FRISCO, Texas – I wrote about the importance of perspective back during Week 1, and you'll have to forgive me if I harp on it again just one month later.
It's one thing to witness the devastating effects of a hurricane, not to mention the communal support that sprouts up around it. As horrendous as Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria have been to the citizens of this country, at least they're natural disasters. We've never had any control over them, and I'd imagine we never will.
What happened Sunday night in Las Vegas is something that defies description or comprehension. I went to bed on Sunday night worrying about how the Cowboys could fix their offensive line, and I woke up wondering how we as a species can be so awful to each other.
Perspective is everything, and sometimes it's just hard to care about football when you're faced with the brutal reminder that there are people in the world who want to inflict pain, suffering and death on the rest of us. It's even more unsettling when you realize that most of America's societal safe havens – concerts, movie theaters, schools and churches – are one person's malicious decision away from becoming the next crime scene.
I really don't mean to get so heavy in a football column, which is published on a football website. I'm sorry for that. But it's hard not to feel that way when you look around at the state of things in our world right now.
So, like I said before: it's fine to watch football. Root for the Cowboys on game day, and we'll make sure to keep you updated with all the news and analysis you need. Celebrate when they win, and shake your fist when they lose.
But perspective is everything. There's way more to life than wins and losses, and there's more worth being upset about than bragging rights. Tell your loved ones you love them, and let's all try to be good to each other.
At this point, I'm starting to wonder what else we have besides that.
1.Speaking of perspective, we can easily turn that conversation to football – particularly the Dallas Cowboys.
It's early October, and your Dallas Cowboys suddenly have the same number of losses they had on New Year's Eve, 2016. The offensive line is a mess, the running back has lost a step, the quarterback can't hit any throws, the receivers can't get open, the linebackers can't cover anyone and the safeties might as well not even be there.
Did I cover just about everything? Ok, good.
I'm not here to say you're completely wrong. The Cowboys are off to a rocky start. They looked horrendous in Denver, and they ran out of gas against Los Angeles. Even in their wins, they had to patch things together against New York and Arizona teams that certainly don't look impressive right now.
But therein lies the key phrase: "right now." What's true in the NFL in September isn't often the case in January, and sometimes the teams that start slow have the last laugh at the end.
Shockingly enough, we got a fantastic reminder of that fact from the unlikeliest of places on Wednesday – Ezekiel Elliott himself.
Here's a dude who just turned 22, who has routinely competed for championships at the high school and college levels. His only other NFL season saw him lead the league in rushing, helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and a staggering amount of success.
And yet, here was his response when asked about starting slow:
"I really don't think it's a bad thing. You'd rather be hitting your stride mid-to-late season than peaking early," he said. "Once you hit your peak, it really doesn't matter how long it takes you. You can lose six games in this league and still go the playoffs. As long as you hit your stride at the right time, then you're good. So there's no panic in this locker room at all."
That's a pretty savvy quote from a guy with just 20 NFL games under his belt.
2.If you don't want to take Zeke's word for it, what about one of the game's greatest players? Aaron Rodgers knows a thing or two about playoff success, given that he's won a Super Bowl and has ended the Cowboys' last two playoff runs.
He also knows a thing or two about peaking at the right time. His 2010 Packers team, which won the Super Bowl right here in Dallas, was decimated by injuries and sat at 8-6 midway through December. They got healthy, they got hot and they proceeded to win six games in a row, eventually beating Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
Last year was even crazier than that. The Packers slunk to a 4-6 record by mid-November, capped off by a four-game losing streak. In the wake of an 18-point loss to Washington, Rodgers famously said he thought his team could run the table – and they did. Green Bay reeled off six-straight wins, then proceeded to down the Giants and the Cowboys in the playoffs before falling short in the NFC Championship Game.
Asked about the Cowboys' own slow start on Wednesday, Rodgers broke it down in an impressive amount of detail.
"Think about where you're at. They're 2-2, I think Philly is 3-1, so they're one back in the division. You've still got a couple games against those guys – there's a lot of time left in this season," he said. "You've just got to make the most of your opportunities. Games you should win, you've got to win those. But again, we're in Week 5 here – there's a lot of football that has to happen. You want to be playing your best at the right time."
It says a lot about Rodger's ridiculous football IQ that he's got a good grasp of the NFC East pecking order. It's also another reminder that the season isn't settled in September or even October.
So, for the time being – deep breaths, everyone.
3.Having said all of that, I'm not here to lie to you, either.
I don't think the Los Angeles Rams are even one of the five best teams on the schedule, and the Cowboys had a double-digit lead against them at home.
There is no way to sugarcoat it: that's a game that got away. As Rodgers said in the above quote, that was a game the Cowboys should've won. It's not the end of the world that they didn't win, but it's probably going to make their lives a bit harder.
The Packers come to town this week. After the bye week, it's a long distance road trip to San Francisco. Yes, the 49ers are 0-4, but their last three losses are by margins of three, two and three.
Then, there's a road trip to Washington – an always unpredictable division game. After that, the red hot Kansas City Chiefs come to AT&T Stadium. When that's over with, the Cowboys travel to play the reigning NFC champion Falcons.
Like I said, it's not time to panic. But the road ahead doesn't look easy. The Cowboys just lost a game they shouldn't have, and that probably means they'll have to win a game they're not supposed to in these coming weeks.
4.I'm still processing how to feel about Dak Prescott's game against the Rams on Sunday. For that matter, I'm still processing how I feel about the first quarter of his season.
In the grand scheme of things, I have to consider this a successful start. The Cowboys are 2-2, and Prescott has been a big part of their success. His ability to extend plays and turn nothing into something has been amazing – his somersault touchdown run in Arizona and his multiple escapes from Aaron Donald come to mind.
He has also thrown for eight touchdowns, which ties him for third-best in the league. By this point in his rookie season, he had thrown for just three.
5.And yet, I don't need to tell you that Prescott has had his growing pains. They were on full display against a talented Denver secondary, which gambled that he couldn't make them pay and won. As good as he looked at times against the Rams, I thought he threw some of the most inaccurate passes of his young career in that game.
Through four games, in fact, Prescott is completing just 60.8 percent of his passes – which is a full seven points lower than his 67.8 percentage from 2016. The general assumption is that defenses are forcing him to make tougher throws, and he hasn't always been able to hit them.
I wanted to know how true that was, so I decided to break it down by charting every incompletion Dak has thrown since the season started.
At this point, he has thrown 56 of them – 15 against New York, 20 against Denver, 5 against Arizona and 16 against L.A.
Right off the bat, let's get 35 of those out of the way. Here's my breakdown of incompletions that I won't hold against him.
-- 10 passes that were well-thrown, but simply well-defended by the defense
-- 7 drops
-- 6 outright throwaways
-- 5 incompletions in which he was facing intense pressure or was hit on the play
-- 4 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage
-- 3 miscommunications (i.e., his receiver ran the wrong route.)
6.In my estimation, that leaves 21 throws that simply weren't good enough.
Now, I guess there's a couple of ways you can look at that. On one hand, you can argue that 21 throws is a small minority on the whole. That means 63 percent of Prescott's incompletions this season haven't been his fault. It also means that just 15 percent of his throws have been off target.
On the other hand, you can also do some quick math and point out that 21 bad passes in four weeks is an average of five bad balls per game. I'm not sure that's up to snuff for a Pro Bowl quarterback, even if he is having to make tougher throws this season than last.
Prescott left a touchdown on the table in Week 1, when he overshot Dez Bryant on two consecutive plays in the first quarter and the Cowboys settled for a field goal. The next week in Denver, he couldn't quite place the back shoulder ball where he wanted to on multiple occasions – the last of which resulted in a pick-six.
Last week, he was too wide on another back shoulder ball. Later on, when he was trailing, 29-24, in the fourth quarter, he missed Bryant on an open slant that would have picked up a first down. On the very next play, he was decked while throwing and intercepted.
On the game's final drive, with Alec Ogletree charging right at him, he threw too far outside on a 3rd-and-10, missing an opportunity to pick up a first down at the Rams' 36-yard line with 40 seconds remaining.
7.This is where I'll reiterate that I don't think Dak Prescott has been bad this season by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, he might be a victim of his own success, considering how amazing his rookie season was. His athleticism and poise under pressure are big reasons why the Cowboys won in Arizona, and they also gave the Cowboys a chance against a fantastic Rams pass rush.
But that's the life of a quarterback in the NFL. He has missed some throws – an average of about a handful per game, by my count. Sometimes, like in Week 1, that's just an afterthought in an otherwise solid victory. Other times, it can be the difference between winning and losing.
8.Given the response it has already gotten on Twitter, I don't feel much of a need to address Cam Newton's misguided comments on Wednesday – but it was some seriously bush league stuff.
If you need a refresher, it's here. But essentially, Newton laughed dismissively at a female reporter who asked him about the physicality Carolina receiver Devin Funchess has used in his route running recently.
Some of the people reading this column will rolls their eyes that this has become a talking point, because some of the people reading this column are Neanderthals. That's just the law of averages.
Reporters, male and female, try their best to ask good questions and provoke good answers in the interest of better understanding the game and better informing the people who watch it. The vast majority of us who do it never made it past the high school level – if we even got that far. Odds are, we're not always going to know as much about football as the people who are paid millions of dollars to play and coach it.
But you know what? I've never been disrespected in this industry the way Jourdan Rodrigue was on Wednesday afternoon, and I'm the poster child for nerds everywhere. I'm 5'6 when I'm having a good hair day, and I never played past the JV level. Most of what I learned about the route tree came from obsessing over my Madden franchise or my NCAA dynasty on my Playstation 3.
And yet, coaches and players have always treated me with dignity and respect, regardless of what they thought of my questions.
If that can be true for me, it should be true for any man or woman who walks into a locker room. Because your genes and your gender don't have anything to do with your passion and your knowledge for the subject matter.
The fact that a grown man – let alone the face of an NFL franchise – can't see that is honestly pretty gross.
9.There might not be a guy in the Cowboys' locker room with a more affable personality than Charles Tapper. He's always got a smile on his face, he's always down to chat and he typically has something interesting to say when he does talk.
Understandably, you tend to root for guys like that. There are a lot of jerks in the world, so when you meet someone like that, you tend to want to see them succeed.
It always sucks when a guy gets hurt, but that makes it doubly sad to see for Tapper. The second-year pass rusher broke his foot on Wednesday afternoon, and it's looking likely that he's headed for injured reserve. The Cowboys could conceivably bring him back to the roster at some point, but even then you're likely talking about December before he can play again.
From a numbers standpoint, it's not the end of the world. David Irving is coming back to the roster, and the Cowboys still have Damontre' Moore and Taco Charlton as depth behind their starters.
But it's way too easy to forget that these guys are people, and not just numbers on a depth chart. This will be the second-straight season that Tapper has been thrown off by injuries. For one of the better people on the Cowboys' roster, it's a bummer to see.
10.I'm not going to go as far as to say it was refreshing, but it wasn't lost on me that a wide receiver other than Dez Bryant was caught in a controversy about his attitude this week.
Again, if you missed it, Brown was not happy that Ben Roethlisberger missed him on a wide open scoring opportunity in the Steelers' win against the Ravens last week. He made his feelings known about it, and one of the Steelers' Gatorade coolers had to pay the price.
The outrage was enough to prompt a public apology from Brown later in the week:
Now, I'm not going to waffle on this. I think it's absurd when Dez gets killed in the media for his sideline behavior. I'm not condoning it, but I hardly care that Brown did it, either.
Wide receiver might be the most frustrating job in football, because it's the most dependent on other people to do their jobs. Your offensive line has to block well enough to give the play time to develop, your quarterback has to read the field well enough to find you. Then, he has to throw the ball well enough to give you a chance.
Wide receiver might also be the most glamorous position in the NFL. They don't take the same kind of beating that running backs do, and they rack up just as many stats – if not more. This league is pass-happy, and the guys who are good at catching those passes tend to make a lot of money and receive a lot of attention – see: Dez, Antonio, Odell and Julio.
I don't even need to say those dudes' last names. You know exactly who they are.
It's no surprise to me that a guy who is used to a certain level of excellence voices his frustration when it isn't being met. Maybe it's not the noblest of teammate behavior, but they want the ball because they're alpha dogs and they want to help their team score.
As I said at the start, it's nice to see someone other than Dez or Odell draw the media's ire – but it's something that every wide receiver goes through. It's also not a big deal.
And if you think I'm wrong, ask any of those teams if they'd trade that "headache" of a wide receiver for anyone else.