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This is the Cowboys team we expected

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Howie Long

Howie Long is an NFL Hall of Famer and Emmy-Award winning analyst on the "FOX NFL Sunday" pregame show. He earned eight Pro Bowl berths in his 13-year career with the Oakland Raiders, helping lead them to a victory in Super Bowl XVIII, before joining FOX Sports in 1994.

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Well, the Dallas Cowboys we thought we'd see in September finally showed up in October. It was a very impressive win over the Atlanta Falcons, a team I said in the pregame show has a coaching staff that squeezes every ounce of talent out of their team. The Cowboys won going away, 37-21, and that was pretty remarkable, considering the Falcons' opening scoring drive, where they drove the length of the field, taking 16 plays and over seven minutes to score first. It looked like the same old Cowboys.
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But Dallas came back, thanks to its defensive front. That unit, with some help from the special teams, won this game. They put constant pressure on Matt Ryan, sacking him four times, forcing three fumbles (one recovered) and two interceptions. Ryan entered the game having only been sacked twice in his first five games. The Cowboys were also impressive with their balanced offense, with 28 rushes and 29 Tony Romo passes. The running game, even with the return of Felix Jones, struggled, but Romo found his rhythm and played his best game of the season. He took off and secured some drives with some first-down scrambles while completing 21 of 29 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. Romo's new best friend, Miles Austin, got behind Atlanta's secondary for two touchdowns and finished with 171 yards in his first start. This is the same Austin who scored twice, including in overtime, to beat the Chiefs. Before the bye, Dallas survived in a pretty shaky win in Kansas City. And by beating Atlanta, they finally beat a team with a winning record. It could end up being a pivotal win when deciding playoff berths. I also liked that they were very aggressive on defense, willing to put their bodies on the line. Rookie Michael Jenkins may end up being fined for his helmet hit on a Falcons receiver, but this is football and it will show future opponents that the Cowboys are willing to hit you. I didn't like the eight penalties, but Dallas is in position to make a little run. They have Seattle, Washington and Oakland around two road games in Philadelphia and Green Bay. This team looks like it has a chance to do just that.

The Blowout Victors

The Patriots went over to London and whipped the Bucs. Wes Welker (10 catches for 107 yards) proved once again how important he is to New England's offense. He is so quick and tough. The Patriots are still showing opponents a perceived balanced offense, but what the run game does is give Tom Brady some extra protection. Now, Bill Belichick won't be happy with the 10 penalties and the two turnovers. But New England must understand that Belichick has turned over his roster and to a certain extent they have become somewhat a work in progress, particularly on defense and when Welker was out of the lineup. It's looking like when the Patriots meet the Indianapolis Colts in three weeks, we'll find out where they stack up. The Colts remained unbeaten and they are a well-oiled machine. Peyton Manning is so efficient and so smart. The defense is built to complement their offense and having safety Bob Sanders back is big for them. The shoulder injury to rookie running back Donald Brown could prove to be troublesome because he has such big-play speed. The Colts play San Francisco and Houston at home before also hosting the Patriots. They could be 8-0 for that big game.

Lambeau next Sunday

I realize the Browns are hurting right now, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't sacked once, which earns a "wow" from me, considering a rookie tackle was protecting his blindside. That's two wins in a row for Green Bay and it was good to see them not overlook the Browns on the road.
With Minnesota and Brett Favre coming to Green Bay next Sunday, if they are going to challenge in the NFC North it is going to come down to what kind of protection Rodgers gets. To me, the Packers' offense comes down to Rodgers being able to make plays. Even though they lost in Pittsburgh, I was very impressed by the Vikings today. The defensive front and the secondary stepped up against Ben Roethlisberger and I don't think you can blame Brett for those two turnovers that the Steelers turned into fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Quick Thoughts

  • It looks like Jets coach Rex Ryan figured out how to right his young quarterback. He ran the ball 54 times. It was critical for the Jets to get Mark Sanchez right and the team right. I know they did it against a team they should beat, but they still had to travel across the country to do it and get their momentum back. Hey, the Eagles weren't able to beat the Raiders the previous weekend.
  • Things are pretty bad in Charlotte. I picked the Panthers to win because they were home and the Bills didn't have starting quarterback Trent Edwards. It was a very disappointing loss for the Panthers. I have to think changes will be made there; what they are I don't know. Jake Delhomme has 13 interceptions now.
  • It took the Saints a while to get their mind right about playing Miami and its wildcat offense. The Dolphins initially punched the Saints in the mouth, taking a 24-3 lead. But the Saints obviously are built to play from behind. Drew Brees brought them back even though he was sacked five times and the Saints committed four turnovers. What a wild second half for the Saints and a real downer for the Dolphins.
  • Tagged: Brett Favre, Felix Jones, Colts, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Steelers, Raiders, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Jenkins, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Bob Sanders, Donald Brown, Miles Austin, Saints, Falcons, Bills, Mark Sanchez, Jets, Wes Welker, Jake Delhomme, Eagles, Tom Brady, Trent Edwards, Browns, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Cowboys, Matt Ryan, Panthers, Packers

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