There’s no better NFL regular-season Sunday than when the Cowboys comfortably win the early game. The hot dogs with the bad buns I ate at the start of the third quarter retroactively taste better. Mexico losing 2-0 to the United States in a World Cup Qualifier and UTEP taking a ridiculous loss at UNT feel like they happened a month ago instead of Friday and Saturday night, respectively. When the Cowboys win early, especially in a blowout, you can enjoy the rest of the day’s games without trying to figure out why they lost. Or you can simply not watch anymore football and, like me, watch the entertaining garbage on TLC—90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way and, after that, I Love A Momma’s Boy—to fulfill the weekly quota of yelling at the television when the Cowboys give you no drama. When the Cowboys win, it feels like God added a few extra hours to the weekend. Conversely, on the Sundays when they lose, it feels like a few extra hours were added to the work week.
The Cowboys beat the Falcons 43-3, and I can’t remember the last game they played this well. Maybe it was that Thanksgiving game in 2006—the first one started by Antonio Ramiro Romo—against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was his fifth career start. Romo threw five touchdowns, and the Cowboys won 38-10. Thanksgiving dinner was lovely. No family member asking how the Cowboys did, knowing full well the answer. No random shout of, “HOW ’BOUT THEM COWBOYS!” from that same family member through the rest of the night. No daydreams of them drinking too much and saying something inappropriate so that you have an excuse to punch them. Everything, then, went great. Just like everything this past Sunday did, too.
So it’s back to the optimism we all had just a couple of weeks ago. Winning by 40 points will do that to you. It’ll make you forget that Tyron Smith wasn’t playing, which, earlier in the week, upon hearing the news, made you think of what happened last week. It’ll make you overlook that being without the two starting defensive ends—Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence—is always bad news. Make you look forward to another Sunday even though it’s the worst day of the week, especially as the days get shorter and the dusk feels as though there are few things darker.
We’re now in the middle of November, creeping toward December, and I’m old enough to remember when it felt inevitable that this team would begin their yearly collapse right about now. That, if ruining Thanksgiving wasn’t enough, they were liable to destroy Christmas or New Year’s, too, if the NFL schedule had them playing. But this team—beyond pairing a high-end, balanced offense with an opportunistic defense—just feels different. Even special teams is getting in on the act. The Cowboys have blocked a punt in three of their last four games, and I can’t think of the last time that’s happened since there have been entire seasons when they haven’t blocked a single one. The last time the Cowboys were this good at blocking punts, Jimmy Johnson was the coach.
And yet it wasn’t until Anthony Brown’s interception, with 9:45 left in the third quarter, that I felt fully confident that the Cowboys would beat the Falcons. Yes, they were winning by 33 points, but even if this is a different team, they’re still the same franchise that I’ve seen give up large leads. When the score became 28-3, I remembered how the Falcons blew the same lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. They were coached by Dan Quinn, now the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator. When you’ve been hurt, you see connections tying you to disaster where they might not exist. The Brown interception: that’s when I put down my hot dog, clapped, and yelled, “Se acabo”—it’s over. At that point, I could fully relax and just watch. The only two questions remaining in the game were: how much longer before Cooper Rush replaced Dak, and will they score 50 points?
Those are great questions to have once or twice a season, maybe three times. Any more than that, and I suspect watching games would become boring in the same way, even if from the opposite perspective, that there wasn’t much to say after last week’s game.
Rush did replace Dak, but the Cowboys didn’t score 50. That’s fine. Save some points for the next game against the Chiefs. Once the Cowboys began to string together wins early in the season, it became obvious that this is the team that would tell us how good Dallas is. Though they’ve struggled and don’t look like the same team that has played in the last two Super Bowls, the Chiefs have now won three consecutive games. They’ll play in Kansas City, historically one of the tougher places to win, and, since Patrick Mahomes remains a generational talent, the Cowboys defense will presumably face their toughest opposition of the season.
Goes without saying, but I hope the Cowboys block another kick, win by 40, and make the game boring. That, by the time the third quarter starts, I’ll be so far past my nervousness that I’ll be eating hot dogs like Barry Switzer coaching at the 1995 Pro Bowl. I’ll be fine if, for one more week, I get my Sunday drama from couples on television that I don’t even know. Yelling advice as if they can hear me. “SUMIT DOESN’T WANT TO MARRY YOU, JENNY!”
It’s better than yelling at the Cowboys, and thinking, “Maybe they’re losing because I’m wearing this shirt.”