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Writer's Blocks: A Game To Break The News Cycle


FRISCO, Texas – I always feel this weird pressure to say something super wise at the intro of the column.

This week, I'm copping out – because nothing needs to be said. Maybe for some teams the novelty of playing the New England Patriots has worn off, but certainly not here. This is only the fifth time Dallas has played New England during the Brady-Belichick Era, and the Cowboys are 0-4 in their previous meetings against them.

Jason Garrett and his players can downplay it all they want, but this is the ultimate measuring stick game. It has been for roughly 15 years. Even if the Patriots didn't have the best record in the NFL, this would serve as a chance to see how you stack up against the most successful organization in modern league history.

Which, on that note, reminds me of a point I wanted to make:

1. It's amazing how quickly the narrative can turn when you hyper-analyze everything from week to week.

But even by NFL standards, this particular matchup could set a new standard.

With back-to-back 400-yard performances, Dak Prescott has clawed his way into the fringe of the MVP discussion. If the Cowboys hadn't lost to the Jets, or if they had pulled out one of those nail-biters against New Orleans or Minnesota, he'd be right there next to Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson as part of the front runner conversation.

You can't undersell the potential impact of this game. America's Team, with a surging young quarterback, going up against the GOATs and their dynasty. It'll be the only game on TV in the vast majority of the country. The league's biggest, most popular team against its most dominant.

Win or lose, the fallout will be out of control. For all the talk of underachieving, the Cowboys will be the toast of the league if they win this game, and Dak will ride a wave like we haven't seen since he won 11-straight as a rookie. If they lose, they'll fall back to the pack with a middling record and a resume that still doesn't feature an impressive win.

Regardless of whether or not it's fair, the news cycle after this game is going to be absurd. We'll either be planning the Super Bowl parade or arguing over whether the franchise needs to fold.

For all our sakes, here's hoping it's the former. Even if it's premature, at least it'd be fun.they'

2. As if we needed another tribute to the Patriots' absurd dominance over the last two decades.

Is this a college football program? Because, quite simply, you're not supposed to utterly dominate at your home stadium the way New England has at Gillette Stadium.

The record is easy enough to pull up. Since the Pats opened their new home back in 2002, their home record is a ridiculous 119-21. That averages out to basically one home loss per season – and that doesn't include their 19-3 home record in playoff games.

They've gone a perfect 8-0 at home a staggering seven times in the last 17 years, and they're halfway to doing it an eighth time.

Suffice to say, they're pretty damn hard to beat in their building.

3. Not to be satisfied by simply crunching the record, though, I wanted to examine the 21 losses. What exactly does the Patriots' track record look like, and does it tell us anything useful?

You might be surprised to learn this, but it takes a pretty good team to beat New England in Foxborough.

Of the 21 teams to win at Gillette since 2002, 12 of them made the playoffs that season. Four of them – the 2006 Colts, the 2008 Steelers, the 2011 Giants and the 2012 Ravens – went on to win the Super Bowl. In fact, the average win total of the teams to pull this off is 9.3.

Simply put, you don't really see the Patriots lose home games to bad or even mediocre teams. The 2012 Arizona Cardinals (5-11) and the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles (7-9) are the only teams who finished with losing records to go into Gillette and win a true road game. The 2016 Buffalo Bills, who finished 7-9, also managed to pull it off – but that was a Week 17 game in which the Patriots sat their starters. It hardly counts.

All this serves to state the obvious: it takes a pretty good team to win this game. Again, for emphasis: 18 of the 21 teams that have done it finished with a winning record, and 12 of them eventually made the playoffs.

The Cowboys have shown flashes of being pretty good. If they manage to pull this off, history suggests they just might be going places.

4. I literally laughed out loud when I went to check on last week's snap count.

Do you know how many snaps Tony Pollard played last week in Detroit? The answer is a measly 21 – 13 on offense, eight on special teams. Of the 105 total snaps the Cowboys played against the Lions, Pollard got just 20% of them.

And that's all he needed to make a huge impact on the game, touching the rock eight times for 98 yards and a touchdown.

We don't need to reinvent the wheel, I guess is my point. Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys' featured back, and that's fine. People wringing their hands about his effectiveness need to chill.

But clearly, Pollard doesn't need a huge workload to make a difference.

We can even remove the first three weeks of the season from the equation, since Zeke was still easing his way back into football and the Cowboys were blowing out their opponents. But what about the last month?

Against the Eagles, Giants and Lions, Pollard got 48 total snaps on offense. That's 22% of the total, by the way. In those brief appearances, he totaled 114 yards on just 18 touches.

Go ahead and do the math on that.

That's what makes it all the more baffling when you see him get five total snaps against Minnesota, or seven snaps against the New York Jets.

No one is advocating for Pollard to replace Zeke, but the guy clearly has some juice. It should be a priority to make him a real part of every game plan, not something you hope works out.

5. You can always count on Amari Cooper for an interesting answer.

Given the connection they have, it's understandable Cooper fields a lot of questions about Dak Prescott. After all, in just 19 games the two have linked up for 1,611 yards and 13 touchdowns on 109 completions.

It's also understandable that Cooper would be asked if he's seen a change in Prescott. The Cowboys' quarterback has been to the Pro Bowl twice, but he's consistently played on the level that we're currently seeing.

As usual, Cooper delivered the goods with an impressive amount of introspection:

"I've been asked that question before, earlier this year in the offseason, I answered and said 'Not really,' because he was already grown when I was here, taking command in the huddle, he had shown good leadership.

"But as of now, yeah. I mean, the way he's playing, he's playing lights out. He's taking more shots, even though he took a lot of shots when I first got here. I would say the biggest thing is just he seems a lot more confident. And that's not to say he wasn't confident when I got here, but there's just a difference when you're playing lights out, it's just a different confidence you carry."