By Flint Wheeler
All season, we’ve been waiting for the real Cowboys to show up — as in the mistake-prone squad with the NFL’s worst defense that many expected them to be.
But in Sunday’s victory at Seattle — where only one other opponent had won in the past three seasons — Tony Romo & Co. showed that their true identity may be as a playoff team. No team has a better record than Dallas at 5-1.
The Cowboys humbled the Seahawks and — with DeMarco Murray’s 115 yards leading the way — ran for 162 yards against a team that had the best rushing defense in the NFL in allowing just 62.2 yards per game before Sunday. Dallas outgained Seattle, 401-206.
It was easy to think the Cowboys were imploding when they turned a 17-10 third-quarter lead into a 20-17 deficit in less than three minutes. But the Cowboys had three scoring drives in the last 17 minutes.
Perhaps most impressively, the defense that ranked 32d last season and was mocked in preseason forecasts shut down Russell Wilson late in the fourth quarter. On his final two drives, Wilson went four-and-out and threw a game-icing INT.
“There’s no question this is the type of team we want to be,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys now have won five straight, with their last three wins coming against New Orleans, Houston, and Seattle. Now they begin a two-game stretch at home against the Giants and Redskins in which they could burnish their hopes of winning the NFC East for the first time since 2009.
If they come out of those divisional games at 7-1, the Cowboys will be close to ending their four-year playoff drought.
The Cardinals’ win over the Redskins gave them sole possession of first in the NFC West at 4-1. But not a lot of other teams looked poised to upset the NFL’s status quo yet.
In fact, if the playoffs started this week, the AFC field would be almost exactly the same as it was last year. New England, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis all would repeat as division champions, and the Chargers and Broncos both would qualify out of the AFC West, with Denver as a wild card. The only change would be the addition of Baltimore as a wild card.
Still, there are some teams that look like they could make a charge to be new playoff teams this year. Cleveland is 3-2 after winning for the third time in four games. The Browns now have a three-game stretch against Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tampa in which they could add wins in bunches.
Aaron Rodgers: The Packers quarterback has 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in Green Bay’s three-game win streak. His latest triumph in Miami — complete with a Dan Marino-style fake spike on the winning drive — was clinched on his scoring pass with 3 seconds left.
League-wide scoring: The first 13 contests of Week 6 averaged 50.1 points per game. That’s likely to raise the league-wide average of 46.37 per game that was already a record through five weeks. The NFL, as it has each of the past four seasons, is on track to set another annual scoring record.
Kirk Cousins: The Redskins QB took over the starting role in Week 3 amid buzz that he could dislodge the ailing Robert Griffin III permanently. Four weeks later, Cousins is 0-4 as the starter and Washington fans can’t wait for Griffin to return.
Vikings: Coach Mike Zimmer’s team lost for the fourth time in five games as Teddy Bridgewater was picked off three times in the loss to Detroit. Minnesota now has been outscored, 59-13, in the past two games.
The Bengals had a clear shot at a win evaporate when Mike Nugent’s 36-yard field goal try went awry as time expired in overtime against Carolina. Nugent had made his first three kicks, and the Bengals looked like they were going to emerge with a win when he lined up for the game-ender.
Nope. They settled for a 37-37 tie.
“That was the worst ball I’ve ever hit in my career,” Nugent said
His counterpart, Carolina’s Graham Gano, hit a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime, but also missed a 38-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter.
Kicking-game ineffectiveness is spreading around the league. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski, who made his first 13 field goals this season, missed a 36-yard attempt that followed a bad snap in the win at Buffalo. Chicago’s Robbie Gould, who had missed two point-after attempts in 10 years, had an extra point blocked in a win at Atlanta.
But the worst of the problems may be with the Lions. Days after being signed, Detroit’s Matt Prater missed two of his three attempts (from 50 and 44 yards). The Lions — who’ve already cut kickers Nate Freese and Alex Henery — now have missed 10 of their 15 field goal attempts. Since Prater’s misses didn’t factor into the Lions’ 17-3 win over the Vikings, the former Pro Bowler probably won’t have to worry about losing his job just yet.