Friday, June 2 2023

With all due respect to the highest level of football, this Dallas Cowboys season is starting to feel a lot like one you might see from a particularly talented college team. It’s a fitting parallel, given the time of year. Down in the collegiate ranks, conference championships have just been decided and the all-important College Football Playoff field is set. Football factories like Georgia and Michigan can finally stop rolling over their overmatched opposition and turn their focus toward a worthy foe.

Sounds a bit familiar, right? Because, as they hurtle toward a Christmas Eve rematch against 11-1 Philadelphia, it’s fair to wonder if the Cowboys look a bit bored. Their winning streak now at three games, Dallas is firmly entrenched among the short list of Super Bowl contenders. More importantly, these last two efforts haven’t even been all that complete.

Think about how crazy that sounds. The Cowboys trailed the Giants 13-7 at halftime on Thanksgiving before flipping the switch and cruising to a 28-20 win. Sunday night’s 54-19 brutalization of Indianapolis was even more jarring. As late as the 3:43 mark in the third quarter, this appeared to be a football game. The Colts had used quick passes and screens effectively to mitigate the Cowboys pass rush, and Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense had made a handful of impactful mistakes. The score was 21-19 — a typical game to serve as another reminder of the difficulty of playing in the NFL. Until it wasn’t. 

Prescott guided his group 75 yards, culminating in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Michael Gallup, to create a two-possession cushion. A mere 18 seconds later, Malik Hooker could scoop up a Colts fumble and return it 38 yards for a touchdown, and the story was written. By the time it was over, the Cowboys had scored a franchise-record 33 points in the fourth quarter. They finished the night with five takeaways — four of them coming in that frantic final period, turning a stressful evening into a laugher in the blink of an eye.

“We get up a couple points, let these guys hunt and get turnovers, and we’re a dangerous team when that happens,” Prescott said afterward.

Dangerous doesn’t feel like it does this justice. The Cowboys chalked up the highest score in an NFL game this season and didn’t need an overly impressive day from their quarterback to do it.

That’ll happen when the ground game, perfectly balanced between Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, racks up 220 total yards.

The five takeaways don’t hurt, either. Rookie cornerback DaRon Bland notched two interceptions of Ryan, and Hooker swung the momentum of the game just before halftime when he dove for a tip drill interception, helping the offense to go score for a 21-13 halftime lead.

The narrative obviously wasn’t lost on Hooker. Two takeaways and his first NFL touchdown made this one of the best games of his pro career — and who better to do it to than Indianapolis, the team that made him the No. 15 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft?

“I just wanted to come out here and prove that I’m still the player I was drafted to be, and I think I showed that tonight,” Hooker said.

Even the gameplay resembled that of a college game, where powerhouses can empty their benches and put even more top-tier talent on the field.

For all the star power of the Cowboys, from Prescott to Micah Parsons to CeeDee Lamb, the final touches of this blowout were applied by newcomers. Bland, drafted in the fifth round this past spring, has gotten onto the field in part because of injuries to the veterans on the depth chart. The fumble that Hooker returned for a touchdown was punched out by Damone Clark— a fellow fifth-round rookie getting his feet wet on defense. The final points of the night came on a 23-yard rumble from Malik Davis, another rookie signed as an undrafted free agent.

Of course, it’s fair to point out that this was an expected result. The Colts are a middling team with a head coach working his fourth career game. There’s a reason the Cowboys were favored by a whopping 10.5 points.

Still, we’ve seen the Cowboys at their crispest — the 40-3 pasting of 10-2 Minnesota comes to mind. No matter how lopsided the final score might look, this was not as clean of an effort.

For Dallas to look this dominant, in this slow of a start, calls to mind the college game. And it makes one awfully anxious to see what they’ll do against an opponent more worthy of their time.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter @davidhelman_.

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