Sullivan: Some Thought Season Was Finished, But Cowboys Still Elite

We absolutely, positively have to pass judgment 20 minutes before anything of substance actually happens. I guess it's always kind of been that way, can't blame this on millennials, although I can blame them for just about everything else. Get off my lawn!

I remember the Red Sox lost on Opening Day in 1988. The following day's headline on the back of the *Boston Herald *was "Wait 'Til Next Year."

And that's what so many did with this Cowboys start. First the Denver meltdown, which to some was on par with Jackie Smith's drop in Super Bowl XIII or Dwight Clark's catch. It was Week 2, it was a rough afternoon, it happens.

The 1985 Chicago Bears, arguably the most dominant team ever, lost to Miami by two touchdowns and it really wasn't even that close. The 1992 Cowboys, probably the best team in franchise history, lost to the Eagles, 31-7, on Monday Night Football no less, in Week 5.

Then, minus Sean Lee, Dallas dropped back-to-back heartbreakers to the Rams and Packers. Season was finished, the eulogies written, the defense was awful, the offensive line was a mess. Heck, some were even blaming Dak Prescott. Oh, almost forgot, Jason Garrett needed to be fired immediately. Just like he needed to be canned in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Imagine if social media was in charge of firing coaches. Dudes would be escorted from the sidelines every quarter. The guy holding the first-down marker would be calling plays by halftime.

Here's the really absurd part of this: The season still isn't even at the halfway mark.

Wait, almost forgot, the schedule, the schedule from the deepest, darkest and hottest part of you-know-where. Yeah, that schedule. Here's the thing: The Cowboys should be favored in eight of the last nine games, probably road dogs at Philadelphia in Week 17.

For whatever reason, the majority seemed to forget that the Cowboys are a pretty solid football team. Have been for the better part of four seasons now, minus whatever happened after Tony Romo went down in 2015.

Not including the finale last season, in which they didn't play most starters, the Cowboys are 17-5 in their last 22 regular-season games. The only team with a better record over that stretch is the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. So no one should have been surprised on Sunday. Dallas was clearly the better team and that's going to be the case again and again these next two months, no matter who is playing running back.

I'm not saying they are going to run the table, only that this team is just as strong as last season's squad. The defense is better, David Irving appears headed to All-Pro status, and has the sweetest postgame attire since Ed "Too Tall" Jones, although I guess Michael Irvin did have that mink coat. You know, the one he wore when it was 90 degrees, but I digress.

The offense is putting up 30-plus points a week, four games running now, for just the third time in franchise history (1986 and 2014) and that's not stopping. The pass rush – I can't believe I am about to type this – might be the best in the league. Tyrone Crawford is having a Pro Bowl campaign and is coming off arguably the best performance of his career with four quarterback hits, a sack and the blocked field goal.

Lot of football left this season. The Cowboys are going to win a lot more games and by Week 17, the losses to the Broncos, the Rams and the Packers will be all but forgotten. This team is who we thought they were when the season started, one of the top contenders in a wide-open conference. And that was without factoring in the level of Prescott's improvement. I don't think anyone was expecting him to make the leap he has.


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

  • This is going to sound like a ridiculous statement, especially with how the league changes year-to-year, but I've been thinking about this for a few days now and wanted to share. Could and really should be Eagles and Cowboys battling for NFC East supremacy for the next five or six years. Washington is okay, kind of feel like an 8-8 team, and who knows if Kirk Cousins sticks around. He might want a fresh start after the season. The Giants have to be thinking rebuild, draft a quarterback, kind of blow it up.
  • Cowboys also have Washington's number of late; five straight wins in D.C. is hard to believe. George Allen would be furious. Some of the stories about how obsessed he was with the Cowboys in the 1970s are pretty entertaining. He would tell his team in the first meeting of training camp that the goal was beating the Cowboys twice. Not winning the division or making the playoffs. Just beat Dallas.
  • DeMarcus "Tank" Lawrence is on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5. Obviously that's not likely, but he has one in every game. It's not like he went nuts against some third-stringer one week and registered five. And with Irving and Crawford, there are fewer and fewer double-teams and chips in his direction. Entering the season, Tank had nine career sacks in 32 games. Now 10.5 in seven. Zero chance the team lets him walk. More than likely the Cowboys use the franchise tag on him next season.
  • Here's my super nerd segment of the column. When I heard Ryan Kerrigan went to Muncie Central High School, I immediately thought, "That's the team Hickory beat in Hoosiers, my favorite all-time movie." A buddy and I watched it before all of our high school games for four years. Right there is about 90 viewings. Am guessing I've seen it around 150 times. Moving on.
  • Garrett made me warm and fuzzy with the fourth-and-1 call on Dallas' own 48-yard line in the first quarter. Every time this team is near midfield on fourth-and-1, they should be going for it, especially with Ezekiel Elliott. Have noticed with each passing season that Garrett is taking more and more chances, although I doubt he would admit that. Oh, the Cowboys are the only NFL team batting 1.000 this year on fourth-and-1 calls, converting all six.
  • I'm sure he's still angry with me about something I wrote last year, but I couldn't have more praise for how Orlando Scandrick is playing. There is no way to express how much it meant for him to be voted a captain. He was hoping it was going to happen in 2015 before the torn ACL at camp. Would be surprised if he didn't have the team's highest grade from the film, although Travis Frederick was outstanding, too.
  • Really solid game in those conditions from veteran kicker Mike Nugent. Am thinking Dan Bailey's return is going to be post-Thanksgiving, so that's a great sign. Punter Chris Jones is so good, so underappreciated. Has some work to do, but he has a chance to supplant Mat McBriar as the greatest punter in franchise history.
  • I really can't fathom that Dez Bryant being verbally animated on the sidelines is still worth talking or worrying about. He's emotional, more times than not when we hear the audio, it's all positive. And his teammates adore Dez. He's never been a problem on the sidelines or in the locker room. He's not a diva wide receiver, at least in the modern terminology.
  • Just finished the book *Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer *and I couldn't recommend it enough. Growing up, and really until he retired after a series of strokes in 2008, no one taught me more about football than Paul Zimmerman. Lot of cool Cowboys stories from back in the day as well. He has Cowboys Ring of Honor safety Cliff Harris on his all-time team, too. There are two players from the NFL's 1970s All-Decade Team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Drew Pearson and Harris. That really infuriates me.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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