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Why Cowboys were better off beating Patriots, even if it meant potentially losing Dak Prescott

In the long run, it was better to win that game and not know for sure that Prescott will play against the Vikings than the other way around.

The days between now and the end of the month represent something of a balancing act.

The Cowboys can be forgiven for taking the next few days to bask in the accomplishment of a 5-1 start and what it augurs. The bye week affords Dallas this opportunity.

But very quickly, attention will turn to whether or not Dak Prescott will join his teammates when they next take the field.

An MRI confirmed the quarterback suffered a strained right calf on his touchdown throw on the final play of the team’s overtime victory over New England. Prescott remains in a walking boot and will likely wear it for another few days, although a definitive time frame hasn’t been established.

Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Monday afternoon the club is optimistic that Prescott will be able to play when it faces Minnesota on Halloween night. He also conceded there are variances in timelines, especially this close to the injury, that make it impossible to declare at this stage that Prescott will be ready.

Would he practice in the next few days if this wasn’t a bye week?

“I think that’s a hypothetical so I couldn’t tell you,’’ McCarthy said.

Here’s another hypothetical, the kind McCarthy would never indulge but makes for an interesting conversation. Would you take the victory over the Patriots knowing Prescott would suffer an injury on the final play that could keep him out a game or two, or accept either a tie or loss knowing you have your starting quarterback for the next game?

And the answer is…

Door No. 1.

Take the win. No question.

“It’s huge,’’ Prescott said after the 35-29 victory. “Going into the bye week being what, 5-1? Yeah, it’s huge.

“Five straight now.’’

The Cowboys are four games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2018 season. Arizona is the only team in the league with a better record.

Dallas has as many victories as the remainder of teams in the NFC East combined and has opened up a three-game gap over Washington and Philadelphia.

“We know we’re for real,’’ Prescott said. “I don’t think we’re out here trying to send a message to anybody, more so than we’re showing it to ourselves. Just holding each other accountable to our standards and expectations.

“That’s what we’re going to continue to do as a team, offense as a unit, defense as a unit, special teams as a unit. All together coaches down to the players, we have high expectations and understanding that we live by, practice by and play by.

“That’s all it’s about, is coming out here every day and proving it to one another.’’

The Patriots are no longer an elite team. But this is the sort of down and dirty victory that convinces a team it can go even further. This is a road win that helps elevate teams out of the middle of the NFL’s crowded pack.

How often does a team win a road game — any game, for that matter — when the quarterback turns the ball over twice in the end zone, is hit with 12 penalties for 115 yards and goes 3 of 13 on third down?

The Cowboys obviously can’t make a habit of this type of performance. But to overcome what they did Sunday, after three relatively easy victories at home, shows they’re not just front-runners. There’s some fight and resilience to this group.

And Prescott, for the 17th time in his career, led his team to a comeback victory in the fourth quarter or overtime. He’s now 18 of 18 for 214 yards and three touchdowns in overtime for his Dallas career.

“He’s playing at as high of a level as anyone in the NFL,’’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “Where he’s at right now is really, really special. Just his command, presence, confidence within the offense, the confidence everyone has collectively and the command he has on the field is second to none.’’

A confidence and command no one would be lauding if the Cowboys had lost. Drop that game to fall to 4-2 and four teams in the conference have a better record. Belief doesn’t disappear, but it doesn’t have a chance to build.

It was better to win that game and not know for sure that Prescott will play against the Vikings than the other way around.

Again, the Cowboys are optimistic he’ll play against Minnesota. But what if he doesn’t? A loss there isn’t crippling given the team’s lead in the division, and would do nothing to dent the team’s confidence knowing that Prescott will return sooner rather than later.

Now, add to that the return of right tackle La’el Collins and receiver Michael Gallup on offense. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill and second-round pick Kelvin Joseph are defensive reenforcements over the final 11 games.

This team has a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks regardless of whether Prescott is able to play against the Vikings. The belief is he will play.

There’s no shortage of belief with the Cowboys these days.

Catch David Moore and Robert Wilonsky as they co-host Intentional Grounding on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) every Wednesday night from 7-8 p.m. through the Super Bowl.

Find more Cowboys coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

David Moore, Cowboys Insider. David is in his 4th decade of covering sports on the DFW scene. You know what that means. He's old.

dmoore@dallasnews.com @DavidMooreDMN
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