The Dallas Cowboys haven't won a game against the New England Patriots since 1996, losing six-straight meetings with the AFC's former juggernaut. But as the two franchises prepare to clash tomorrow, we find the 2021 Patriots in a much different place as an organization and especially at quarterback than over the last two decades.
New England's last five wins over Dallas have been under the watch of Bill Belichick and with Tom Brady as the starting QB. In three of those seasons the Patriots went on to play in the Super Bowl. The other two years, New England finished 12-4 in the regular season.
Things aren't looking so bright for this year's Patriots. They're current 2-3 and those wins have come against the Jets and Texans, who are both just 1-4 so far in 2021. While New England does currently have the league's 5th-best defense in yards and scoring, the offense is on the other end of the spectrum as the 7th-worst in those same categories.
The key culprit in this is rookie QB Mac Jones. A far cry from Tom Brady, Jones' passer rating of 86.4 is among the lowest in the NFL. He's thrown five picks already this year to only five touchdowns and is again one of the league's worst with only 6.5 yards per attempt.
So no, at least on offense, these aren't the Patriots who've been handing the Cowboys their lunch for over 20 years. And that's especially evident when you look at the totality of their season thus far.
Ironically, New England's two wins in 2021 have been in their two road games. They handled the Jets in Week 2, thanks largely to Zach Wilson throwing four interceptions, and eked out a win last week against Houston.
But at Gillette Stadium, where tomorrow's game against the Cowboys will be played, New England is a woeful 0-3 thus far. The stadium where Brady's Patriots once had a 21-game win streak is no longer a safe haven for the home team.
The Patriots opened the year with a loss to the Miami, which to date is the Dolphins only victory so far in 2021. In Week 3 they were handled by the Saints, then kept it close in Tom Brady's return game but ultimately lost to the Bucs.
New England's defense has been their only competitive advantage thus far. But even with opponents' scores being kept to some of the lowest numbers in the NFL, Mac Jones and that offense just aren't able to capitalize.
The 4-1 Cowboys should present the Patriots with one of their toughest matchups so far. On par with Tampa Bay overall, which was proven in their Week 1 meeting, Dallas has been able to move the ball and score on even some of the league's top defenses this year.
New England was competitive with the Bucs in Week 4, which was especially impressive on the road and given the incredible hype going into Brady's return to Foxborough. But between the primetime slot and the dominant storyline of the game, it was more like a division rivalry game than an objective window into who the Patriots are.
That's the big question; who are the 2021 New England Patriots? They've beaten two bad teams and lost to another, plus had a good showing against the defending champs.
Tomorrow they face one of the NFL's hottest teams in the Dallas Cowboys. If Dallas stays true to form then this should be their fifth-straight victory, especially given the matchup disparity at quarterback between Dak Prescott and Mac Jones.
If the Cowboys fall, we may have to start asking who they really are.