GLENDALE, Ariz. — Might a Monday night in Arizona be one day remembered as the tipping point for the Dallas Cowboys coming together on and off the field.
What happened in the Cowboys 28-17 victory against the Arizona Cardinals wasn’t as coordinated as their complicated, yet delicately planned, display of unity and solidarity before the game.
It took a few days, several meetings and frank discussions.
But the Cowboys linking of arms and taking a knee with owner Jerry Jones right before the national anthem in response to divisive and controversial remarks from President Donald Trump regarding the NFL and ongoing anthem protests was the best of both worlds.
The Cowboys made a statement and respected the anthem.
The on-field display was even messier for an offensively-oriented team that has seemingly lost its way.
No longer can the offense look at the maligned defense as the weak link.
It has problems of its own.
Did all-world tackle Tyron Smith really get scolded for a sack of quarterback Dak Prescott?
Yes, that happened.
Prescott’s accuracy and ability to squeeze the ball in tight places is becoming a recurring theme for the 2016 rookie of the year and 2017 media darling and so is receiver Dez Bryant’s separation issues. Add the lack holes in the running game for 2016 NFL leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott to the list.
Nothing comes easy in the NFL and the Cowboys are finding it out the hard way.
Eleven-game winning streaks and 13-3 records are for rookies.
The NFL is tough week in and week out, even more so than coordinated anthem responses.
But on this Monday might, the Cowboys responded with a gritty and unified effort that included Prescott somersaulting into the end zone, Bryant bulling his way into end zone for a catch-and-run touchdown and receiver Brice Butler making a contested catch for a score following a Prescott scramble.
Elliott capped things off with his first rushing touchdown of the season, an 8-yard score that proved to be a sigh of relief for the Cowboys as they rebounded from last week’s 42-17 blowout loss to the Denver Broncos to move to 2-1 on the season.
In between, the Cowboys defense did its part by scratching, clawing and holding on against the magic of Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
But don’t be fooled.
The headlines might talk about Prescott, Elliott and Butler for their outstanding play.
There is no questioning Prescott’s grit and competitiveness. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 183 yards with two touchdowns passing and 16 rushing yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run.
Elliott had 80 yards on 22 carries, including a 30-yard run to make up for last week’s lack of effort against the Denver Broncos. It wasn’t always pretty as he also had a 20-yard run, meaning that 20 carries netted 30 yards.
It was Butler who burned the Cardinals deep with two catches for 93 yards, including a 37-yarder for the touchdown.
But the defense earned double billing in this unified victory, especially defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has become a force as a pass rusher and emerging defensive tackle Maliek Collins.
Lawrence had three sacks and now leads the NFL with 6.5 sacks. Collins had two sacks in the game.
Most impressive was the goal-line stand in the final minute the game. The Cardinals had a first and goal at the 1 following passing interference penalty and then quarterback Carson Palmer threw four consecutive incompletions, with safety Byron Jones batting down the final pass.
It was a fitting end, as it was the defense that kept the Cowboys in the game early.
They trailed 7-0 on the scoreboard and were getting outgained 140-3 in yardage and 8-0 in first downs in the first quarter.
It would have been even worse if not for a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown pass and then a missed 36-yard field from ageless former Texas kicker Phil Dawson.
That the Cowboys were even in the game was a credit to its defense as the first three drives on offense resulted in three punts and no punch.
A punt by Chris Jones that pinned the Broncos at the 10 and a three-and-out stop by the defense, culminated by a sack by Collins and then a 21 yard punt return by Ryan Switzer gave the Cowboys life with 2:21 left in the half.
Prescott made it count with a 10-yard touchdown run that ended with him somersaulting into the end zone from the 3-yard line, waking the Cowboys up.
Was this the turning point for a championship season?
Awake off the field. Now awake on it.