Simply put, the Dallas Cowboys needed this.
The Jekyll and Hyde Cowboys turned into Dr. Do Good at the right time Sunday with their most complete game of the season in a 40-7 blowout victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It was the most points scored by the Cowboys since a 40-10 spanking of the San Francisco 49ers a little more than a year ago.
But this was a game few people expected the Cowboys to win after last week’s bone-crushing 19-16 overtime loss to the Houston Texans and the daunting task of facing the league’s No. 1 pass defense with the league’s 29th ranked passing attack.
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But while quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have been better at home all season, the flawlessness and ease of Sunday’s performance was shocking and invigorating for the team and its fan base that needed something to feel good about and avoid a second straight loss heading into next Sunday’s NFC East Showdown at the Washington Redskins (3-2).
The Cowboys (3-3) needed the win to keep pace with the Redskins and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (3-3).
They needed this performance for their psyche. It proved to be the perfect birthday gift for owner Jerry Jones, who turned 76 on Saturday.
“It was great timing, our timing was just right for this team to play at this level,” Jones said. “Obviously Dak had an outstanding game, it felt good, I was sitting there watching the whole game, listening to (former quarterback) Tony Romo critique (as the game analyst for CBS) and going over a lot of what was going on, that felt good. Just a really great day there and we have a lot of respect for that football team so we know we played against a good team.”
The Cowboys jumped on the Jaguars from the start, while taking their cues from UFC star Conor McGregor, who was seen giving them a pep talk on the sidelines before the game. After each big play, the Cowboys did McGregor’s patented strut.
“I’m not so sure I understand what his strut is,” Jones said. “I can do the Dak strut for you.”
Nobody strutted better than Prescott on Sunday. He passed for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while also notching a career-high 82 yards rushing and a touchdown. Running back Ezekiel Elliott added 106 yards rushing and a touchdown.
The defense recorded three sacks and two turnovers in completely shutting down the Jaguars offense. The Jaguars had just 204 yards, the third fewest allowed by the Cowboys since 2012.
“It was huge,” Prescott said when asked if the Cowboys needed the win but also the outstanding performance in getting the win. “It was huge from the point of complimentary football. It’s definitely the best we have played. We just keep feeding off of each other. Something we had not been doing this season. I don’t know if it was Conor McGregor or what it was. But we came out and attacked. It was a great win.”
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Dak Prescott’s performance
Quarterback Dak Prescott still didn’t top 200 yards passing but no one is complaining. Not after Sunday’s seemingly flawless performance leading the Cowboys to season-high 40 points.
It wasn’t about Prescott’s arm. It was about Prescott’s arm and legs that set the tone against the Jaguars, as it should be every game.
He had rushed for a career-high 82 yards rushing on 11 carries, including a 17-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. You knew it was going to be a good day for Prescott when he had two first-quarter fumbles bounce back into his hands like he was dribbling a basketball. He had nine carries for 53 yards and passed for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to spark the Cowboys to a 24-0 halftime lead. They cruised the rest of the way.
Prescott completed 17 of 27 passes for 183 yards and a quarterback rating of 107.5.
“It just opened everything up,” Prescott said of his running. “Some of it was called runs and read options. The end game was to read keep it and a lot them were just man-to-man protections and man-to-man coverage. The protection was solid. I was able to get out of the pocket and make them pay. It opened everything up for our offense.”
2. Jason Garrett goes for it
A week ago, coach Jason Garrett got crucified for refusing to go for it on fourth and 1 in overtime in the loss 19-16 loss to the Houston Texans. Garrett simply had no confidence in his offense. What a difference a week makes for Garrett and the Cowboys offense.
He went for it on fourth and 1 twice in the blowout victory against the Jaguars in what was the biggest offensive outburst in more than a year. The first came right before the half when Ezekiel Elliott gained two yards on a drive that essentially put the game away. Up 17-0, the Cowboys scored on a touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Cole Beasley to make it 24-0 nothing at halftime.
Then with the score 30-7 in the fourth quarter, Elliott again converted a fourth and 1 that eventually set up a field goal from Brett Maher to make the score 40-7. Maher kicked four field goals on the day and Elliott had 106 yards rushing.
Garrett was confident to go for on fourth and 1 because the Cowboys were balanced and dominant on offense from the outset.
“We were able to basically to get balance right off the bat, we were able to establish the run and then Dak stepped out there and hit that deep ball to receiver Michael Gallup and from there on once it started spreading out against a top secondary in our minds, once we spread it out things started happening, a lot of balance out there,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I thought we had an outstanding game, got the fourth-down call right this time out there, but seriously just about as good of football as I have seen, without making a comparison here, but certainly with this team, that first half was about as good as you can draw it up.”
3. Dak’s main target is Cole Beasley
Cole Beasley is identified as a slot receiver but for all intents and purposes, he is the No. 1 receiver for the Cowboys and the main passing target of quarterback Dak Prescott. Beasley entered the game as the leading receiver for a much-maligned unit with 17 receptions for 193 yards.
Beasley had six receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against Jacksonville’s No. 1 ranked pass defense and vaunted cornerback duo of A.J. Buoye and Jalen Ramsey. Considering all the talk about whether the Cowboys receivers could get open and make plays, Beasley showed that problems at receiver had nothing to do with him.
Beasley had nine catches for 101 yards. It was the first 100-yard game of the season for a Cowboys receiver.
“I know my worth. There are a lot of naysayers, a lot of people who try to tell me who I am. It doesn’t mean anything,” Beasley said. “I know what I’m capable of and I got of opportunities tonight. It was just another day of showing it.
“I’m just happy I could contribute and make plays and I got all those opportunities to do that tonight. Finally got to see the end zone a little bit. It’s a lot of fun playing when you get to do that. The guys did a great job of blocking up front and giving Dak time to find me. Me and Dak took it from there.”
Owner Jerry Jones called him a No. 1 option for Prescott in the line of former tight end Jason Witten if not a No. 1 receiver.
“Yeah. You saw Witten stuff,” Jones said. “You saw No. 1-ish. We talk about what is No. 1. Well, of course, but we saw an emphasis on what he does. His level. There’s no question we all know his skill is separation and he was able to do that.”
4. David Irving’s season debut
Defensive tackle David Irving made his season debut after missing the first four games under NFL suspension. He also missed the last four games of 2017 because of a concussion.
This was Irving’s first game since last November and add in the missed training camp, OTAs and minicamp, this also first taste of live football action in 11 months. Irving made an impact on his first play with a quarterback hit, forcing an incompletion.
He played mainly on third downs or obvious passing situations. And while he didn’t light of the stat sheet, his presence mattered and made a difference for a Cowboys pass rush that notched two sacks and held the Jaguars to three first downs and 64 yards passing in the first half.
The Cowboys finished with three sacks and limited the Jaguars to just a lone touchdown in the second half in a game that never got close. Jeff Heath and Jaylon Smith helped keep Jacksonville at bay with an interception and a forced fumble.
5. Home sweet home for the Cowboys
The Cowboys are simply a different team at home than on the road. And they have been all season. All three losses have been on the road. All three wins have been at home.
They have simply played better and been more comfortable at home. The Cowboys have averaged 12.3 points per game on the road this season. They are averaging 28.6 at home after recording a season-high 40 against the Jaguars. It is quite the change from the narrative of AT&T Stadium being a terrible home field advantage.
Before this season, the Cowboys were 38-36 at home (including playoffs). That included one of the worst home stretches in team history in 2015 when they lost seven in a row at home. Now, it’s home sweet home.
The Cowboys need to find a way to take their home magic on the road, starting next Sunday at the Redskins. Elliott said they won’t make the playoffs if they don’t find a way to win on the road.
“Yeah, we have played well at home,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Our three wins are here. We loved playing in this stadium. But the best teams go on the road too. We have been a good road team in the past. We have a young team. We have to understand how to handle the conditions on the road. So we will have another challenge next week in Washington.”
Said Prescott: “It’s something we have to figure out before we go on the road next week. Right now we are going to take this win, learn from it and get better and figure out what we can do to continue this momentum on the road.”