Even before they took the field in Arlington, the Dallas Cowboys clearly had a new identity. But until Sunday’s win over the New York Giants, it wasn’t clear if these Cowboys had a killer instinct.
Up seven points with 5:28 left to play, the Cowboys had the football at their own 20-yard line. These are the situations in which the Cowboys have struggled in the past.
Either they fail to manage the clock properly, call the wrong play or make a soul-crushing mistake. Remember that god-awful Green Bay game late last year? The Cowboys did all three in squandering a 29-10 lead in about 16 minutes.
Right now, Dallas looks as close to those glorious early 1990s days than any Cowboys team since.
As they lined up for that final drive of the game, everyone wondered if these Cowboys were really different than last season. Turns out they were, and one play proved it.
The third play of the drive, the Cowboys faced a third-and-1 at their own 29-yard line. The clock was running close to four minutes left.
So many times recently we’ve seen the Cowboys pass in this situation. But their identity all season has been wrapped up in running the football. On this third-down play, the Cowboys loaded up to run the ball, moving two tight ends to the right side and basically telegraphing to every Giants defender what they were going to do. Murray rushed for eight yards for the first down.
The implications of this drive, which ended with a Dan Bailey field goal, are many.
First, the Cowboys have full trust in their identity. That was evident on this drive. After Murray converted the first down, he rushed on five of the next six plays as the Cowboys whittled the clock down to 1:04 left. The Giants knew what was coming — and they still couldn’t stop it.
Second, these Cowboys don’t care who is blocking up front.
This was their first game without one of their starters, in this case right tackle Doug Free. Jermey Parnell, a fourth-year tackle who was once a defensive lineman for the New Orleans Saints, started just his third NFL game.
When it came time to convert that third down, the Cowboys ran right behind Parnell, right guard Zack Martin and those extra tight ends. Without Free, Murray became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first seven games of a season.
Third, the Cowboys appear to have made strides in clock management. Sure, the great running game helps. But in the final minutes of this game they didn’t do anything to stop the clock. They threw two passes on that drive. Both were high-percentage pass plays and both were to Dez Bryant, who was having a monster day of his own.
Both were caught and kept the clock moving. Remember that Green Bay game last year? With a 29-10 lead the Cowboys they kept passing the football for inexplicable reasons. And before you ask, that day Murray rushed for 134 yards. So they were running the football just fine.
Right now, Dallas looks as close to those glorious early 1990s days than any Cowboys have since. They don’t just beat teams now — they impose their will upon them. Right now, the matchup no longer matters. These Cowboys can play with any NFL team.
If this was the template that head coach Jason Garrett envisioned when he took over midway through that 2010 season, then this stunning success — a 6-1 start for a team that some thought would win just six games the whole season — has been a long time coming.
These Cowboys are no longer a fad. They’re built to last, and their ability to close out the Giants the way they did on Sunday is the latest proof.