First things first, before we get all mealymouthed and try to make the case for the Cowboys, still in the wilderness after all these years, slaying Goliath on Sunday afternoon, we should all be thankful. This weekend, the last one before the three-day, pre-holiday slog and the feast that hopefully awaits us all on Thursday, is a fantastic one for local sports fans.
Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz are facing off for the WBC heavyweight title on pay-per-view Saturday night, and Sunday, well, it couldn't be much better. The Cowboys' rivals for the NFC East title, the Eagles, take on the Seahawks at noon. MVP candidate Luka Doncic and the Mavs have a date with the division-leading Rockets at 2:30 p.m. Just about an hour later comes the big show, the Cowboys and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots in a 3:25 p.m., nationally televised tilt. If you aren't completely done by the time Sunday night finally rolls around, the 8-2 Packers are visiting the 9-1 49ers.
This is as good as a sports weekend gets in Dallas, but it won't have a shot at being truly memorable unless the 6-4 Cowboys can knock off the 9-1 Patriots in New England, ending Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's 17-game home winning streak in the process.
Given the Cowboys’ erratic play in 2019 and the red-headed millstone that hangs around their collective necks, it seems like a big ask. Look hard enough, however, and there are a handful of reasons the Cowboys’ season could kick into gear on Sunday.
1. It looks like Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore have finally given the keys to Dak Prescott. — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is having an MVP-caliber season. He leads the NFL in passing yards, despite being just sixth in passing attempts. He's tied for second in the league with 21 passing touchdowns and ninth in completion percentage, despite being third in the league in air-yards per attempt. He's throwing downfield often and accurately, which is giving opposing defenses fits.
After giving away multiple games this season by running Ezekiel Elliott repeatedly into defenses loaded up to stop him, Garrett and Moore finally played to their offense's greatest strength Sunday against the Lions. With their star running back being bottled up again, they turned Prescott loose. He threw the ball 46 times for 444 yards and three touchdowns against a Lions defense that couldn't find an answer.
The Patriots defense, while it's been one of the best units in the NFL this year statistically, has yet to face an elite passing offense. The Cowboys have three wide receivers capable of breaking games open in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb, and they won't have to play the game of their lives to beat the Patriots. If they can make a handful of big plays, the Cowboys, who've averaged more than 33 points per game since their bye week, should be able to score 24 or so on the Patriots. That could be enough.
2. The Patriots' offense isn't what it used to be. — The Cowboys don't need to score 35 points to beat the Patriots because the Patriots offense isn't the machine it's been in previous seasons. In their three games against viable NFL teams this season — the Pats have racked up wins against the Steelers, Dolphins, Redskins, Giants, Browns and Jets, whom they beat twice — Tom Brady has led his offense to no more than 20 points.
Sunday, against an Eagles defense the Cowboys dropped 37 on in October, the Patriots scored 17 points on 298 total yards. They went without scoring for the last 25 minutes of the game, and their only touchdown came on a trick play. New England's wide receiving corps lacks a deep threat, and Brady, finally, is beginning to show his age at 42.
Brady could still drop 40 on the Cowboys, but it would come as a surprise.
3. The Cowboys' defensive line is new and improved. — Over the last three seasons, you'd be hard-pressed to name a defensive end who's played better, or harder, than the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence. In 2019, he finally has help. Robert Quinn has played at a Pro Bowl level since returning from a two-game suspension for a failed performance-enhancing substances test, and Michael Bennett, traded to the Cowboys by the Patriots in late October, has given the Cowboys' defense the ability to rotate their elite pass rushers without a huge drop-off in production.
Lawrence, Quinn and Bennett get better every game they play together and should have fun chasing Brady all over the field.
Brady's not the speediest quarterback, but he is deceptively elusive. If the Cowboys' defensive line can overcome that and get to him, it could be an even longer day for the Patriots' offense.
4. Garrett has to figure things out at some point, right? — Since he took over the Cowboys' head coaching reins from Wade Phillips in 2010, Garrett has been one of the worst game managers in the league. He struggles to use his timeouts effectively and lacks the decision-making aggression necessary to succeed in the modern NFL.
This year, though, he's in the last year of his contract and has already been roasted, repeatedly, for his shortcomings, especially after losses to the Saints, Jets and Vikings. At some point, one would think, Garrett would go full George Costanza and realize that, if what he's doing never works, he should do the opposite.
Coaches can change. The Panthers' Ron Rivera only became known as "Riverboat Ron" because he had a road to Damascus moment when the Carolina Panthers started 0-2 in 2013. Garrett has shown repeatedly that, much like a cockroach, he knows how to survive. Last week was a good start. Let's see if Garrett sticks with it.
The Cowboys face New England at 3:25 p.m. Sunday in Foxboro, Massachusetts, on Fox 4.
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