Winning in the NFL is a hard thing to do. Winning on the road, against one of the NFL’s top defenses while losing the time of possession, turnover, and total yards battles is damn near impossible.
And yet, that is what the Dallas Cowboys did on Thursday night.
They did so behind a defense which has been shaky at times this season. A defense which had allowed over 400 yards passing in 2 of their last 3 games, and a defense who lacked a single pass rusher in the top 60 of the league in sacks.
A defense that bends, but refuses to break.
While the Cowboys offense has formed the team’s identity, a gritty rushing attack which relies on the big guys up front to physically move people, their defense has seemed to follow suit. Sure, Thursday night’s performance wasn’t exactly against the 2007 New England Patriots, but it was a formidable opponent nonetheless. And honestly, their ability to make key, clutch stops has shown through all season long. Even against “top tier” quarterbacks.
Take a few weeks ago in Pittsburgh for example. The Cowboys, who ended up allowing 30 points, were tasked with stopping the Steelers’ two-point conversion attempt four different times. And each time, they came up big.
Had they faltered, and allowed just half of the attempts to be converted, it might have ended up being a different game. But they didn’t.
Against Washington on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys once again allowed the offense to walk down the field and score a touchdown, and were forced to stop their two-point attempt. Instead of moping around or feeling sorry for themselves, they toughened up and made the stop when it counted most.
Thursday night, given an 8 point lead and told to make a stop, the Cowboys defense once against bent. But right as Jerick McKinnon ran into the end zone and began to mock Elliott’s “feed me” celebration, safety Byron Jones looked to his fellow defenders, told them to calm down, and gestured that it all comes down to this.
It was in the defense’s hands, and they all came together to make the key stop.
Cedric Thornton applied the pressure, and the entire secondary applied tight coverage, forcing the incompletion and sealing the Cowboys win.
It wasn’t pretty like the wins over the Cincinnati Bengals or Cleveland Browns were, and the Cowboys won’t be able to get away with offensive performances like this when they see teams like the New York Giants or Seattle Seahawks. But at the end of the game, if you have more points than your opponent, you win the game. And no matter how you get it done, that W is all that matters.
This defense isn’t perfect, in fact it is far from it. But there is something special going on around this team, and it isn’t just the offense which is feeling the magic.