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Dallas Cowboys Week 5 Checklist: What Got Accomplished Versus New York?

This was not the Cowboys' most impressive game. That was the most impressive thing about it.
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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys, as the kids say, are on one, trouncing the Giants 44-20 on Sunday for their fourth straight win. That catapulted them two games ahead of second-placed Washington in the NFC East at 4-1 and one game behind undefeated Arizona for the best record in the conference.

Here’s what else got done.

Brought their B game and won anyway ✔

The unfortunate, wonderful truth about sports is that anything can happen. Some weeks, you spend three and a half hours watching a beautiful near-miss like the season opener against Tampa Baby, when Dak Prescott went scorched earth on the defending champions’ secondary. You leave exhilarated, elated, and heartbroken. Other times, less spectacular play creates a more satisfying outcome. Think back to the Chargers win. Usually, you get games like Carolina and Philadelphia, when the aesthetics vary, so the final score tips the scales and renders the verdict of whether watching the game was time well spent.

Then there are games like Sunday’s, when you sink the better part of an afternoon into bad, mostly bland football. You can blame a lot of this on the Giants’ startlingly poor injury luck; by game’s end, they were down their starting quarterback, running back, and top three wide receivers, who had combined for 70 percent of New York’s offensive production through four weeks.

Mike Glennon, whose most relevant football moments came as a college student during Obama’s first term, was the quarterback. Someone named C.J. Board was catching passes; you can’t totally convince me that isn’t an alias Luka Doncic uses to check into hotels on Mavericks road trips. Giants rookie Kedarious Toney did his best to liven things up between his play and his fourth-quarter ejection for punching Cowboys safety Damontae Kazee, but there is only so much one man can do to salvage things when an already-bad team gets too banged up to even take a stab at adequacy.

You might notice that I haven’t mentioned Dallas’ performance yet. I mostly don’t have to. This was a game the Cowboys were supposed to win before the Giants’ starting quarterback, running back, and highest-paid wide receiver went down midgame. Yawning their way to a 24-point win over New York’s reserves amounts to relatively little in the grand scheme of things.

Little about the Cowboys’ performance Sunday was impressive, which was the most impressive part about it. Prescott threw an interception on Dallas’ first drive and nearly tossed two more later on, while the offense twice settled for field goals after marching inside New York’s 15 yard line. For the fourth game in a row, no pass catcher cracked 100 receiving yards. And still — still — the offense rang up 515 yards, second-most in series history. The defense gave up 189 receiving yards to a rookie who was New York’s fourth receiver a few weeks ago — and they still kept the score down while forcing two more turnovers.

This was a decidedly casual ass-kicking, which is what great teams are supposed to do to bad ones. The implication — Dallas really does look like a great team — is far more exciting than anything we watched yesterday. That’s more than alright.

Kept us waiting on Trevon Diggs’ latest interception ✔

The second-year man spent the first quarter of the season establishing himself as the Cowboys’ best cornerback since Deion Sanders. He came into Sunday leading the NFL in passer rating against and tying a Dallas record with five interceptions in his first four games.

Don Bishop, way back in 1961, is the only Dallas Cowboy to pick off six passes in his first five games of a season. It would be completely unreasonable to expect Diggs to match that — and, in so doing, intercept his ninth pass in 10 games dating back to last season.

Trevon Diggs, however, is not a reasonable man.

The warning signs were there early, first when Diggs jumped a comeback route but couldn’t reel in the catch:

Then came this in the second quarter, should anyone need another reminder that Diggs once played wide receiver:

Finally, early in the third quarter, his moment arrived:

Rewind that and keep an eye on how Diggs baits Glennon into thinking his receiver is open, only to turn on the jets once the ball’s in the air. It is utterly beyond me why NFL quarterbacks continue to test him. But the results are so compelling that I hope they never give up trying.

Entertained royalty ✔

Kept the turnovers coming ✔

Anthony Brown’s coda of a pick-six made this the ninth straight game in which the Cowboys had at least two takeaways. That streak is the second-longest in the NFL since 2010 and utterly incomprehensible to anyone who remembers the first half of last season. As Dan cautioned two weeks ago, those turnovers do a lot of heavy lifting to conceal some larger flaws, and it remains an open question of what the defense will do on a day when the takeaways aren’t coming. Sometime this season, they’ll have to answer that.

But in the meantime, we can safely say that this unit knows how to get the ball, which is among the most difficult — and important — skills for a defense to possess. And on the days when they are doing that, the Cowboys are very, very difficult to beat.

Made Tim Rogers some money (by doing something more important) ✔

Our esteemed editor threw his weight around and implored me to mention that, during halftime, he live bet the Cowboys at -11.5. Sure enough, Dallas poured on 27 second-half points to make Tim look smart and his wallet look fat. [Ed: Actually, I use a Duck Bill money clip.] His windfall notwithstanding, the relevant takeaway is that surge over the final 30 minutes. This was the third straight week Dallas cracked 20 points in the second half, and while we can point to the wide array of weapons at Kellen Moore’s disposal, some measure of credit must be awarded to Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff at large.

Among the great hallmarks of the Jason Garrett era was a propensity for this team to play down to its competition, if not from the outset, then as the game dragged on. There were few countermoves and fewer statements of intent in the moments that genuinely mattered, and while talent had plenty to do with it — there isn’t enough bandwidth on our server to cover every stopgap left guard or patchwork defensive starter over the last decade — mentality did, too.

I realize I’m wading deep into the murky, ineffable world of sports psychology here, positing things that are unknowable for anyone outside team facilities and assigning a value to the unquantifiable. To which I reply: these are the Cowboys. We have a dossier a quarter century long of collapses, screwups, mishaps, flameouts, and meltdowns — in the big moments, sure, but perhaps more damningly in the small ones. Things rarely have been as easy as they ought to be.

So when, three weeks in a row, they emerge from the tunnel after halftime, crack their knuckles, and summarily beat down the team in front of them, well, that means something.

Once again, the Cowboys got their work in, and they went home. Ho-hum. It is not as definitive as a fourth-quarter comeback win against a good team — although we’re less than a month removed from one of those — and you’d be excused for forgetting this game in six weeks when the Giants are drowning at the bottom of the NFL ocean. This game barely means anything now, and it definitely won’t then. That’s how it ought to be.

But something had to change for things to start breaking this way, and for as questionable as his clock management can be, McCarthy deserves credit for driving that culture shift. It doesn’t guarantee his team is winning a playoff game or two this year, much less that elusive Super Bowl. But you have to do these things to win those. The Cowboys proved over the last three weeks that the foundation is in place. That solidity is long overdue.

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