Judgements Nine: How good are Cowboys? Two weeks will tell
There is no overstating the importance of the latest Dallas victory.
First of all, it kept the Cowboys within reach of NFC East frontrunner Philadelphia. Second, it was the first time they beat an opponent with a winning record. But, third, and maybe most important, it was their third straight victory, giving them momentum going into the next weeks, with Atlanta -- in Atlanta -- next and with the Eagles after that.
And, maybe, just maybe, without Zeke Elliott for either.
Nevertheless, Dallas just demonstrated it won't go quietly into the night, with quarterback Dak Prescott playing as he did a year ago when he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Granted, he's been protected by Elliott and the running game, but he's not making mistakes that could ... and will ... sabotage this team if/when Elliott exits.
"I'm loving Dak Prescott," said NBC's Tony Dungy. "This young man is playing with poise. He's making plays out of the pocket. He's making plays on designed runs. It just seems like whatever they need, he's coming up with. They believe in him."
Agree. But now the question: Should we believe in the Cowboys? Answer: Check back in two weeks, people.
I understand the Falcons are floundering, losing four of their last five, and I know the Cowboys are 3-1 on the road. But Atlanta is the defending NFC champion, and the Falcons will be desperate. And desperate teams at home are dangerous teams.
Then, of course, there's Philadelphia, and good luck. The Eagles scored 20 or more points in their last 13 games and are on a seven-game roll. But Dallas is on a roll, too, and, if Prescott continues to play as he did Sunday, the NFC East could go down to the last weekend when the Eagles meet ... you guessed it ... Dallas.
- So that begs the question: Just who IS the second-best team in the NFC? The Saints? The Rams? Vikings? Who?
- I see where Aaron Rodgers says he could return this season "if it makes sense." It won't. The Packers will be long gone from the playoff picture by then.
- Mid-season Coach of the Year is a congested field, but the Rams' Sean McVay should push Doug Pederson of the Eagles. Not only are the Rams finally off the mat, but they're winning as they haven't for years -- with shock and awe. They have three games with 40 or more points this season. They had just two with 40-plus points from 2007 to 2016.
- He won't get mid-season votes, but Russell Wilson should be in the MVP race. The guy does everything but play defense for the Seahawks (and maybe he should), and it's high time he's recognized. Without him, Seattle is toast.
- Paxton Lynch, get warm.
- Look at it this way, Miami fans: At least your offense regained a pulse. Those 24 points? They were one less than what the Dolphins had in their first three games combined and their second-highest total of the season.
- That's four straight games without a Devonta Freeman TD.
- It's not Drew Brees that's driving the Saints' six-game winning streak. It's a running game and defense that's been absent for years. In five of the Saints' six wins, the Saints allowed a total of 52 points. A year ago, New Orleans allowed 32 or more in six of its 16 starts. But beware, Saints' fans: 1) You go to Buffalo next week, and the Bills haven't lost at home; 2) Next, it's Washington, and you saw what the Redskins did in Seattle; and 3) then it's on to L.A., with the high-flying Rams, the highest-scoring team in the NFL. Bottom line: The next three weeks determine what happens to these guys.
- When Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis wonders where it all went wrong this season, he can look at his second-half offense. There wasn't any. In their five losses, the Bengals were outscored, 45-6, in the second half, and do the math: That's an average of 1.2 per. Not good.
- Sean Payton is right. Mike Evans should've been ejected for that shot on Marshon Lattimore. It's precisely the sort of blow the NFL is trying to outlaw. But forget the penalty. The guy should be suspended.
- If America's Got Talent why don't the Bucs have kickers?
- What has happened to Kansas City's Kareem Hunt? For the fourth straight time he failed to gain 100 yards, and for the fifth straight game he failed to score. Worse, for the second time in the past four weeks he didn't have 10 carries. He had nine. Someone please explain.
- Jay Ajayi can't score in seven games with Miami but does in his first appearance with Philadelphia. Draw your own conclusions.
- The Chiefs' Tyreek Hill has four touchdown catches of 55 or more yards this season ... and all are on the road. Just sayin.'
- When you're considering Defensive Player of the Year, include Tennessee's Kevin Byard. He leads the league in interceptions with six, including two Sunday, and is halfway to the franchise record of 12, set by Fred Glick (1963) and Mike Reinfeldt (1979).
- Maybe Marshawn Lynch could use more timeouts. That was his first two-touchdown game since Dec. 21, 2014.
- Next question for fans attending Giants' games isn't: Eli or Geno? It's: Paper or plastic?
- CBS analyst Tony Romo keeps circling the bases with comments like this on Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters: "He makes Deion Sanders look good at tackling."
- Here's why I'd be careful before declaring Baltimore DOA: Six of its last seven opponents have losing records. Only Pittsburgh does not.
- After Sunday's win Cam Newton said the Panthers lost "a great player" in Kelvin Benjamin, "but, nevertheless, the Titantic still has to go." Now I know why he stopped talking to the media.
DENVER QB PAXTON LYNCH. The more you see of Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian the better he looks.
NEW ENGLAND. The Patriots didn't play but gained ground on Miami and Buffalo nevertheless.
PHILADELPHIA RB COREY CLEMENT. He's the first Eagles' rookie running back to have a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game since Don 'Heartbeat Johnson" in 1953. Honest.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. His 225 touchdown passes at Mercedes Benz Superdome are the most by any quarterback in any NFL stadium.
SENIORS. Thirty-seven-year-old Dwight Freeney had two sacks, and 32-year-old Adrian Peterson had 159 yards rushing. Old guys rule.
INDIANAPOLIS COACH CHUCK PAGANO. Finally, his Colts paid attention and, as he implored, found "a way to finish."
LEGION OF BOOM. It's either dead or on a prolonged in-season vacay. Whatever, it doesn't matter. It's not the same. It couldn't protect fourth-quarter leads last week but got lucky when it was rescued by Russell Wilson. Then, it couldn't protect another last-minute lead Sunday vs. Washington, and Wilson ran out of time. Bad. Worse, both games were at home.
ATLANTA OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR STEVE SARKISIAN. That's 17 or fewer points in four of Atlanta's last five starts ... with all four losses ... and this from the team that last year led the league in scoring.
KANSAS CITY QB ALEX SMITH. He didn't just lose a game for the third time in his last four starts; he had his streak of touchdown passes without an interception stopped at 17.
JACKSONVILLE RB LEONARD FOURNETTE. He misses a second straight game, and the Jags win a second straight game ... only this one comes with an asterisk: Fournette was suspended for skipping the team photo and missing a practice. So the Jags sit him, and they should have. Moreover, they proved they don't need him to win. Pay attention, Leonard. There's a lesson there.
ATLANTA WR JULIO JONES. He chose a really, really bad time to drop a wide-open TD.
CINCINNATI WR A.J. GREEN. I understand your frustration, A.J. But save the choke-hold for your MMA career.
SAN FRANCISCO QB C.J. BEATHARD. Bad enough that he's going to lose his job to Jimmy Garoppolo. But does he have to be punished ... again ... again ... and again? In his next life, he comes back as a piñata. Wait a minute, he's already there.
TAMPA BAY DEFENSE. It not only has eight sacks for the season; it's allowed or more points in each of its four road games, all losses.
PEACENIKS. By my count, there were three brawls and five players tossed, including three in Arizona-49ers game.
SUNDAY'S REPORT CARD
CARSON WENTZ AND THE EAGLES' OFFENSE. That marks the 13th straight game the Eagles scored 20 or more points, the longest current streak in the NFL.
JARED GOFF AND THE RAMS' OFFENSE. That was way too easy, especially on that third-and-33. But playing the Giants is beginning to look like running 7-on-7 drills.
INDIANAPOLIS WR T.Y. HILTON. He nearly tripled his yardage from the previous three games and doubled his touchdowns for the season.
KANSAS CITY WR TYREEK HILL. He now has nine touchdowns of 55 or more yards, but none was more mind-blowing than that 56-yard catch-and-run in the last two seconds of the first half. Rewind the videotape, and you'll agree.
WASHINGTON QB KIRK COUSINS. So he didn't throw for 300 yards or launch a touchdown pass for the first time this year. He led the Redskins to an improbable upset of Seattle with a courageous ... and remarkable ... four-play, 35-second and 70-yard touchdown drive in the last two minutes.
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. Granted, he deserved better. That Julio Jones drop was a killer. But he threw another interception and now has seven through eight games. So what? So he had seven for the year last season. He also had 19 touchdown passes through his first eight starts of 2016. He has 11 this season.
HOUSTON QB TOM SAVAGE. Better than I expected ... but not good enough to pass the exam. Stick a fork in the Texans. They're done.
TAMPA BAY QB JAMEIS WINSTON. What was with that pre-game speech ... or demonstration ... or ... whatever it was? Not sure his teammates got it, either. In fact, pretty sure they didn't. And then there was that sideline brawl that, yep, Winston started. Friends don't let friends start fights ... especially when they're supposed to be sideline spectators.
DENVER QB BROCK OSWEILER. He is what Cleveland ... no, Houston ... no, Denver ... thought he was.
GIANTS' COACH BEN McADOO. Congratulations, you made history by allowing the most points at home (51) since 1946. Those practices were probably better than the previous year, too.
SEATTLE PK BLAIR WALSH. Now it's Seahawks' fanbooing the guy, and that's what happens when you blow three first-half field goals. Trust me, Vikings' fans get it. Combine Walsh with 16 penalties and two turnovers, and you have a pretty good idea how Seattle lost.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
RAMS QB JARED GOFF. He throws for 311 yards and four touchdowns on ... 14 completions? True story. That works out to 22.2 yards per, and that's one way to wind up with a career-best passer rating of 146.8. There were six completions of 35 or more yards each, including touchdowns of 67 and 52, and four of 44 yards or more. I'm not sure that's a reflection of how good Goff is, or how bad the Giants are. What I am sure of is that it's just another signal that this year's Rams are entertaining, and hallelujah.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE WITH THE NEW YORK GIANTS. Stink. Stank. Stunk. Yep, that pretty much sums up this mess. They come off a bye, and look what happens. The Giants give up 51 points. They scored 56 the previous four games. GM Jerry Reese is going to go, but after what happened Sunday I wouldn't be surprised if coach Ben McAdoo were to follow. Ben and Jerry never had it this bad. And speaking of McAdoo, check out the sound bite when a reporter asked him what he told his team at halftime. There is no sound bite. He had nothing to say. And that's part of the problem.