On paper, it was the Dallas Cowboys' most lopsided road win since 2017. But look a little closer at Monday night's 37-18 victory over the New York Giants, and it's fair to be concerned about the Cowboys' championship prospects this season.
It's hard to trust Dallas, which trailed a 2-7 team 12-3 before New York started beating itself late in the first half. A good team wouldn't have let the Cowboys back in the game, nor would a mediocre one. Dallas was lucky enough to be playing a terrible one, and now it's 5-3 without beating a team with a winning record at the time Dallas faced it.
The Cowboys found the end zone on just one of three red-zone possessions, committed two turnovers and were called for 10 penalties for 104 yards. The offense converted just one of its first seven third-down attempts, and it wasn't until the Giants unraveled that Dallas capitalized on New York's glaring inadequacies to pull away.
The poor start was an indictment of a team that had two weeks to prepare.
Against a pass defense that entered Week 9 ranked 28th by Football Outsiders in defense-adjusted value over average, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was just 2-of-9 on passes that traveled 15-plus yards, and his performance as a deep passer would have been worse if he didn't benefit from a cheap defensive pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker.
That came on 3rd-and-6 early in the fourth quarter, and the drive resulted in an insurance touchdown for the Cowboys, who still didn't look comfortable until the considerably less comfortable Giants lost six yards on the ensuing drive before crying uncle with a punt.
It was never a blowout, but it looked that way after defensive back Jourdan Lewis scooped and scored following a fumble by turnover-happy Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.
That was Jones'—and New York's—third turnover in the final 31 minutes of what was a close game for much of the night. And while Xavier Woods and Dorance Armstrong deserve credit for forcing Jones' two fumbles, both plays marked rookie mistakes by Jones, and the 22-year-old's interception was a gift.
It was one of the ugliest three-score victories you'll see, and it shouldn't inspire confidence that the Cowboys can handle a looming tough stretch against the 6-3 Minnesota Vikings (in prime time on short rest), 3-4-1 (but competitive) Detroit Lions (on the road) and 8-1 New England Patriots (also away from home). Even beyond that they face the 6-2 Buffalo Bills, the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams and the likely fired-up Philadelphia Eagles in three of their last five games, with that last matchup coming in Philly.
Dallas can't afford to be this sloppy against any of those teams.
The combined record of its opponents is 24-36, but its next four opponents are 23-10-1. Minnesota and New England rarely make critical mistakes the way the Giants just did, and strong run defenses like those belonging to Minnesota, New England, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and the Chicago Bears won't let Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard run the way they did against New York's soft D. Those two combined for 160 yards on 26 carries Monday night.
None of this is to say we should write off the Cowboys as a bad team. Elliott is a game-changer who has gone over 100 yards in three straight outings. Prescott has his moments, and he entered Week 9 with the league's top QBR. They're getting healthier after a slew of offensive injuries earlier in the year, Michael Gallup has been a revelation opposite Amari Cooper, and the defense is starting to rediscover its groove up front (producing 11 quarterback hits and five sacks Monday).
And Dallas fully deserves to be leading a bad division. Jason Garrett's squad is 4-0 against NFC East foes, with all four victories coming by double digits.
But let's not pretend the Cowboys deserve to be viewed on the same level as their fellow NFC division leaders, the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. New Orleans and Green Bay have already defeated Dallas this season, and San Francisco has defeated everybody it has faced.
The Cowboys deserve our skepticism until they beat Minnesota or New England—or at least until they string together consecutive strong performances.
Regardless of what the scoreboard read before the lights went out at MetLife Stadium on Monday night, that's something they haven't done since the middle of September.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.