How the Dallas Cowboys would respond from an embarrassing loss to the Broncos was discussed ad nauseum this week. On Sunday afternoon, all that was left to do for the Cowboys was take the field against a .500 Atlanta Falcons team and play as the better team – something they did for all four quarters in an easy 43-3 win.
The return of Michael Gallup sparked the Cowboys offense, while Dan Quinn calling plays against his former team was all Dallas' defense needed to put up a dominant performance. The Cowboys insisted since the clock hit zero against Denver that their second loss wouldn't define them, nor was it a signal to the rest of the league that they're beatable. Rolling past the Falcons a week later goes a long way in proving them right, as they're next challenge is the AFC contending Chiefs on the road.
Before looking at that game, here are my notes on the Cowboys performance vs. Atlanta.
The Cowboys record-breaking second quarter was sparked by a Dorance Armstrong sack. No Cowboys team has ever scored more than the 29 points in a quarter Dallas put up in the second. After two Ezekiel Elliott touchdowns were bookended by a three-and-out from Atlanta, the Cowboys broke the game open on CeeDee Lamb's second touchdown. It was another three play drive from the Falcons that got the ball back to Dak Prescott before this, with Armstrong sacking Matt Ryan on third down.
Armstrong filled the role that Randy Gregory usually plays on the blitz, rushing up the middle and using his speed to beat the guard on his way to Ryan. In his first game back with the defensive line, Trysten Hill helped make this play as well by lining up at right end and twisting inside to free Armstrong. The Falcons wouldn't get the ball back after this drive-killer until the score was 28-3, and saw a blocked punt for a touchdown make it 36-3 at halftime.
Jourdan Lewis' role in coverage against running backs continues to be valuable for the Cowboys defense. Quinn has had to overhaul this entire side of the ball, from personnel to scheme and coaching points, but this is one thing that's carried over well. The Falcons best weapons in the passing game came at tight end and running back. Trevon Diggs lined up against Kyle Pitts on key downs, while Lewis picked up Cordarrelle Patterson. Lewis, Diggs, and Anthony Brown all finished with an interception, as the Cowboys secondary could attack passes in front of them with Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson behind at safety.
Michael Gallup is the receiver Prescott trusts to consistently make contested catches. In his first game of the season, Gallup caught three passes for 42 yards. While his presence on the field helped free up Lamb and Amari Cooper for big plays, it's Prescott's timing with Gallup on tight window throws that stood out. The Cowboys had struggled running the ball in short yardage situations coming into this game, but now have another option in the passing game with Gallup making it hard on defenders to play through him on underneath routes.
Micah Parsons makes tackles for a loss look easier than any rookie linebacker should. The Falcons had success getting big plays against Dallas early, something they've allowed all season. This is a defense that trusts someone to step up and make a play even when the offense is forcing them backwards, and that's exactly what Parsons provides. The Cowboys played with their best pass rush personnel on the field for most of this game up front, and Parsons read his blocks well to get in the backfield and make plays from sideline to sideline.
The Cowboys continue to hold a strong lead in the NFC East, even after the Eagles – with a big loss to Dallas already – beat the Broncos on the road. Of course, that was the same Broncos team that caused the sky to fall everywhere in Cowboys Nation outside of Frisco.
For Mike McCarthy's team getting back to work at The Star, a season-long message of focusing on the end-goal of postseason success paid off against the Falcons. Prescott played at an MVP level once again, defensive leaders stepped up, and the Cowboys completely flipped the narrative on how they'll go into Kansas City for a meeting of teams that could be playing again in warmer weather this season.