129 yards in a season.
  • Kind of weird that Terence Newman and Jason Witten were taken in the same 2003 draft class, yet the former is 38 and the latter is 34. Romo also came out of school that year and is 36. Quirky.

Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.*

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