ARLINGTON, Texas — Jerry Jones was at a loss.
Over the decades, the good teams and Septembers tend to bleed into each other. It’s usually the endings that are most memorable for most team owners — and certainly all of them that would presume to be a general manager as well. NFL failure leaves a bookmark in the brain, whereas success fades into oblivion unless it’s memorialized with a Lombardi Trophy.
So it’s understandable that when Jones was asked Sunday night whether he could remember a more authoritative start to a season than this one, his memory failed him. Either that, or there simply wasn’t a memory to reach for, given the rarity of a 2-0 beginning that has been punctuated by a combined score of 70-10.
Any help, Jerry? Could he recall any dominant start like this?
“I don’t,” Jones said. “Just offhand, I do not.”
He doesn’t remember it because it’s the stuff of dreams. You don’t open an NFL season by going into the house of a playoff team from the season before and thump the hosts 40-0. And you don’t follow that up by beating down what is expected to be one of the best defenses in the league 30-10 (and it could have been a lot worse than that). Yet, that’s what these Dallas Cowboys have now done, wiping out the New York Giants and New York Jets in back-to-back weeks. They’re notable results because the past six Dallas teams that won 10 games or more all suffered a loss in the first two weeks of the schedule.
The last Cowboys team that won double-digit games and also started 2-0? That would be the 2007 team, which is arguably the most talented collection in the past two decades that failed to advance in the playoffs.
For those who have forgotten, that 2-0 Dallas team finished 13-3 and featured 11 Pro Bowlers, two Hall of Famers in their prime (DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Owens) and a future Hall of Famer in Jason Witten, also in his prime. Their claim to infamy is having suffered a close loss in the divisional round to a Giants team that ultimately beat an undefeated New England Patriots franchise in the Super Bowl. Looking back, it’s safe to assume that collection of Cowboys could have been much, much more.
And looking forward, it’s already starting to feel like this collection of Cowboys might be similarly special.
Yes, I know it’s early. But for Jones, this Cowboys team might finally be it.
It, as in capable of another Super Bowl shot. It, as in the one that Jones has been waiting for since that promising 2007 team fell flat against the eventual Super Bowl winners. It, as in balanced, lethal, loaded with talent and thus far, very well-coached.
As much as Jones falls into a fandom trap when his teams show early promise, this one already has a different feel two games into the season. A train of players left the field pleased following the win over the Jets, but with a demeanor that was suggestive of a franchise that’s just getting started.
Not to mention a club owner who knows better than to tempt the football gods.
“I am guarded, because obviously when you’ve been at this thing as long as I have, you know that you can have this thing turn on you,” Jones said. “But I fundamentally like where we are. We were able to get through our training camp [when] we didn’t play our key starters. Now that we’ve got two games under our belt, they have played a lot of reps. We look to be — knock on wood — in pretty good shape relative to our injuries as we go past this into our third game. I’ll take it.”
Here’s what Jerry isn’t saying: Dallas whomped a Giants team that might be nothing more than mediocre in the opener. But the Cowboys did it on the road and in a humiliating defensive fashion rare on the NFL level. Then they followed it up with an equal humiliation of a Jets defense that has elite talent and was one week removed from disassembling Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ offense.
Pessimists will disqualify both of the resounding wins as deficient, pointing to a Giants team that probably wasn’t as good as its record last season, and a Jets team that is hobbled by turnovers and the play of quarterback Zach Wilson. Neither point is necessarily wrong. But each discounts a reality about Dallas: The Cowboys dispatched both in different styles of elite play. Both were overwhelmed defensively, but the Jets game showcased a Dallas offense that is balanced, talented and capable of playing complementary football. It’s a unit that played with some offensive line injuries and without No. 2 wideout Brandin Cooks, but treated those problems like ineffectual speed bumps.
Rather than struggling, Dallas ran the ball when and how it wanted to, while using a passing scheme that kept Dak Prescott working efficiently and quickly. When Dallas needed to move the pocket early, it rolled Prescott out of danger. When it needed to shorten the field and get the ball out of Prescott’s hand quickly, it leaned on a handful of short to intermediate routes that left the big play responsibility on the shoulder of wideout CeeDee Lamb, running back Tony Pollard or seven other players who gained yardage running and receiving. All of which was a nod to head coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling, which relies on a detail-oriented understanding from his players about where they need to be in every scenario. Mixed in with a patient and dedicated run game that takes some of the risk off the QB’s shoulders.
“I like the way Mike — I think it was very visible today — his approach to how we’re going to be offensively,” Jones said. “All the way around, he had this charted out. He had what we did out there well already documented. But you’ve got to execute.
“But I can’t say enough about Mike McCarthy. I’ll give him his due. He’s got a lot to do with how these two games have come out.”
You could see it in Prescott’s comfort level, despite facing a deep and talented Jets defensive line that shredded Allen and the Bills in their opener last week. Or in the tempo of an offense that rarely found itself needing to rush. You can also see it in Lamb, who is ascending toward the elite shelf of No. 1 wideouts in the league — if he’s not there already.
That’s an important set of developments for this offense because it balances out the expectations and takes some pressure off a defense that is destroying whatever is presented to it. Starting with edge rusher Micah Parsons, who has three sacks and a strip fumble in two games, despite double or triple teams on nearly every play. He’s a player Jones called “the complete package” Sunday.
“I have never seen anybody with his skill, with his motor, with his overachieving, and how he is planning ahead of how to get better,” Jones said.
There are still questions to be answered, of course. Queries about whether these Cowboys can play from behind, or respond to getting knocked down by an equally talented opponent. Or whether they can survive an injury bug by leaning on some of the depth that has gotten early season snaps in back-to-back blowouts. But for now, we know this is a team that has balance, stars, coaching and health.
That and a dominant 2-0 start that may be as good as anything Jerry Jones has ever seen.