OPINION: Stern: They're still the same old Cowboys


The 49ers' 42-10 beatdown of the Cowboys in primetime this past weekend separated a top-tier team from a slightly above average one. In the process, the league learned that, while the Cowboys want to insist they're the cream of the crop in the NFC, they're just not any better off than in seasons past.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones hinted at his lack of confidence in the team earlier last week, when he complimented San Francisco's success and pointed out that he hopes to face them more than once this season. "They're right now, probably the most likely team to win the Super Bowl," he told Audacy's own 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. "But in order for them to get there, they have to go through us, hopefully two times."

This was Jones' way of warning optimistic Cowboys fans that, while the 49ers are much better than them this season, they'll at least be good enough to go blow for blow with them during the regular season and win enough games for a playoff rematch. Strategically, Jones comments were a way of revealing that lack of confidence, while also expressing belief the Cowboys are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Jones has publicly backed off when wanting trophies winning records, but Dallas' complacency with relative mediocrity indicates the results have been satisfactory.

Seriously, when's the last time the organization won a significant game? They haven't advanced past the NFC divisional round since winning Super Bowl 30 in 1995, despite eight first-place finishes since then. While the Cowboys have had some head coach stability with Bill Parcells, Jason Garrett, and now Mike McCarthy this century, what's the trio's common thread? No titles in Dallas.

At least the Cowboys' 32-point loss depicted a contrast, showing what they'll need to improve upon in order to hang with the big boys. The 49ers amassed 170 rushing yards on 41 attempts with Christian McCaffrey and Jordan Mason, and also forced four turnovers. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was also outdueled by 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, who threw for four touchdown passes. Should the Cowboys ever be interested in leveling up, they'll have to add more defensive playmakers, implement a better ground game, and, most importantly, start a quarterback who can protect the ball in critical situations.

Throughout his eight-year career, Prescott has been the good, but not great, quarterback the Cowboys have talked themselves into loving. There's plenty to like with him, as he's thrown for over 3,000 yards in four seasons and also hurled more than 30 touchdown passes twice. Then there's the downsides, such as his 15 interceptions a season ago, which represented a career-high, and the 5-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio through five games this year.

Prescott's played well enough for Jones to talk himself out of going through another quarterback search, but he continuously falls short in the spotlight, leaving many to question if the Cowboys made a mistake in not seeking an upgrade at the most important position in professional team sports.

Prescott can be viewed as a franchise quarterback for teams that realize his ceiling. But for the Cowboys, which are trying to take massive steps forward, he represents a steady option -- someone who'll never take them to the next level. Not with his reckless decision-making, inconsistencies, and struggles in the big moment.

He wins enough to take the Cowboys out of contention for the league's top signal-callers in the NFL Draft, but he doesn't win enough to carry them to a Super Bowl appearance. Eventually, Jones will have to take a long look in the mirror, and decide what the franchise standard should be moving forward.

The organizational culture and tone is also far superior in San Francisco and Philadelphia than in Dallas. Players play harder, maximize their potential, and seem more comfortable and trustful with the organization's overall structure. Winning vibes attract top-end talent and allow teams to find under-the-radar draftees who'll be fits. Although the Cowboys' last two drafts classes haven't yielded a big-time playmaker, the 49ers have casually selected Purdy and up-and-coming linebacker Drake Jackson, despite not owning a first-round pick due to their failed trade up to draft Trey Lance in 2021.

Some teams would've thrown darts at the board, blaming a lack of selections for shortcomings. Instead, the 49ers used it as motivation to make each pick count even more, before dumping Lance on Jones' doorstep in exchange for a fourth-round pick. Once again, a display of organizational dominance by the Niners and incompetence by the Cowboys. This is why Sunday's results were just the latest example of "America's Team" celebrating a second-place finish.

As long as butts are in the seats and the hype train is set to leave the station, the Cowboys will be just fine becoming the honorary one-and-done NFC wild-card darling. Beating up the Patriots, Giants, and Jets gave Dallas ammunition to tell everyone they were going to be a Super Bowl contender. But, in reality, the organization would love to hop in a time machine and go back to the glory days, as results indicate they're the same team of the past three decades.

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