Cow­boys rise to top of NFC East race

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Dave Camp­bell

How ‘bout them Cow­boys?

They’ve built a healthy lead on the rest of the NFC at the mid­point of this sea­son, for starters. They’ve been play­ing like they’re ca­pa­ble of fin­ish­ing on top, too.

De­fy­ing so many of those pre-Septem­ber pre­dic­tions from the pun­ditry, Dak Prescott and the Dal­las Cow­boys have fol­lowed a one-point loss in their opener with seven straight vic­to­ries. This, of course, with an all-rookie back­field of Prescott and Ezekiel El­liott per­form­ing well be­yond their years.

“We’re so dy­namic it’s crazy,” said two-time Pro Bowl wide re­ceiver Dez Bryant, whose three­game ab­sence due to a knee in­jury went largely un­no­ticed.

That’s partly be­cause of the pol­ish and poise dis­played by Prescott, the fourth-round draft pick from

Mis­sis­sippi State thrust into ac­tion when Tony Romo hurt his back dur­ing the pre­sea­son. The other sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the first-half surge by the Cow­boys, as sure a sign as any that it’s sus­tain­able, is the suc­cess El­liott has had car­ry­ing the ball be­hind that dom­i­nant of­fen­sive line built by three for­mer firstround draft picks.

This fall has been so fruit­ful for Dal­las that Romo isn’t guar­an­teed to get the job back.

“It’s hard for me to say it’s Tony’s team, it’s my team or any­body’s team,” Prescott said. “It’s a true team, and ev­ery­body is play­ing their part in it.”

That fear­some five the Cow­boys (7-1) can pass and run be­hind is not the only fac­tor in their com­mand of the NFC play­off race. An­other rea­son they’re ahead is the strug­gles by other con­tenders, namely Seat­tle and Min­nesota, to so­lid­ify the block­ing up front.

The Sea­hawks (5-2-1) have had trou­ble get­ting their of­fense go­ing this year, with run­ning back Mar­shawn Lynch now re­tired and Russell Wil­son grind­ing through an­kle and knee in­juries that have ham­pered his mo­bil­ity. The re­vamped line re­mains a work in progress.

The Vik­ings (5-3) had the NFL’s last un­de­feated record, un­til their bye week ar­rived. Since then, they’ve lost all three straight games with is­sues on of­fense, de­fense and spe­cial teams all in­flu­enc­ing the streak. With both start­ing tack­les on in­jured re­serve and left guard

Alex Boone re­cov­er­ing from a con­cus­sion that kept him out of the over­time loss to Detroit on Sun­day, the pro­tec­tion for quar­ter­back Sam Brad­ford is go­ing to be a year­long con­cern.

Af­ter the crush­ing loss at home to the Lions, coach Mike Zim­mer at least sounded sat­is­fied that some con­fi­dence had been restored.

“I’m hope­ful they’ll con­tinue to carry it for­ward through the rest of the sea­son, be­cause if we do that we’re go­ing to win some games,” Zim­mer said.

The At­lanta Fal­cons (63) have al­ready es­caped their Oc­to­ber skid, hav­ing ral­lied to beat Green Bay by one point on Oct. 30 and breezed by Tampa Bay four days later. The league’s high­est-scor­ing team, at 34 points per game, has as­sem­bled many more threats than just star wide re­ceiver Julio Jones .

“We’re at our best when we keep at­tack­ing and dif­fer­ent guys get the ball,” coach Dan Quinn said.

Here are some other facts and fig­ures about the NFC en­ter­ing the stretch run:

FALL OF THE FI­NAL­ISTS

Carolina car­ried plenty of con­fi­dence, com­ing off a trip to the Su­per Bowl, along with a rep­utable de­fense and the NFL’s most re­cent MVP, Cam New­ton. The Pan­thers (3-5) in­stead have been one of the league’s big­gest early let­downs. The team they blew out in the NFC cham­pi­onship game last win­ter, Ari­zona, has strug­gled right along with them. The Car­di­nals (3-4-1) lost the re­match to the Pan­thers on Oct. 30.

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