Cowboys bounce back, but next three games could determine their fate

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A week can sometimes seem like a month in the NFL.

For the Dallas Cowboys, last week felt like two months after their 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos that was not even as close as the final score would indicate.

The six-game winning streak was over. The offense was finally stopped, with some wondering if there was a blueprint other defenses could follow. The defense was exposed. They had to sit in the loss and accept whatever was said about them.

“We weren’t ourselves last week and that’s understood,” wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said.

The Cowboys’ response Sunday was a 43-3 thumping of the Atlanta Falcons for their first 40-point win since 2000.

A week after completing 48.7% of his passes, quarterback Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes and ran for another while completing 77% of his passes. A week after allowing 190 rushing yards to the Broncos, and 8 of 15 third-down conversions, the Cowboys' defense limited the Falcons to just three points and one third-down conversion in 11 tries, and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for just 117 yards, the fewest he has had in a game with at least 10 attempts in his career.

The Cowboys scored 29 points in the second quarter, the most points they have scored in any quarter in franchise history.

The performance had Jerry Jones wondering whether another Cowboys team had dominated as thoroughly as this one did Sunday.

“I can't remember, I really can't,” the owner and general manager said. “I can't remember, I can go way back, and we had some good games.”

Perhaps this win resets the Cowboys’ feet for the rest of the season.

At 7-2, the Cowboys have a four-game lead in the NFC East. With the Arizona Cardinals losing to the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys are tied in the loss column in the race for home-field advantage and will play the Cardinals in Week 17.

What happens in the next three games will go a long way in determining what kind of season this truly could be.

In a 12-day span, the Cowboys play the Kansas City Chiefs and former NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, then the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving, followed by a Thursday night game at the New Orleans Saints.

The Chiefs might not be the best team in the AFC these days, but they still have Mahomes. The Raiders have had off-field turmoil, but interim coach Rich Bisaccia, a former Cowboys special teams coordinator, has been able to keep Las Vegas looking forward. New Orleans is 5-4 after Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans and has beaten the Cowboys three straight times in the Caesars Superdome.

“Obviously all those teams is like really, really good,” linebacker Micah Parsons said. “And I think we had a tough stretch early in the season and we got another one coming up here, so I mean we’re going to have to really hunker down and lock in and key in on all the little details. Obviously you got Super Bowl contender in the Chiefs, the Raiders is really good this year and obviously New Orleans is in our side, so we got to show what we got and try to go 3-0 in this stretch.”

Parsons is a rookie. He has never played three games in 12 days.

“You could put three games in one day, you did it when we was kids,” Parsons said. “Think about it, when I was a kid, I was playing football from the time we got out of school until the lights went out. I’m sure we played more than three games. ... Now I’m not saying it’s the same level, but it’s in my blood already.”

Lamb, who had two touchdown catches, is just in his second season. He already understands how the tenor of a season changes the deeper it goes.

“As we get down the stretch in the season I feel like every game, it builds a lot of anticipation,” Lamb said. “Treating it as if it’s another game but understanding that it’s more than just a next game.”

Prescott, a six-year veteran, has been around long enough to keep the focus on the Chiefs. He will worry about the Raiders the following week and the Saints a week after that.

After all, the Broncos loss is still a fresh memory. As a result, he didn’t view the Falcons win as any kind of statement.

“We're just trying to get better and take it game by game and when you're in the game, play by play," Prescott said. "I think when we do that we're capable of accomplishing whatever we want. We're not going to get overconfident again.

"That's what a game like last week does for you, it leaves that taste in your mouth and keeps you humble. It makes sure you stay hungry and that you don't get too ahead of yourself.”