By Dwain Price
ARLINGTON — After the way they meticulously dismantled the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday at AT&T Stadium, this has all the makings of being a very special season for the Dallas Cowboys.
The then-undefeated Panthers came to Arlington ranked first in the National Football League in total defense in six categories, including allowing just 45 yards rushing per game and giving up just 30 TOTAL points on the season. But the Cowboys rushed for 46 yards less than five minutes into the game, and rushed for 245 yards for the day and went on to throttle Carolina, 36-28, in a contest that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
It was the third straight win for the Cowboys, who ran their NFC-East leading record to 3-1 and will now host the New York Giants (1-3) on Sunday at 3:25 p.m.
Quarterback Dak Prescott tossed a career-high tying four touchdown passes – the fifth time he’s done that in his career – and passed for 188 yards. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott rushed 20 times for 143 yards and a touchdown, and the Dallas defense picked up five sacks – two by Randy Gregory — and a pair of interceptions.
In all, this was a dominant performance on both sides of the ball by the Cowboys.
“Yeah, it’s special,” said Prescott, who completed 14 of his 22 pass attempts. “That’s what you’re looking for when you want to be the best offense. You want to be balanced.
“You’re going to do whatever it takes to win and ideally as I told you all before, you’re going to go into the game planning to do both, planning to have a game like this where you don’t have to do one more than the other. If you’re required to do that, you’re going to do that. And whether it’s me throwing a lot or Zeke running a lot, we’re going to take advantage and do whatever it takes to win and help this team out.”
Entering Sunday’s game, Carolina had given up a total of 135 yards rushing in its three games. Elliott averaged 7.2 yards per rush against the Panthers and also ripped off a 47-yard run, which was his longest since 2016.
“The O-line, they dominated the line of scrimmage (Sunday),” Elliott said. ““They’re a good defense, they bring a lot of different fronts to the table, they’re going to run a lot of different things, they are going to change it up on you.
“They hadn’t seen an offense like us this year, so we came out and played good ball.”
Trailing 14-13 at the half, the Cowboys rattled off 23 consecutive points – including 20 in the third quarter – to bolt ahead 36-14 early in the fourth period. In the third quarter alone, Prescott hurled a picture-perfect 35-yard scoring strike to Amari Cooper, a 6-yarder to Dalton Schultz and a 23-yarder to Cedric Wilson.
“It was just like a few adjustments from the coaches coming out,” Prescott said, referring to the third-quarter explosion. “More importantly, it was us talking about how much we’ve put into this — going back to the spring — how much commitment we have for one another.”
Part of that commitment can also be showed in the stellar improvement in the Cowboys’ defense. Fresh off being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for the month of September, cornerback Trevon Diggs collected a pair of interceptions against the Panthers to run his total for the season to five.
The last Cowboys player to have five interceptions through the first four games was linebacker Chuck Howley – 53 years ago.
“I feel like I’m reading my keys, just being me, playing how I’m playing just trying to play at a high level and just trying to win,” Diggs said. “Just reading my keys again, seeing the receiver, seeing the quarterback throw the ball and just broke on the ball.
“I love that challenge. It’s mono a mono – who’s better at the end of the day. I like to compete every play, so I want to see who’s better.”
Diggs left the game early in the fourth quarter and didn’t return, but is expected to pay against the Giants.
“I was just having back tightness,” he said. “They wanted to hold me, didn’t want to risk it.”
Diggs is as aggressive as they come, and has already proven – in just his second season – to be a lockdown cornerback.
“I mean, player of the month, working on second month of the season,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s playing with phenomenal confidence, and took a big responsibility (Sunday) working on their top receiver (in DJ Moore).
“He delivered with two huge plays there in the second half. He’s playing at a very high level right now. It’s awesome.”
It’s also awesome what the Cowboys are doing overall on defense as they’ve forced at least two turnovers in eight straight contests. They also went into the game against the Panthers with four sacks on the season, and now have more than doubled that total.
“You could say that, but we aren’t really too worried about that,” Elliott said when asked if the win over the Panthers was a statement game. “We’re worried about competing week-in and week-out, getting better week-in and week-out and trying to stack these wins.”
And in stacking wins, the Cowboys hope to keep the rest of the NFC East at a safe distance. But they know that will include tying up some loose ends and stop making games like the one against the Panthers closer than it needed to be.
“We have a lot of repairs we can improve on, that’s the beauty of what’s going on,” McCarthy said. “I mean, our team knows how to win, we’ve established that here the last three weeks, and that’s the most important thing. But right now we’re not really into the style points.
“We do have a game plan and the adjustments that we’re making, it’s keeping our guys in clean looks. Just the way they’re playing together – the energy and the way they’re flying around is a big part of our success right now. But there’s definitely room for improvement and we realize that.”