ARLINGTON – There are certain narratives that can serve as a comfortable groove. For instance, follow the groove and it all works out, the way rookie Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday followed the ballyhooed “best O-line in football’’ and powered past the visiting Bengals, 28-14, for 134 yards and two TDs.
That’s an easy narrative. Grooved.
There are other narratives that don’t propel you into a groove, but rather, shove you into a gutter. Those narratives, for this shockingly good 4-1 Cowboys team, include all the things they aren’t supposed to be able to do without the injured Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, and all the things this defense — from the beleaguered Morris Claiborne on down — wasn’t supposed to be able to do, healthy or not.
The Bengals are, on paper, a quality team … better than this Dez/Romo-less Cowboys bunch. On paper.
The Cincy defense, led by All-World 3-Tech stud Geno Atkins, had not given up a rushing touchdown all year. The offense, featuring All-World receiver A.J. Green, was supposed to be a mismatch for any DB, certainly any Cowboys DB, and yeah, even for Claiborne, the former first-round Dallas draft pick who only now is living up to his Deionesque billing.
And then the Sunday afternoon game at AT&T Stadium kicked off, with Dallas being given a chance to take the lead in the NFC East, and, heck, it was over as soon as it began. The Cowboys played 28 minutes of perfect football, dominating the first half with a trio of TDs and 100 yards on the ground and pressure from returnee Tank Lawrence and the D-line and unreal aerial work by Claiborne.
This gem was engineered by Zeke’s buddy, fellow rookie Dak Prescott, the QB who has been so brilliant that those who have clamored for him to remain in place even when Romo starts practicing next week now look slightly less stupid.
“We’re lucky to have him,’’ coach Jason Garrett said of Prescott, who was 18-of-24 for 227 yards and a TD both in their air and on the ground. “He’s growing … and he goes about it the right way.’’
Yessir, but Dak doing this? That wasn’t the narrative. It isn’t supposed to be this easy.
Mo doing this? That wasn’t the narrative, either. Green catches four passes for an innocuous 50 yards and the Bengals don’t get on the scoreboard until it’s way too late?
Not the narrative, but …
“That was one of our goals coming into the week,’’ Mo said. “Take him away from them. We wanted to make somebody else beat us.’’
And nobody else did.
When I talked to Tank Lawrence about this game, all he could focus on — and he kept coming back to it — was how Dallas “let ‘em off the hook.’’ “Really,’’ Tank told me, shaking his head at Cincy’s pair of fourth-quarter scores. “We shouldn’t have let ‘em score. We wanted the shutout.’’
Maybe thinking that way is fanciful … or maybe it’s necessary. How does a team get to 4-1 without believing it can? How do you know if you’re any good — even Dez-level good or Romo-level good — unless you embrace the positive narratives while ignoring the negative ones?
“You just want to focus on your opportunities,’’ Garrett said. “We have the next-man-up philosophy that we always try to preach. We work on that each and every day. Our team understands that. And it’s been showing up on Sunday afternoons.’’