Admittedly, there is very little to not like about that win over the Saints. The domination – particularly in the 1st half – put my chin on the floor and I was unable to recover my chin until the Saints finally were able to muster together an offensive effort that resulted in a field goal in the 3rd quarter.
Watching, you could not help but consider the story behind the game – the Cowboys were utterly embarrassed last year by the Saints to the tune of 49 points compared to a measly 17 points, most of which was garnered during garbage time when the Saints had shifted their offensive machine in neutral.
Sunday night the Cowboys were granted an opportunity to return the favor and they delivered in convincing fashion, excluding a brief scare in the early minutes of the fourth quarter as the Saints attempted to mount a comeback.
All of a sudden, the playoff talk has skyrocketed into the stratosphere and more literally the blogosphere, as fans and fair-weather fans alike are beginning to strap themselves into what looks to be the first really good year for these Cowboys since 2007, starting 3 and 1 for the first time since 2008. The Cowboys' victory over the Saints has analysts and experts donning bibs as they stuff their mouths with crow, suggesting these Cowboys are a different breed; a harkening to the old school smash-mouth run it in your face regardless if you expect it Cowboys led by none other than Emmitt Smith.
Tap the breaks please.
I really hate to be a bad news bear, but I honestly have just one question I'd like answered before I buy into these ridiculous dynasty comparisons: Where is the Cowboys quality win so far this year? Are we calling the Titans, the Rams or the Saints a quality win? How do you define a quality win? Do you simply accept how a team is perceived based off of their nationally conceived reputation or do you feel Parcells was astute in his declaration that your team is what their record is? If you chose the latter, let's keep in mind that this year's iteration of the Saints just fell to 1 and 3, the Rams are 1 and 2 (week 4 bye week), and the Titans are 1 and 3.
I get it. The Cowboys looked really, really good and played a complete game; they executed cleanly with few penalties – and have done so much of the year, I might add – and the game Sunday night against the Saints, and arguably one of the most intelligent Head Coach / QB duos in the league, was clearly managed to perfection by Head Coach and both the offensive and defensive coordinators.
The machine ran very well, all said and done. Again, not a lot to – if anything – complain about – save maybe that heart attack they nearly gave me when the Saints came within 2 touchdowns of tying the game.
I absolutely loved how the defense attacked the ball. Every Saints offender who happened to touch the ball received several different hand slaps from several different Cowboys that night, as the Cowboys made it their personal mission to force incompletions and turnovers. If the Cowboys play like that, they have a chance against every team on their schedule.
But there is a question that still floats around my mind like a bloated cadaver in a vast turbulent sea, origin and destination unknown – was it truly a quality win, or are we simply allowing the Saints' reputation and their embarrassment of our Cowboys last year to cloud our judgment when assessing the weight that win carries?
The Cowboys have a running back who has run for over 100 yards and scored at least 1 touchdown in the first four games for the first time since Emmitt Smith did it in 1995, which is very good company to be in. You could further say, with little to no argument from the masses, that here we have the best running back of the Cowboys since 1996, Emmitt Smith falling off somewhat in the later stages of his career.
You could even say Dez Bryant is the most naturally gifted receiver the Cowboys have ever had; albeit, it is still too soon to say the “best” since Michael Irvin, when you consider T.O.'s complete body of work. Nevertheless, Dez Bryant doesn't even have to catch the ball to have an impact on the game. His reputation alone affects the passing to other receivers almost as much as play action, since his presence on the field demands the attention of at least two defenders at all times.
But was it a quality win?
You could make a similar argument about the offensive line; not just dominating, but executing intricate pulls and quickly moving from their first blocking assignment to their second assignment with ease – it was truly a thing of beauty.
The Cowboys may not ride this line into the championship this year, but if the Cowboys can keep these boys intact and add a similar talent to replace Doug Free, this offense will be a force to contend with for years.
No argument on that here. But bringing the narrative back to this year, was it a quality win?
You could contend Romo is easily the best QB the Cowboys have had since Troy Aikman donned a helmet. This year has served as somewhat of a microcosm for Tony's career. His first game and possibly the worst showing of his career, gave us a glimpse of the Tony we all know and hate – bad-decision-Tony. Against the Titans, he was demoted to bus driver, while Murray served as the engine that powered the Cowboys back into our collective consciousness as a potential playoff team.
Against the Rams, while the Cowboys smartly ignored the temptation to give up on the ground game despite being down 21 points early, Romo showed his ability to seamlessly maneuver from bus driver to stunt driver, when necessity demands.
Against the Saints, the element that truly made the world take notice of the Cowboys, we witnessed the culmination of every working part explode on the Saints, including the Romo Houdini act often affectionately referred to as Romdini. You could make a logical argument that the season opener against the 49ers may have been a win, had Tony felt then like he looked on Sunday night. It certainly would have been a much easier game to watch, on this I believe we all can agree.
But even had the Cowboys won and sat atop the NFCE with a 4 and 0 record today, could we call any of these victories definite members of the quality win club? The 49ers are struggling as well, sitting at 2 and 2, doing so with a defense that is missing many of the faces that established their identity last year.
So, are we calling game one – if there is such a thing – a quality loss?
You could point to the fight the Cowboys have played with; the never-give-up-ness if you will, particularly on display against the Rams two weekends ago. You could highlight that for once the Cowboys have the offensive line to run the ball effectively. And you could further debate that with an effective run, the avenues for passing open up in direct correlation to a defense's innate response to effective running – bringing the safety up in a support role. You could further surmise that with that same effective run, the play action becomes a kill-shot, the final touchdown to Dez Bryant Sunday night serving as an exemplary illustration of that point.
To that, my friends, I would likely look like a proverbial bobble-head toy as I shake my head somewhat “yes” and somewhat “no.” Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the above formula; it is a tried and true method of getting wins in any iteration of the NFL, pass-happy or not.
But returning to the prevailing question: what quality team has this method worked against?
Truth be told, we cannot make an argument to say that any of the teams the Cowboys have faced are quality or not because it is honestly way too soon to say – this regrettably applies to our Cowboys, as well. You cannot use a team's production last year to assign a current grade because of roster turnover, the inevitable decline in ability that comes with age, and the handful of other reasons that lead to degeneration in talent. Austin Davis of the Rams very well may be beginning a career that ends with his bust in Canton. Or he could be another mediocre talent in the long line of QBs that the Cowboys defense made look as though they were world-beaters.
Therein is my struggle and my reason to recommend we remain cautiously optimistic as a fan base.
We may not have had as many reasons stacked together simultaneously as we do now since the Cowboys' last hey-day – true story – nevertheless, I suggest we take this ride one game at a time and resist the temptation to offer predictions on how this will end. Sip and savor each victory as you would a vintage spirit of your choosing – be it wine or liquor – but abstain from killing the whole bottle now, because with our senses inebriated the fall is often far more devastating to our well-being than when otherwise sober and alert.