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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Michael Rosenberg

The Cowboys Just Reminded Everyone How Good They Can Be

Dak Prescott’s Cowboys just beat Tom Brady’s Buccaneers 31–14 and it was not as close as Brett Maher made it seem. Maher, the Cowboys’ kicker, missed four extra points, but at least he did it on a night when “extra points” were aptly named. They were unnecessary.

This was a straightforward beatdown, the kind that we all should have expected but still couldn’t quite believe as it happened. These were the Cowboys against Brady, after all, and picking Dallas meant focusing on this year’s teams and ignoring a generation of football. The task seemed more daunting than it was, but now that it’s over, let’s recognize the Cowboys for what they are: a legitimate threat not just to make the Super Bowl, but to win it.

They might not be quite as good as the Eagles or 49ers, but they’re within the margin of error. The biggest reason to doubt them is logistics: They will (most likely) have to win two road games, and including practice sessions, they must go from Dallas to Tampa to Dallas to San Francisco to Dallas to (most likely) Philadelphia, and though Jerry Jones is unlikely to make them fly commercial, that much travel can wear on a team.

Still, these Cowboys are every bit as talented as Philly and San Francisco, and they played like it Monday night in Tampa. Calling anything easy in the NFL is a privilege of those who have not had their legs twisted under a pile by 300-pound men. But by the standards of NFL playoff games … well, this was easy. The Cowboys played extremely well and won by a lot. They probably could have played O.K. and still won comfortably. It is hard to think of anything the Bucs did better than the Cowboys, and that includes kicking extra points. The Cowboys were 1-for-5, but the Bucs didn’t try any.

Prescott and the Cowboys are a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl.

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys dominated the line of scrimmage and seemed a step faster all over the field. Brady had one of the emptiest 350-yard passing games you’ll ever see. He spent much of the night throwing to ghosts.

The Cowboys have three All-Pros (edge Micah Parsons, receiver CeeDee Lamb, guard Zack Martin) and enough other players who can play at that level for spells. Yes, this includes Prescott. He was not near his best this season, but he also came back from an injury midstream, and that’s harder than it seems. He has played well enough for long enough in the past to instill hope he would be an upper-tier quarterback again. After a rough first drive, he sure looked the part Monday night.

Now the Cowboys play San Francisco and the quarterbacking flavor of the moment, Brock Purdy. Once, Prescott was Purdy, a draft afterthought who took over when an entrenched starter got hurt and never looked back. Playoff disappointments and injuries have obscured how good he can be. He just reminded the Bucs, and everyone else, with 305 yards, four passing TDs and another score on the ground.

Parsons and Lamb are game-changers. Tight end Dalton Schultz just abused the Bucs for seven catches, 95 yards and two touchdowns. Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliott are a devastating combo at running back. It has become easy to question Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who sometimes makes in-game decisions straight out of 1987. But McCarthy is 24–10 in the past two regular seasons, and there is a lot more to coaching than making the correct decision on fourth-and-3. With defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, the Cowboys have two of the hotter head coaching candidates in the NFL.

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The Cowboys just won their first road playoff game in 30 years. They look capable of winning two more.

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