Despite that difference of late, the Cowboys and Broncos are both on a roll entering this Thanksgiving Day matchup of division leaders.
Drew Bledsoe and the Dallas offense are not clicking the way they were earlier in the season, but the Cowboys have not stopped winning. They’ve won three in a row and five of six—the only defeat came to Seattle on a last-second field goal—to put themselves in a tie atop the NFC East with the New York Giants.
“We all need to get our expectations up. This is when it gets fun, right now,” Dallas receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. “We may not even have the best team in this division, but we are in the race, and that is where we want to be.
“You want to keep dropping wins in the hole, no matter how you get them.”
In last week’s 20-7 victory over Detroit, the Cowboys needed penalties to keep alive all their scoring drives and totaled only 253 yards of offense. That was just 12 more than their season low, set the previous week as they escaped with a 21-20 win over Philadelphia thanks to Roy Williams’ late interception return for a touchdown.
“Maybe we’re in just a little bit of a lull right now—maybe not a lull, a slump somewhat,” tight end Dan Campbell said.
Bledsoe has averaged only 175.5 yards passing over the last four games. He threw for a season-low 110 against the Lions and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time.
“It’s a combination of the way defenses are approaching us and us not executing as well as we’d like to,” Bledsoe said. “But when you win a few in a row, it’s certainly not something we’re going to jump up and down about.”
The Broncos have won three straight and eight of nine, with the only loss coming on the road to the Giants on a touchdown with 5 seconds left. They have a two-game lead over San Diego and Kansas City in the AFC West.
Denver ranks fourth in the NFL in total offense and fifth in scoring (25.9 ppg). During their current three-game win streak, the Broncos have outscored the opposition 107-38.
They’ve averaged nearly 190 yards rushing in the last eight games. Mike Anderson has run for a touchdown in five straight, and had three in last week’s 27-0 victory over the New York Jets as he rushed for 113 yards.
It was the third time in four games he’s broken the century mark, and he could be asked to take a bigger workload this week with Tatum Bell’s status uncertain due to a bruised chest. Bell tops the NFL with 6.0 yards per carry and has run for 640 yards, 142 less than Anderson.
“It doesn’t bother Mike,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “Mike is a guy that can carry the ball 25, 30 times a game. He’s a total team player.”
Anderson is going against a Dallas run defense which hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Oakland’s Lamont Jordan in Week 4. The Cowboys limited the Lions to 57 yards on 19 carries on Sunday.
The Broncos, meanwhile, own the league’s second-ranked rush defense, thanks in part to the offense putting points on the board early in games and forcing opponents to throw more. The Jets ran the ball a franchise-low seven times against Denver last week, and the Broncos are on pace to face what would be a team record-low 340 rushing attempts this season.
“We’re getting leads and teams stop running the ball,” cornerback Darrent Williams said.
The last meeting between these teams also came on Thanksgiving, in 2001, and Anderson—then the reigning AFC offensive rookie of the year—rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s 26-23 victory at Dallas.
“Not everybody wants to play on Thanksgiving. I think it’s good,” Shanahan said. “A national televised audience is always nice, it provides a challenge and you’ve got to play them at home some time, so why not do it then.”