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Cowboys won't say it, but they are NFC's best

CLEVELAND -- Given Jerry Jones' bent for hyperbole, the question was a good one.

At 7-1, are the Dallas Cowboys the best team in the NFC?

"Oh, I wouldn't dare make that comparison," the Cowboys' owner and general manager said. "What I would compare it to is how and where we were this time last year. Now that's vivid to me. And when I see how we're playing, the optimism that we have, just the confidence that we have, then it's daylight and dark."

Even head coach Jason Garrett has gotten to Jones. Of all people, Jones has become a process guy.

Actually, Jones is mostly pragmatic. If it's working, keep doing it.

The Cowboys did what they were supposed to do in Sunday's 35-10 win over the Cleveland Browns: They beat a bad team convincingly.

So thorough was the domination that Ezekiel Elliott was asked to carry the ball just one time in the fourth quarter, and everybody in uniform saw action, with backup quarterback Mark Sanchez completing his only pass.

At 7-1, the Cowboys share the NFL's best record with the New England Patriots. They have the best record in the conference and every other NFC team but the Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1) has at least three losses.

Think back to where the Cowboys were after eight games in 2015. They lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 33-27 in overtime at AT&T Stadium to fall to 2-6 on the year. They would lose the following week, too, for a seven-game losing streak, the longest the franchise has had since the Cowboys finished 1-15 in 1989.

So desperate were the Cowboys that Tony Romo perhaps rushed his return from a broken left collarbone suffered in the second game of the season. This year, Romo can take his time in his recovery from a compression fracture suffered Aug. 25.

After Sunday's game, Jones said Romo would do more in practice this week but he was not sure if the quarterback would be active next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Damn, it feels good to have that switch," tight end Jason Witten said, thinking back to last year's misery.

Witten made the comment about a minute after fans were screaming his name in a tunnel to the team bus after his eight-catch, 134-yard, one-touchdown outing. FirstEnergy Stadium was littered with Cowboys fans. Hours before kickoff, they lined up five and six rows deep in the end zone and behind the bench to scream and holler.

By the end of the game, they were practically the only fans remaining.

"When you play for a franchise like the Dallas Cowboys, your fans are going to travel," said Elliott, who finished with 92 yards and two touchdowns. "There was a lot of navy and white out there. That's just awesome when you have an away game and kind of have all those guys there like it was a home game."

The fans are dreaming of Super Bowl LI after a championship drought of 21 years.

The players are not even thinking of their next opponent, the Steelers. They're thinking of the Monday off day, the Tuesday film review, the Wednesday practice.

"Being in the moment is the goal," Garrett said. "There are going to be some things we like and there are going to be some things that aren't so good. We have to take that same approach and get back to work."

There were some issues. The defense gave up 60 yards on the first two plays and then allowed an end-of-half touchdown drive. The offense had some negative runs, which might be the only flaw in its day. The special teams had a punt downed at the Dallas 1.

But that is nitpicking stuff.

Sunday was a dominating performance by the NFC's best team, even if nobody in the locker room wants to say it.

"There's still a ton of football to go," guard Zack Martin said. "We know how fast things can change. We've got to keep the pedal on the gas and keep going."

Rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who had two sacks vs. the Browns, wasn't part of last year's 4-12 debacle. He was finishing his last season at Nebraska. He didn't have a frame of reference on how bad it got in 2015. His frame of reference is this seven-game winning streak, the franchise's longest since 2007.

He doesn't understand all the fuss.

"We're here to win them all," he said.

Who's to say they can't?