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Cowboys are 'locked back in' following three losses, bye week

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Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman discuss whether Michael Bennett will increase the Cowboys' chances of winning the Super Bowl this season. (1:05)

FRISCO, Texas -- If you ask any player or coach with the Dallas Cowboys, their opponents do not matter.

"It's about us" is a constant refrain, which is why the Cowboys spent their Week 8 bye getting away from football.

The four-day break allowed the Cowboys to reset before returning to work Tuesday. It's also a good time to reset where they are in the standings. The Cowboys (4-3) are in first place in the NFC East, and their best path to consecutive playoff appearances seems to go through the division.

Dallas could have benefited in the division race had the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Buffalo Bills in Week 8. Concerning potential wild-card chances, it did help that the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers each lost, but it did not help that the Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions won.

As the Cowboys prepare for Monday night's (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) meeting with the New York Giants (2-6), here's a look at this week and beyond:

This week's plan

The Cowboys will hold an abbreviated practice Tuesday and are off again on Wednesday. They will fall back into their normal routine on Thursday, considering the Monday night kickoff.

There will be plenty to accomplish this week, namely getting newly acquired defensive end Michael Bennett up to speed with the Cowboys' system. The former Patriot operated under a different scheme in New England, but he will return to what he was familiar with in Seattle, having spent time with the Seahawks under Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator Kris Richard.

No stranger to acclimating new players near midseason, the Cowboys were able to get wide receiver Amari Cooper up to speed fairly quickly after acquiring him during their bye week last season. The good news is the transition for a defensive lineman should be a little easier.

'Locked back in'

The Cowboys started the season with three convincing wins, and then they lost three consecutive games. Quarterback Dak Prescott indicated the Cowboys got ahead of themselves a little bit because of how well they started.

"We're going to handle success the right way so that we don't have to get to these points where our backs are against the wall," Prescott said.

The Week 7 win against Philadelphia means nothing if the Cowboys lose to the Giants on Monday.

"We've talked about it in here," guard Zack Martin said. "I don't think we're as good as we thought we were after those first three games. You never want to lose those games, but it was a wake-up call for us, and I think the guys are locked back in."

Getting healthy

The Cowboys held two-hours-long practices before departing for the bye weekend. Most of the starters didn't practice, and 20 players were given time off to lift and run but did not practice.

"It gives everyone a chance to kind of get out of the rhythm of the season for a little bit in a good way," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, "and hopefully get some time off and come back next week refreshed and ready to go, reset, recharged and excited for the next challenge."

Tackles Tyron Smith (ankle) and La'el Collins (knee) definitely needed the rest. So did Leighton Vander Esch (stinger) and Robert Quinn (ribs), who were banged up in the Eagles' win. But Cooper, Randall Cobb, Martin, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, DeMarcus Lawrence and others had been dealing with bumps, bruises and strains and needed the time off, too.

The Cowboys, if they want, can also start the practice windows for Noah Brown (knee) and Connor McGovern (pectoral) from the physically unable to perform list and injured reserve.

What's ahead

This is why the Cowboys' bye week comes at a good time: After the Giants, Dallas plays the Vikings, Lions, Patriots and Bills within a 19-day span.

Those are key NFC matchups, a game against the best team in football and a Bills' squad that is 5-2 and performing better than expected.

This is why the Week 6 loss to the New York Jets could be so haunting. The Cowboys don't have much wiggle room should they falter in the division. The Cowboys almost have to win three of their next five games to be in a position to make a move in the conference over the final month of the season.

And that schedule is not so easy, either. They play at Chicago, host the Rams, play at Philadelphia and close the season against the Washington Redskins.

"[The bye is] a chance for all of us to take a little bit of a breath," Garrett said.

They might have to hold their breath over the final nine games.