They've been caught up in a season-long legal game of cat and mouse with the courts over the status of Ezekiel Elliott, and the Dallas Cowboys no doubt have been worse for the wear. They might still have not played their best football this season yet, too, but that's the point: They're still dangerous.
Sunday proved that — probably the closest they've flown to the sun this season, holding off the Kansas City Chiefs in am impressive 28-17 final. Really, the Cowboys played mostly excellent defense outside of a short spell at the end of the first half and the start of the second.
The Cowboys were in control early, going up 14-3 in what appeared to be a tough blow to the Chiefs. A fluky end-of-half touchdown by the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill most certainly goes down as a defensive breakdown, as six Cowboys had a chance to tackle him but could not.
Then a post-play penalty was marked off on the kickoff to start the second half, and the Chiefs drove 62 yards for a game-shifting touchdowns. The Cowboys went from up 11 points to down three in a flash. After that, however, the defense was great — 70 yards allowed the rest of the way.
That's terrific, and the Cowboys need that. But what makes them great and what keeps them dangerous is having the combination of Elliott and Dak Prescott on the field.
That's a pretty cold take in and of itself, for sure. Everyone saw what that duo did last season in a division title and a 12-win campaign. The who-was-more-valuable debates aside, all could agree that what made the Cowboys so unexpectedly special then was having the combination of the two together.
That's still the case, but there have been times when that duo hasn't lived up to expectations. The loss at Denver — the Broncos have not won since — looks pretty awful in retrospect, for instance.
But what we saw Sunday was the case where both Prescott and Elliott were in top form, and they delivered against the caliber of team that they'll face more of down the stretch. The Cowboys still have yet to face the team with the league's best record, the Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas hosts a desperate Atlanta Falcons team that also made quite a run last season. If Elliott and Prescott keep doing more of what they did Sunday, those matchups will be quite entertaining.
After the Chiefs took the lead on that second-half-opening drive, the Cowboys countered with an Elliott-fueled possession that took back the game. He ran the ball on seven of the 12 plays and capped the drive with a 2-yard TD. Prescott threw only one pass on the entire drive, although he scrambled twice and had a big third-down conversion to keep things alive.
Prescott was more the key figure on the ensuing drive, when the Cowboys got the ball back following a turnover. They drove 87 yards on 13 plays, and Prescott was 6-of-7 passing for 60 yards — with his one incompletion a ball that was knocked out of Dez Bryant's hands. This time it was Elliott who played the complementary role, and his third-down conversion was the quiet key to keeping things moving.
Just like that the Cowboys were back in control.
On a day when Bryant was banged up and less of a go-to target than usual, Prescott found Terrance Williams for one of his finest games — a career-high nine catches on nine targets for 141 yards (third most in his career) — and Cole Beasley for two touchdown catches. Tyron Smith was called for a questionable hold, but otherwise the Cowboys' offensive line did its signature work as well.
Still, even with the strong defensive effort and a few nice plays sprinkled in on special teams, this game was as much as anything about the power of a Dak-and-Zeke led offense. The Cowboys didn't even know for sure until Friday that Elliott would play in this one, but he stepped in and did his dirty work.
Elliott's long run of the game was a mere 11 yards, but he delivered 16 back-breaking second-half runs and wore down the Chiefs with each one of them. Likewise, Prescott started slowly but finished strong. Williams and Bryant didn't even finish the game healthy, but the passing game still worked.
That's three wins in a row now for the Cowboys, who are above .500 again and suddenly scary again, especially in the NFC — entering Monday night's game, only six teams have better records than Dallas does. Winning the division might be tough, even with the two Philly matchups in front of them, but the Cowboys actually have a better road record than a home mark.
Can they still be dangerous? Barring another court end around, they sure can with Elliott and Prescott leading the way.