In general, I’m not a superstitious man. I don’t avoid stepping on cracks, I’ve broken mirrors on purpose, and I’ve walked under more than a few ladders. But when I watch the Cowboys, it’s like I get a sort of sports superstition.
If they have a few consecutive drives that end in punts, I’ll move to a different chair. If they have a few consecutive losses, I’ll think about watching the game at a new location—in another room or even at another home. If they win while our family dog is wearing a new Cowboys shirt, she’ll wear the same shirt again next week. Both of those things happened Sunday, which means Marshmallow will spend next Sunday afternoon dressed in the same blue and silver shirt. The closest I ever get to praying is when I watch the Cowboys play. And part of that superstition extends to the things I don’t want to say—even though I think them—as if once those words are out in the open, they might somehow jinx whatever is yet to happen.
But here it goes: the Cowboys, now winners of six consecutive games, are Super Bowl contenders. That’s the major thing my sports superstition has kept me from saying out loud, even though I’ve felt it since the Cowboys beat the Giants in Week 5. I kept quiet because it was too early, and I knew I’d get ridiculed for that thought, and because, well, having low expectations and being overly pessimistic is my defense mechanism when it comes to the Cowboys. But this past game—winning on the road, against the Vikings, without Dak Prescott—was both proof of how good they and a microcosm of the season.
Although Dak says he could have played Sunday night, the Cowboys are now four games up in the loss column in the NFC East, which presumably played a role in the decision to rest him another week. The coaches (and owner?) gambled that Cooper Rush was good enough to quarterback the team to a win against a not-so-good Viking team, and the bet paid off. The game continued the trend that’s been there all season. This team hasn’t been without injuries. They’ve lost key starters at key positions—defensive end, wide receiver, tackle, and now quarterback—and while playing their backups, the team has continued to win.
After DeMarcus Lawrence, the team’s best defensive player for the past four years, broke his foot, the pass rush was effective because Randy Gregory began to play up to his potential, and Micah Parsons has become a star rookie. When La’el Collins got suspended, Terence Steele played so well that he might not return to the bench any time soon. When Michael Gallup strained his calf, Cedrick Wilson stepped in and made such an impact that the Cowboys don’t need to re-sign Gallup. And, of course, when Dak missed the game, it was easy to assume, as I did, that the Cowboys would also miss Andy Dalton, last year’s battle-tested backup.
Sure enough, trailing 10-3 in the first half against the Vikings, with Rush throwing a bad interception, it seemed like they would. Then Rush played better as the game went on, and the Cowboys won.
That’s the thing about Super Bowl teams: they keep winning even when things aren’t going perfect for them. They win games—ugly games—that maybe they should have lost. Win games when not all their best players are there. And once or twice during the season, they’ll beat a team that oddsmakers thought they’d lose to, like the Vikings.
Once the Cowboys announced Dak wasn’t playing Sunday night, they went from a favorite to “big underdogs.” Replacing your MVP candidate quarterback with a player making his first NFL start will do that. So maybe the Cowboys should have lost. Had they done so, it wouldn’t have been unexpected, and it certainly wouldn’t have exposed them as frauds. They would have lost because their most important player and unquestioned leader wasn’t there. You could have even blamed the close loss on a handful of bad calls, such as the string of questionable 15-yard penalties late in the fourth.
But they won. It was one of those games where you can go down a list of about eight plays—the Cedric Wilson long touchdown after halftime, the deflected pass caught by Tyler Biadasz that turned a would-be incompletion to a 7-yard gain—that, had they not happened, the result might have been different.
They won because although the defense immediately gave up seven points on the first drive, they readjusted to hold the Vikings to just nine more the remainder of the game. It was the first game the defense didn’t force any turnovers, Trevon Diggs’ interception streak ended, but they played well. Micah Parsons was all over the field.
They won because though they had only 78 total rushing yards, the Cowboys kept running, and Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard made plays. It was Zeke who, in perhaps the most important play of the game, when it looked like the Cowboys were settling for a game-tying field goal, caught a pass, broke three tackles, and carried another defender 4 yards to get a first down. Two plays later, Rush threw the game-winning touchdown to Amari Cooper, who moments before was sitting on the sideline, working his hamstring with a roller ball.
And they win because those players who have filled in this year each stepped up in their own way, from Gregory notching a sack to Wilson’s touchdown and pass out of the backfield to Steele holding down his right tackle spot well enough to keep Collins out of the starting lineup for at least one week to, of course, Rush. Super Bowl winners aren’t necessarily the luckiest teams so much as the ones that can find answers and workarounds whenever something goes wrong.
That’s the Cowboys this season, and Sunday night was just the latest example. We aren’t at the halfway point yet, but at this moment, the Cowboys are Super Bowl contenders. I’m not sure they aren’t the best team in the league. And until they lose consecutive games, I’ll be sitting in the same chair, and Marshmallow will be wearing her Cowboys shirt when they play.