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The Dallas Cowboys spent the last few days insisting they planned to put last week’s humiliating loss to the Denver Broncos in the rear-view mirror. On Sunday, the Cowboys jammed on the gas and put that ugly mess so far in the rear-view that it’s not even visible just seven days later.
Dallas beat the Atlanta Falcons 43-3 — yes, really — in a game that wasn’t even that close. This was allegedly a game between two professional football teams, allegedly a game between two teams technically inside the playoff bubble at the moment, and yet Dallas treated the Falcons like a homecoming opponent.
Against Denver, Dallas looked lost. Dak Prescott wasn’t finding his receivers, and when he did, those receivers were dropping easy passes. Nobody was doing their job. Denver held Dallas scoreless for 55 minutes, bringing the Cowboys dangerously close to suffering their first-ever shutout at AT&T Stadium. That 30-16 defeat seemed to give every Cowboys skeptic/doubter/hater across the land — as well as the more fearful segments of the Dallas fan base — reason to doubt the validity of the team’s 6-1 start.
There’s ample historical justification for that. Dallas has spent the last quarter-century as a mirage, a franchise that teases its fans with hope, then implodes before doing any real damage. The loss to Denver seemed like proof that the Cowboys were once again built on a foundation of sand.
Sunday’s exhibition — it’s tough calling what happened at AT&T Stadium a “game” — dispelled any notion that the Cowboys are frauds. The game was pretty much a Dallas greatest-hits display:
Prescott displayed elite-level game, throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns on 24 completions over just three quarters. His five-yard run into swirling traffic to put the Cowboys up 40 — yes, 40 — late in the third quarter finished his day with an exclamation point.
Ezekiel Elliott looked as fresh as he has in years, hammering holes, grinding through defenders while scoring two touchdowns.
CeeDee Lamb added two touchdowns of his own, each a highlight-level catch that would’ve stood out in any game but this one.
Trevon Diggs added yet another interception, his eighth of the season — which, again, would have been more impressive had it not been one of three on the afternoon.
Nahshon Wright, the goat of last week’s game after misplaying a blocked punt, ended up the hero this week when he snared another blocked punt in the end zone.
Dallas went for it on two fourth-down plays, and eventually converted both into touchdowns, bolstering a go-for-broke spirit in Mike McCarthy.
Dan Quinn, former head coach of the Falcons and now the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys, got his revenge on his old squad with one of the most thorough defensive beatdowns of the season.
The first-half drive chart for the Cowboys was almost perfect: touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, blocked punt touchdown, halftime. The Cowboys scored 29 points in the second quarter alone — the most points ever scored in a quarter in team history. Dallas hadn’t led by 33 points at the half since 1971. The Cowboys held Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan — who was pulled early in the fourth quarter — to a mere nine completions. This marked the first 40-point win for Dallas since 2000, a span of 337 games.
After a promising early drive that ended in a field goal, the only life the Falcons showed the entire rest of the game came from the social media team. Down 28-3, the Falcons Twitter account all but sighed audibly:
Yeah, yeah. We know.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) November 14, 2021
Fortunately for Falcons fans, the score was 28-3 for only 33 seconds of game time. Unfortunately, that was because the team went three-and-out and got that punt blocked for a touchdown.
“That team that showed up last Sunday was not us,” Elliott said prior to the game, according to Fox Sports’ Pam Oliver, and Prescott echoed his point.
“We truly needed a punch to the face,” Prescott said.
Dallas now has a three-game gauntlet — Kansas City, Las Vegas, New Orleans — that will test the team’s ceiling before a run of divisional matchups. All three of those ought to provide more of a challenge than the Falcons did Sunday, but based on what Dallas showed Sunday, all three teams have to be ready for a fistfight.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.