How the Dallas Cowboys became one of the NFL's biggest surprises

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports
How the Dallas Cowboys became one of the NFL's biggest surprises
How the Dallas Cowboys became one of the NFL's biggest surprises

ARLINGTON, Texas – Oh, can the Cowboys talk.

It started with owner Jerry Jones, walking down the long hallway to the locker room after an impressive 38-17 throttling of a Saints team that wrecked his team last year in the bayou.

"Yes, yes, yes," Jones said. "Yep. It's a long way to New Orleans, isn't it?!" A few moments later, he was saying Sunday's first half "might have been the best since I've been with the Cowboys."

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Then came cornerback Orlando Scandrick down the same hallway: "You can take that [expletive] to the BANK!" he said.

Then came Dez Bryant, jogging and throwing out a steady stream of chatter. "Who Dat!? We dat!" the wide receiver said. "I'm gonna say it! We dat!"

He continued in the locker room, telling a tale of a loud Saints fan who talked trash to him at an area Pappadeaux restaurant. "I'm talking real right now. This lady disrespected me."

Tony Romo was right there with a well-timed quip: "Well Dez, I'm sure she tuned in."

There has always been talk from the Cowboys. They're a regular Aaron Sorkin script in silver pants. But this Cowboys team has more than just good lines. This Cowboys team has depth. This Cowboys team has grit. And this Cowboys team is a real contender because it has guys who hardly talk much at all.

"This is as complete a unit," said Romo, "as I've been a part of."

Give Jones some credit. A lot of people wanted Johnny Manziel to come to the Cowboys' palace here and raise the buzz to an all-time high. Even Jones himself wanted that. But instead the team drafted Zack Martin, an offensive lineman who isn't followed by paparazzi or even recognized much on the street. It was Martin who had a huge role in keeping Romo mostly upright on Sunday, and in opening up some holes for the NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, who scored two touchdowns.

"We're going to be tough to deal with because of our run game," Romo said. That run game succeeds because of guys like Martin.

And Travis Frederick, who was not received warmly when he was picked in the first round last year. That turned into quite a smart choice, though, as Frederick has cemented a center position the Cowboys very much needed to shore up.

"We really do give defenses trouble," Jones said, "when we block and protect." That's because more space for Murray and more time for Romo means more danger on the flanks. Case in point: The Cowboys' second-round pick last year was Gavin Escobar, a tight end who started Sunday and helped block while counterpart Jason Witten made catch after catch against an overmatched Saints secondary.

Now add the third-round pick last year, Terrance Williams, who scored two touchdowns while everyone waited for Bryant to show up that mean lady at Pappadeaux.

Bottom line: The Cowboys' past two drafts, uninteresting as they were at the time, made the difference in a game that lifted Jones' gang to their third straight victory against only one 2014 loss.

But wait, there's more. Remember the loss of DeMarcus Ware? That sure looked devastating when it happened, and it continued to look bad when the Cowboys signed Jeremy Mincey, who had been cut multiple times by NFL teams.

Yet Mincey has been a revelation, making an impact against the Saints and becoming a trusted leader on the defense. Head coach Jason Garrett has called Mincey "fantastic" and said one of the best parts of his day is watching him line up against offensive lineman Tyron Smith in practice.

"I'm not Ware," Mincey said flatly on Sunday. "I'm not as physically gifted as he is. But I do have heart.

"This team doesn't have the greatest athletes," he continued. "But it does have skill, plus hustle, plus heart."

He might just be right. The Cowboys' reputation is one of looking good for three quarters and cratering in the fourth. That's often ascribed to Romo's decision-making or just the way the soap opera always seems to end here. But the reason for the heartbreak could simply be a lack of depth and a lack of protection for Romo. The Cowboys' drafts have shored that up, as has a technically improved blocking attack. Presto, Romo feels better now than he has in the past.

"I'm continuing to get healthier," he said. "I can fire and activate the way I want. It's been a complete difference in the first two weeks."

In the next breath, he said, "I don't think I've been a part of a unit that works this hard."

Those two things are linked together, and so is Sunday's result. After that first half, which had Jones giddy, the Saints started to come back. New Orleans got within two scores in the fourth quarter and the nationwide rubbernecking began.

Not this time. The Cowboys closed it out.

"This is a different team," Romo insisted. "Everybody knows that."

Maybe everybody in the locker room. Not everybody else. Not yet.

After all the talkers had walked by – Jones, Scandrick, Bryant – a woman guarding the locker room door allowed herself a grin as she listened to the boisterousness coming from the men inside.

She leaned over to a colleague and said, "It's been a while since I've heard it this loud."

The sound from inside that room is not new. This season, however, it feels like more than just noise.

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