Patriots-Cowboys: A reminder of what could have been

Two of the NFL's signature dynasties never played one another in their primes, and that's a shame.

Taylor Swift has thrown the NFL’s entire hype scale out of whack — as evidence, note that we’re leading a column with her name in a story that has nothing to do with either Kansas City or the Eras Tour — but even so, Sunday gave us the barest hint of what once could have been the story of a decade.

The Dallas Cowboys obliterated the New England Patriots Sunday in a 38-3 skull-dragging that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. The Cowboys might have bull-rushed Mac Jones right out of a job, and most definitely handed the Patriots their worst defeat in the Bill Belichick era. About the only thing the Patriots managed to do right was create an instant-classic meme:

This beatdown was so thorough that even though the halftime score was 28-3, nobody made any Super Bowl comeback jokes … because everyone knew Tom Brady wasn’t coming through that door.

A disgusted Belichick dispensed with 13 postgame news conference questions in less than 200 seconds. You know how little you have to say to get through 13 questions — wrapping each answer in long, awkward silences — in three minutes?

If there’s a shame to this game, it’s that these two teams never really met when they were both in peak form. While Brady and Belichick were winning six Super Bowls and traveling to three more, the Cowboys won exactly three (3) playoff games. While the Patriots reached the playoffs in 17 of 19 seasons, the Cowboys were cycling through five head coaches and nearly twice that many quarterbacks.

In the entirety of the Brady-Belichick era, New England and Dallas played exactly five times, on the typical every-four-years cross-conference rotation. Three of those games took place in October, two in November, one on Thanksgiving … and all were New England victories.

Imagine if they’d both managed to reach a Super Bowl at the same time. Imagine the level of hype and anticipation, America’s Team versus the Evil Empire, the loquacious Jerry Jones filling the air with pregame bluster as Belichick grumped his way through Super Bowl week. Patriots-Cowboys would have been the most-watched Super Bowl ever, even if much of America would be watching to see if, somehow, both teams could lose.

Alas, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Even the hardest of hardcore Brady Is God Pats fans have to acknowledge that the team’s mojo is gone, and it ain’t coming back. This year’s Patriots team is like one of those zombie rock bands that reunites with one original member and tours as if they’re the real deal. Outside of rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez and linebacker Matthew Judon, the roster is replacement-level across the board … and both Gonzalez and Judon were injured during the game Sunday and did not return.

That is not the way a quarterback is supposed to look. (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)
That is not the way a quarterback is supposed to look. (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

The Cowboys are most definitely on the upswing now, last week’s loss to Arizona notwithstanding. They’re playing with real urgency at this point; looming financial constraints mean that this roster is a win-now-or-else construction. At the moment, they’re +900 to win the Super Bowl, behind only the 49ers, Chiefs, Bills and Eagles. (The Patriots are +10000, if you feel like donating money to your local sportsbook; only nine teams have worse odds.)

Love them or hate them, the Patriots and the Cowboys are two of the NFL’s defining franchises. But they weren't ships passing in the night; one ship was riding the high seas while the other was beached. It's too bad they couldn't both get it together at the same time.

One last note for all the Patriots haters and Cowboys bandwagoners out there: Dallas just dealt Belichick his worst beatdown ever, and just a few months ago, the Cowboys ended Tom Brady’s career, too. So, yeah, say what you want about America’s Team, but the 'Boys deserve some credit for scattering the ashes of the Patriots dynasty. That’s an ending we didn’t see coming.