With no excuses, Dallas Cowboys' ride appears to be just beginning

MINNEAPOLIS -- A thin, retractable wall separated the news conference room from the Dallas Cowboys' locker room inside U.S. Bank Stadium.

While the exact words were muffled, there was no mistaking the joy from the sounds of exhilarated players, coaches and staff after the 20-16 victory against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“What did I learn?” coach Mike McCarthy said, repeating the question he was asked about his team. “I think it just confirmed the ability to fight through adversity. This bunch has a lot of character. They're tight. They enjoy one another. I mean, it's a fun group to coach, and they just don't blink. The sideline, it's just been very consistent, particularly the last two weeks.”

Something is happening in this Cowboys’ season. They have won six straight and have a 3½-game lead in the NFC East. They are one of four teams in the NFC with one loss, and that came on a last-second field goal against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.

“We’re confident in the guys we have,” said wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught eight passes for 122 yards, including the winning touchdown with 51 seconds to play against Minnesota. "We know we can overcome anything. We know that whoever we line up against, we can win. No matter the situation, we all feel that way.”

It might seem like a lifetime ago, but before Sunday the last time the Cowboys played was Oct. 17 at the New England Patriots, and Dallas left with a 35-29 overtime win at Gillette Stadium. They overcame 12 penalties for 115 yards and a three-point deficit with a tying field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation.

On the winning touchdown pass against New England, quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a right calf strain, which kept him out of the Vikings game and had Cooper Rush making the first start of his career. Rush was hardly a lock to make the roster coming into training camp, and the Cowboys gave Garrett Gilbert most of the first-team snaps in camp as Prescott rested his right shoulder.

In the second quarter against Minnesota, they lost Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith to an ankle injury. They had 11 more penalties against the Vikings for 96 yards.

And still won.

“The things we stand for, the way the 2021 Dallas Cowboys are coming, and everybody, we’re so tight in this group, whether it’s on the offense or the defense,” safety Jayron Kearse said. “I haven’t been around a group that’s been this tight, that’s on opposite sides of the ball that trust in each other. I believe everybody trusts in each other.”

The Cowboys won six games all of last season. They have six wins in seven tries this season. They have won with their best defensive player entering the season, DeMarcus Lawrence, playing just one game before breaking his foot in practice. They have not had one of their big-play receivers, Michael Gallup, since the opener either, but his replacement, Cedrick Wilson, caught a 73-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter against the Vikings after making the crucial fourth-down reception during the tying drive against the Patriots.

They won with their starting right tackle, La’el Collins, missing five games from a suspension. They won with Keanu Neal, a key linebacker, missing two games on the COVID-19 list.

Against Minnesota, they won without Prescott.

“It takes a lot of people to win this thing,” McCarthy said. “Our players have bought into that.”

When rookie Micah Parsons met the media last week, he was asked about having 11 games remaining in his rookie season. He corrected the questioner, saying the Cowboys had 14 games left, counting postseason games through Super Bowl LVI.

Parsons is one of the youngest Cowboys at 22. At this time a year ago, he wasn’t playing football anywhere, having opted out of his third season at Penn State, but he is aware the Cowboys can’t think of playing in SoFi Stadium in February just yet.

“Obviously going one step forward of getting to where you want to go is honestly great,” Parsons said. “And the adversity again, battling and battling, not having certain players but the no-excuse mentality is really what's taking us. You get a penalty, we line back up. It is what it is but, that no-excuse mentality. Keep going, keep grinding and everybody's still hungry. That's what matters. One game at a time, and now we got 13 more to go.”