Ezekiel Elliott slipped through a crease, rumbled his way into the open and then tumbled into the end zone. With the game put away, the Dallas Cowboys running back jumped to his feet and accentuated his fourth-quarter score with a cocky walk fit for a fighter.
Elliott busted out the “billionaire strut” – the signature sashay of Conor McGregor, MMA fighter and Sunday’s celebrity guest of honor of team owner Jerry Jones.
And just like that, the Cowboys are feeling like America’s Team again after their 40-7 romp over the much-hyped, but disappointing Jacksonville Jaguars.
Soon after Elliott’s 15-yard touchdown started the final period, the broadcast camera cut to Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey on the bench. The cornerback sat motionless, staring into space.
That blank expression spoke volumes. But his Jaguars teammate Malik Jackson would later sum up their performance perfectly: “We got our ass kicked today. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
And herein lies the reason the NFL is so vexing.
These days, any team can look like a fraud. Depending on the week, your favorite team can convert you from devout believer to an agnostic or even an outright atheist. At any moment, potential playoff teams look brittle, while wayward franchises surprisingly look like world-beaters.
On any given Sunday, so-called “elite” defenses (See: the Chicago Bears) can be picked apart by the likes of Brock Osweiler. And perennial bottom dwellers can fly high (See: the New York Jets).
The parity in the NFL means almost every division is up for grabs, including the AFC North and South, plus the NFC East, North and South. The Los Angeles Rams, who improved to 6-0 for the first time since 2001, and the Kansas City Chiefs (who lost to New England in Sunday night’s game) seem to be the exceptions, but the Rams defense has hardly been dominant.
And if you’re not careful, you’ll be fooled by plenty of paper tigers this season. Case in point: Jacksonville.
The Jaguars entered AT&T Stadium armed with the NFL’s No. 1 defense (292.2 yards allowed) and the top passing defense (191 yards), and the third-best unit in points allowed per contest (17.2). But here they were, surrendering 218 yards to the Cowboys with two minutes still remaining on the clock in the first half.
By the time both teams left the field for halftime, the Cowboys were up 24-0.
After allowing only 14 points and 259 total yards per game over the first four weeks of the season, the Jaguars surrendered an average of 401 yards and 35 points over the past two weeks.
For all the talking Ramsey has done in recent months, the always chirpy cornerback had little answers for what is plaguing his unit. Asked if the Jaguars (3-3) still have the league’s best defense, he said: “We ain’t playing like it.”
And while their Leonard Fournette-less offense was sputtering behind Blake Bortles (15 of 26, 149 yards, one touchdown, one interception), the Cowboys’ much-maligned Dak Prescott was cooking. The third-year quarterback was 17-for-27 for 183 yards, two touchdowns and a 107.5 passer rating. Prescott also ran for a career-high 82 yards and a TD to pace a Dallas offense that exploded for 378 total yards and set a season high for points.
And just like that, the Cowboys have started a season 3-0 at home for the first time since 1999.
For one afternoon, Jason Garrett’s team could do no wrong. Prescott was precise and polished in the pocket. Petite playmaker Cole Beasley was unstoppable. And Elliott could not be contained. For all of their recent struggles, the lack of offensive cohesion and questions surrounding their lack of a true No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys (3-3) put together a complete game from the opening kick, resulting in an absolute blowout of the chatty Jaguars and their vaunted defense.
During the pregame pomp and circumstance at AT&T Stadium, McGregor took the field to pump up the home team. Surrounded by Jones and Cowboys players, McGregor played the role of hype man, giving Dallas a pep talk of his own.
And that air of swagger never dissipated.
For one week, at least.
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