ARLINGTON - "There is no time to take a stroll down Memory Lane,” Dan Quinn said in the days leading up to Sunday's NFL Week 10 showdown between his previous employer, the Atlanta Falcons, and his present employer, the Dallas Cowboys. ”We got too much shit to fix.”
The defensive coordinator Quinn was of course referencing last week's Dallas debacle, a home loss to a Broncos team that was 10-point underdogs. And now at AT&T Stadium came a Falcons team that was nine-point underdogs.
So, revenge for Quinn, opposing the Falcons for the first time since getting fired as their coach last year? That wasn't something to be discussed before the game.
But Cowboys 43, Falcons 3 means it's something that can be savored now. And it does mean a stroll down "Memory Lane'' as we search for the last time:
*Dallas' 29 points scored in a quarter, as occurred in the second quarter here? Never. This is most the Cowboys franchise has ever scored, in any quarter, all-time.
*Dallas scored this many points in a half (36). That last occurred when the Cowboys scored 38 in a half against the Niners in 1980.
*Dallas owned this large a halftime lead (33 points, with the score 36-3). That last occurred when Dallas got up 35 at intermission against the Jets in 1971.
See, DQ? Memory Lane is fun!
Quinn, of course, was talking about having led Atlanta to a Super Bowl just four years before his dismissal there. And he is beloved by his players in Dallas, so surely that was a motivating factor here. But most of all?
The Cowboys spent the week stressing "brotherhood'' (highlighted by a sort of "show-and-tell Bingo game''; details here) and "responding.''
”This whole league’s about responding, whether it’s in-game, the next game, the next series,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said during the week. ”You have to respond, and the most important thing is just keep it about yourself.''
The Cowboys "kept it about themselves'' and moved to 7-2 by ... "responding.'' In every possible way.
They sharpened up a Dak Prescott-led offense that last week, as he admitted, may have entered "overconfident,'' but that this week combined intense film study (Prescott on his footwork) and some practice-time "load management'' for standouts Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Zack Martin.
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Result? Even with All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith sitting, the Dallas offense was crisp. Dak (24 of 31, 296 yards passing, plus two TDs in the air and one rushing), Zeke (two short TDs) and Lamb (two TD catches) led the Cowboys offense in coming at Atlanta in waves and waves of realized talent.
They did not repeat the defensive errors of a week ago, when in the Broncos' 30-16 win, they grabbed big plays in the air and rushed for 190 yards - in part because of Dallas' ridiculous season-high 14 missed tackles.
Result? Even with pass-rush leader Randy Gregory now on three-week IR, Dallas was able to harass QB Matt Ryan, handle "unicorn'' rookie Kyle Pitts, and survive utility weapon Cordarrelle Patterson, who the Cowboys coaching staff considers to be among the NFL's scariest weapons. But those three combined to do almost nothing, with three interceptions, including an NFL-topping eighth by Trevon Diggs.
And what about taking advantage of breaks and then closing? Last week, Dallas blocked a punt but illegally touched it, helping create a bad-day-at-the-office vibe. Here, Dallas' Dorance Armstrong (as one of the step-up guys behind Gregory) got the block, and rangy rookie corner Nahshon Wright - the very rookie with the bad touch last week - scrambled for the loose ball and scored.
From there? Atlanta entered with a 4-4 record and on a bit of a roll. The psychology of football meant Quinn, along with a pair of Falcons-turned-Cowboys in Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee, might find added inspiration. But that same psychology required Dallas - if it fancies itself a true Super Bowl contender - to be able to put down an opponent and then keep it down.
It did so. And yes, privately, Dallas wanted to do this, at least in part, for its ex-Falcons.
Outside of the lines, football is a fraternity that goes beyond team colors. That's why guys like, say, Falcons quarterback Ryan and Cowboys coordinator Quinn, can remain close. This week, they texted back and forth, asked about their families, and wished each other well.
I love Dan,” Ryan said during the week. ”He’s an awesome person. He’s a great coach ... I wish him nothing the best, but he knows what this week is about for both of us. It’s about trying to get a win. He’s an incredible competitor. So, once we’re playing, it’s about going against their defense and I’m sure 'Q’ will be locked in the same way.”
Dan Quinn and the Cowboys - on defense, on offense and on special teams - were indeed "locked in.''
And for one week, anyway, the Dallas Cowboys "fixed their shit.''
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