FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys had said they were angry. They were disappointed, frustrated, disgusted even by the manner in which they lost to an inferior Green Bay Packers team after blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter for the first time in franchise history.
The team's first, 37-point road victory. The Cowboys scored on their initial seven possessions in a 40-3 diss of the Minnesota Vikings, whose 8-2 record ranks second in the league only to the Philadelphia Eagles (the Kansas City Chiefs are also 8-2).
Which prompts the question: Who are the Cowboys?
Are they a talented team unable to stop the run or stave off a comeback, as their overtime Lambeau performance indicated? Or are they a team with talent and depth in all three phases, further elevated by smart coaching and incisive game plans, as Sunday’s visit to Minneapolis indicated?
Or — bear with us as we harbor capacity for nuance — are they both?
Members of the franchise hold varied opinions.
‘If you get slapped in the face…’
Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones, early in his postgame remarks, said he thought the Vikings game “was going to tell us who we are.” He said he didn’t know if Dallas was as dominant as its clicking-on-all-cylinders blowout indicated. “But I know this: We’re not a team that doesn’t respond when it’s wounded.”
In 2022, that assessment holds.
The Cowboys dropped their season opener against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. They lost not just a game that night but also their quarterback, Dak Prescott, who needed surgery and five games away to heal a fracture in the thumb of this throwing hand.
The Cowboys’ response: four straight wins behind backup quarterback Cooper Rush, carried in large part by a swarming Dallas defense and gritty run-first offensive attack. Their next loss wouldn’t come until Week 6 against the vaunted Eagles. They’d follow that performance with double-digit wins against the Lions and Bears.
“If you get slapped in the face,” All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons asked, “what are you going to do about it?”
Mike McCarthy told Cowboys D this week that pass rush is a privilege.
Micah Parsons, strip-sacking Kirk Cousins on first drive, appears to cherish that.pic.twitter.com/i3rsywFDbz
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 20, 2022
Receiver CeeDee Lamb scoffed this week when asked whether Dallas is the squad who suffered embarrassment at Green Bay or inflicted embarrassment at Minnesota.
“Come on now, what kind of question is that?” said Lamb, who caught five of five targets for 45 yards in the win. “We’re the team that dominated this week. [The] potential is there. We understand what we have in this room and on this team.
“Playing anything less than that kind of pisses us off as a unit.”
Settling on their laurels will irk them too, Cowboys players said. Safety Jayron Kearse broke down the postgame locker room huddle with an imperative to “dominate the process” while Prescott and Parsons conversed over a game of cards this weekend about the pursuit of greatness.
“This team can be special,” Prescott said. “But we've got to take it one game at a time. We can't have a winning hangover and start smelling ourselves after this win. … We’ve got to hold each other accountable.”
Championship contender or pretender?
At the management level, consider a similar interchange unfolding. Dare to get ahead of themselves? Look too far ahead? As Jones’ postgame remarks elapsed, his hesitation dissipated.
The Cowboys team owner and general manager was asked Sunday night: Does this team look like a championship contender?
“A resounding yes,” he responded. “Yes. Unequivocally yes.”
Jones said “adversity,” such as injuries, could derail that plan, but he believed the statement in Minnesota sent a message: This Cowboys team has the talent and systemic efficiency to hang with the best. This isn’t the piecemeal product that sputtered last wild-card round against the San Francisco 49ers. Not only does this version of the Cowboys appear more complete, but also their recipe has changed. A two-running back system with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard inflicts more wear and risks fewer turnovers than the pass game-reliant explosive attack from last year. Dallas’ defense led the league in takeaways last year, but this year's unit is more reliably powering a diverse and powerful pass rush. Why wait for an opponent to make a mistake when they can force one?
Dak Prescott 🤝 Tony Pollard
Cowboys rout up to 30-3.pic.twitter.com/uoJ1Oh67OY
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 20, 2022
Jones couldn’t help his imagination from running wild.
“I sure do think that what I see out here right now is the team like that you could go get a Super Bowl with,” he said. “If we use the experience of what we’re having in the season, then we’re going to be playoff ready.”
Head coach Mike McCarthy was asked Monday about that “S” word. How does he want his team handling success, as the dreams materialize despite seven regular-season games still looming?
“I saw Jerry’s comments,” McCarthy said. “I can tell you, speaking with general manager Jerry today, he’s focused on the Giants. But obviously, the owner, he’s always looking at the big picture. My reality in this, and really the team’s reality, is we addressed those questions at the beginning of the year back in training camp.
“We understand what our goal is for the year. That hasn’t changed. But our focus as a team? If we’re talking about anything other than the Giants, we’re wasting our time.”
The Thanksgiving game contest between 7-3 NFC East teams features a quick turnaround. Sweeping the Giants is integral to the Cowboys’ chance of catching up in the division, where the 9-1 Eagles still hold a 66% chance to triumph, per FiveThirtyEight’s playoff prediction model. That more than doubles the Cowboys’ 31% chance.
The Giants are also the last team with a winning record the Cowboys will face in the next month. Even with recent injuries, New York’s challenge will likely more closely resemble the caliber of January competition than the subsequent Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“This is an important game,” McCarthy said. “We clearly understand what their record is and our record is. This is about beating the Giants.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein