FRISCO, Texas – The bye week is done. Bodies have rested. Minds have cleared.
The second half of the Dallas Cowboys’ season starts now.
For the second straight season, the Cowboys are 6-2. It’s the first time since 1994-95 that the Cowboys have been 6-2 or better after eight games in back-to-back seasons. Those 1990s Cowboys teams won Super Bowls after the 1993, 1994 and 1996 seasons.
These Cowboys are still motivated by their wild-card loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January.
“I think being humbled the first playoff game really changed a lot of perspectives,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “How easily it comes, that’s how easily it can go. I feel like we don’t take one day for granted. We’re always in here working.”
Some viewed the trade deadline as a disappointment because the Cowboys did not add a wide receiver, but the club believes that defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins can fix a major run-defense flaw.
The Cowboys had discussions about acquiring Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks, according to sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations, but the sides could never cross the stumbling blocks of draft-pick compensation (second- and fourth-round selections, per Adam Schefter) and Cooks’ $18 million salary guarantee in 2023.
There were brief talks with the Denver Broncos regarding Jerry Jeudy, but they did not go anywhere after the Broncos dealt pass-rusher Bradley Chubb, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
“We really like this team,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We like the depth on this team.”
While the Philadelphia Eagles swung a deal for pass-rusher Robert Quinn, the 49ers added Christian McCaffrey and the Minnesota Vikings acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson, the Cowboys were not influenced by their NFC counterparts.
“We have to take care of our business. We have to take care of our roster,” Jones said. “We have to make the decisions that are best to improve our football team, so we’re keeping our eye on the ball in terms of how we can improve our football team as we move forward.”
Most likely, the improvement in the second half will come within, and it could be substantial.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has played just two full games after breaking his right thumb in the season opener. He completed 77% of his passes against the Chicago Bears to go with two touchdowns. The more he plays, the better the Cowboys believe they will be.
Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith is three to four weeks from having his practicing window opening after he had surgery to repair a torn hamstring suffered in training camp. Wide receiver James Washington is close to coming off injured reserve after breaking his foot on Aug. 1.
“I think we made a big step last week with the offensive side of the ball, and I do think they’ll continue to get better as Dak gets into his rhythm after having to sit out for almost half the season, and certainly you’re starting to see what he can do for this offense, the weapons that we do have here,” Jones said.
That doesn’t take into account the health of running back Ezekiel Elliott (knee), safety Malik Hooker (hamstring), wide receiver Noah Brown (foot) and defensive end Sam Williams (knee), each of whom did not play against the Bears. Jones said all of them should be available this week against the Green Bay Packers.
Which brings another storyline to the second half of the season. The Cowboys’ first game after the bye will be an emotional return of coach Mike McCarthy to Lambeau Field. After beating the Bears on Oct. 30, McCarthy deflected questions about playing his former team. He did so again the next day, putting the focus on the bye week.
On Monday, he will talk about his 12-plus-year run as Packers head coach that saw him become the second all-time winningest coach in team history behind Curly Lambeau, and a Super Bowl champion.
“When I say we haven’t talked about the Green Bay game one time, we haven’t,” said passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr., who was with McCarthy for 11 seasons. “Anything that I tell you about his emotions for that game I’d just be making up.”
The final nine-game stretch of the regular season is filled with seven teams that harbor at least playoff possibilities. The Cowboys are about to begin a stretch of three games in 12 days: at the Packers, at the Vikings (Nov. 19) and versus the New York Giants on Thanksgiving. They also will have a Saturday-Thursday stretch when they have a rematch against the Eagles (Dec. 24) and a trip to Nashville on Dec. 29 to take on the Tennessee Titans.
McCarthy will shorten practices in the second half of the season to give players more rest. He knows what awaits.
“November is a huge month,” McCarthy said. “I mean, this is where teams, things really start to shape up, going into to the third quarter of the season, so I mean, that’s the way we operate.”