ARLINGTON, Texas — As November approaches, the spirit begins to dance to what could be for the Dallas Cowboys.
After Sunday’s 49-29 win over the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys are 6-2. Only the Philadelphia Eagles have more wins than the Cowboys in the NFC, and they visit AT&T Stadium on Christmas Eve.
The Cowboys’ defense was strength, although they allowed more than three touchdowns in a game for the first time and gave up 240 rushing yards to the Bears. The offense eventually surpassed 25 points in a game. Dak Prescott’s passing efficiency reappeared (21 of 27, 250 yards, 2 TDs), and the Cowboys ran for another 200 yards without Ezekiel Elliott.
Running back Tony Pollard tied his career highs in carries (14) and yards (131) while rushing for three touchdowns as the Cowboys rested Elliott, who has a hyperextended right knee.
Perhaps it was because Prescott experienced this before that he seemed pragmatic afterwards. Last year, the Cowboys were 6-2 after eight games and lost two of three. In 2016, they were 7-1, and despite having the NFC’s best record, they lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. The 2018 playoff race only began after a midseason trade for receiver Amari Cooper.
“You have to stay in the moment,” Prescott said. “When you play for this organization, you know what the ultimate goal is, so let’s make no mistake about it. But, however, you can’t get ahead of yourself, and it’s about taking it one step further. day at a time, one game at a time, one week at a time. And now we’re gonna take this week off and know that we have to take care of ourselves this week. And then after that, come back to it, lower the head and grind.
The feeling in the locker room on Sunday was in stark contrast to their feelings after losing the Sept. 11 season opener to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Prescott suffered a broken right thumb.
“We are in on it. And certainly after that first game, you go back to that and you think, damn it, Dak might miss 8 to 10 games,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Obviously this team has stepped up and shown a lot of resilience and done everything we asked of them, and we just have to keep playing hard.”
And now it’s time to see what the front office can do by Tuesday’s trading deadline. The last time they made a major in-season trade was when they acquired Cooper from the then-Oakland Raiders for a first-round pick in 2019. He made a major difference, as the Cowboys went from 3-4 when he arrived to 10-6 and an NFC East title.
The Cowboys acquired nose tackle Johnathan Hankins last week from the Raiders and have been in discussions with teams about adding a wide receiver.
“I think everything has to be the right decision,” Jones said. “…If we can make them, we will make them. Otherwise …”
The Cowboys have won six games without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. They went 4-1 without Prescott. They beat the Bears without Elliott. They’ve had to deal with injuries to safeties Jayron Kearse (knee) and Malik Hooker (hamstring), cornerback Jourdan Lewis (foot), wide receiver Noah Brown (foot), linebacker Anthony Barr and even their long snapper, Jake McQuaide (triceps) and successful.
“I mean, we’re comfortable,” Jones said. “Obviously everyone wants to point to the receiving corps, but we love that group over there. Noah will be back. [Washington; on injured reserve, close to returning], and see what happens. And then there are guys that don’t belong there.
Was that an allusion to free agent catcher Odell Beckham Jr., who is nursing a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the Super Bowl?
“I didn’t say that,” Jones said.
Whether the Cowboys make a big trade — or add a free agent — doesn’t change coach Mike McCarthy’s approach. He reminded players to be safe during the bye week and said the third quarter of the season would begin when they return to work on November 7.
On Monday, players will go through what he calls a “cross the hallway” breakdown, when defensive coaches meet with offensive players and offensive coaches meet with defensive players to discuss how to break trends in their games.
“September football is what it is; the teams are just trying to get started. October football is when the teams start to separate a bit, and what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing so well is pretty obvious to everyone,” McCarthy said. “So that’s really where I think…. You have to know who you are and how they’re going to attack you.
And teams will come for the Cowboys. Four remaining opponents have winning streaks of at least three games so far: Minnesota Vikings (five), Philadelphia (seven), Tennessee Titans (five) and Washington Commanders (three).
Their next game, against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 13, will be emotional as it’s McCarthy’s return to Green Bay against the team he used to coach. They also host the Giants on Thanksgiving, and although they beat them at MetLife Stadium in September, their NFC East rivals are also 6-2.
“We’ve had a great start to the season, but the real football starts in November and December,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. “It’s great that we have a week off to get our bodies back in shape, and we’re rushing onto the pitch for some top football down the stretch.”