If you were written off the Dallas Cowboys after Dak Prescott suffered a hand injury in Game 1 of the season, shame on you.
Well, shame on us because I sure canceled them too.
As frustrating and at times predictable as Team USA has been on the field for the past three decades, the Cowboys deserve an apology.
After eight games and heading into their bye week, the Cowboys are 6-2 and in playoff talks after a 49-29 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.
They could also be one of the best teams in the NFL. But it’s up to them to decide in the second half of the season.
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How the Cowboys deal with injuries and improve their run defense will be their biggest challenges as they continue to chase the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) in an NFC East that has three teams with at least six victories.
But in a year the 49ers acquired Christian McCaffrey to stay in contention, while defending champion Rams, Tom Brady’s Buccaneers and Aaron Rodgers’ Packers struggle mightily, the Cowboys have a chance to make noise in the conference.
“I have a lot of faith in myself and in this team and what we’re capable of doing,” Prescott told reporters after his second game after hand surgery. He led the Cowboys offense to 42 of the team’s 49 points against Chicago, including scores on their first four drives.
Running back Tony Pollard scored three rushing touchdowns in a game that Ezekiel Elliott sat out of a knee injury.
And the Cowboys are in position for the second half thanks to their impressive defense and backup quarterback Cooper Rush who is keeping the season on track with a 4-1 record in Prescott’s absence.
The 6-2 start gives coach Mike McCarthy some breathing room after speculation that Sean Payton could be his replacement before the season has even started.
“I liked the maturity of the way we worked this week. It’s been a good week at work,” McCarthy said, congratulating his players as they began their time off. “And when you have a good week at work and that you get rewarded, that’s what I’m looking for.These guys deserve some time off.
Prescott ran for a touchdown on the Cowboys’ first drive and threw two more touchdowns, going 21 of 27 for 250 yards despite an interception.
Pollard also paced the offense with 15 touches for 147 yards.
“We consider Tony a No. 1 and Zeke a No. 1,” McCarthy said, trying to quickly calm the idea that Pollard blew Elliott off the depth chart. “We are very lucky to have this back pair.”
But the Cowboys’ victory didn’t come without moments of adversity.
After the Cowboys saw their 28-7 lead turn to 28-17 with 10 points allowed in the last minute before halftime, the Bears made it a one-score game with a touchdown by running back Khalil Herbert with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
Needing a big play, star Cowboys defenseman Demarcus Lawrence got Dallas’ first sack of the game in the Bears’ two-point conversion attempt to keep it 28-23.
On the ensuing drive, Prescott scoured the field to find tight end Dalton Schultz twice for passes for 30 and 14 yards, receiver CeeDee Lamb in the red zone, before passing to Pollard for his second touchdown. Match.
And on the Cowboys’ next defensive drive, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch forced a fumble that was recovered and scored for a touchdown by point rusher Micah Parsons to put the game out of reach.
“I just landed on the ball, I popped up ready to celebrate with the team. I thought I was depressed, and everyone was like, ‘Go ahead! Go! Go!’ and I just went, went, went,” Parsons told reporters in the locker room.
Still, the Cowboys need to solidify their commitment defensively.
The Bears rushed for 240 yards on the run defense against the Cowboys, who ranked in the bottom half of the league heading into the game. The Cowboys also allowed the Bears to score another touchdown early in the fourth quarter, which was ultimately inconsequential.
But those will be areas that opposing teams will play to exploit against Dallas in the second half this season.
“We know that’s how teams are going to chase us,” McCarthy said.
The Cowboys’ streak begins with road games in the NFC North against the Packers and Vikings, before hosting the Giants in their next home game. All three teams will challenge Dallas and the idea that they should be held in high esteem by others in the league.
Getting healthy will be the biggest step, including Prescott and Elliott (knee) using the bye week to recharge for the second half.
Prescott’s return puts the Cowboys in a prime position to take on other NFC favorites, with Prescott’s confidence in himself and Dallas’ offense being the deciding factor as far as they go this season.
“Like I’ve said in the past, just understanding the team we have and the defense we have, we have to reward these guys and go for touchdowns,” Prescott said after a well-rounded Cowboys win.
“We have to set our standard, know who we are and who we can be. We owe this more importantly to the work we have done.