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Posted: Sunday November 1, 2009 7:05PM; Updated: Monday November 2, 2009 10:40AM
Don Banks Don Banks >
INSIDE THE NFL

Snap Judgments: Cowboys turning heads, Ravens 'D' stars and more

Story Highlights

With their third win in a row, the Cowboys have turned things around

Baltimore's defense provided a season-saving wake-up call in its win

As the Giants slide continues, expect the old Tom Coughlin to appear

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tony-romo.jpg
Tony Romo connected with 10 receivers in Sunday's rout of Seattle.
AP

GREEN Bay, Wis. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as a rather unconventional but fascinating homecoming weekend here in Titletown wrapped up with the Vikings' 38-26 win over the Packers ...

• They're not really known for doing anything all that quietly and understated (see new stadium, $1.15 billion price tag), which is what makes the Cowboys' three-game winning streak so absolutely un-Cowboys-like. Downright stealthy almost. But in case the rest of the NFL hasn't noticed yet, we're here to tell you, Dallas is suddenly on the move.

Believe it or not, the Cowboys' 38-17 home-field destruction of Seattle on Sunday sets up next week's NFC East first-place showdown at Philadelphia, with 5-2 Dallas testing its new-found mojo against the 5-2 Eagles. To the winner goes the undisputed grasp of the division's top spot at the season's mid-point, no matter what the floundering Giants (5-3) do next week at home against San Diego.

Honestly now, a month or so ago, with the Cowboys 2-2 and in a bit of disarray coming off that humbling loss at Denver, did any of us see a first-place battle in the Cowboys' not-too-distant future? Yes, I see that hand, and you can put it down now, Mr. Jones.

To be sure, the Cowboys didn't play their best game in trouncing the fading Seahawks (2-5). They left some points on the field, and gave up a good chunk of yardage defensively (Seattle had 308 total yards). But you can also see a team that's starting to believe in itself, and the Tony Romo-led passing game is finally humming at early 2007 (or better) levels.

Dallas scored five touchdowns, and four came from the previously maligned receiving corps: Sam Hurd, Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton. True, Crayton's score came on an 82-yard punt return, sealing the deal in the third quarter, but the important point is that the Cowboys' playmakers are taking turns making plays. And that's when an offense starts to take off.

Romo finished 21 of 36 for 256 yards, and three scores, but the best part of his day was completing passes to 10 receivers, with none having more than Austin's team-leading five receptions for 61 yards. Gone are those bad old days of the T.O. era, when Romo looked tortured if he didn't get the ball to No. 81 early and often. Romo is now content to find the open man, no matter who it is, and keep moving the chains. He has gone three consecutive games without an interception, the first such streak of his career.

Having won three in a row at home after that stadium-opening disappointment against the Giants in Week 2, the Cowboys are starting to develop a little home-field advantage in their new digs as well. Now they have to take their act on the road the next two weeks into two of the more hostile settings in the NFL: Philadelphia and Green Bay. Both will be difficult trips, but my sense is these Cowboys will be up for the challenge.

For a change, Dallas is beginning to take on the look of an overachiever. Imagine that.

• That's pretty much what I expected out of the Baltimore defense on Sunday against visiting Denver, a season-saving wake-up call. The Ravens needed to rediscover their defensive identity, and they found it against the undefeated Broncos, holding them to just seven points and 200 yards of offense in the 30-7 win.

Baltimore really used its Week 7 bye to reinvigorate itself and get back to basics on defense. It looked as if the Broncos' bye last week actually robbed them of the momentum generated by their 6-0 start, and Kyle Orton especially seemed out of rhythm.

The Ravens defensive intensity, of course, had something to do with Orton's off day. Baltimore sacked him just twice, but the defense flew around and hit everything in sight, and it looked to me like new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison finally hit his stride in trying to fill Rex Ryan's big shoes. Denver reached the red zone once and dented Baltimore territory all of three times.

You can't overestimate how big the win was for Baltimore, which climbed back over .500 at 4-3. With next week's trip to first-place Cincinnati (5-2) looming, the Ravens' playoff plans are very much alive.

• Denver's defense returned to earth at Baltimore, too. Before Sunday, the Broncos had given up just 10 points in the second half, and the only touchdown scored in the final 30 minutes came in Week 1 at Cincinnati. Against Baltimore, the Broncos allowed 24 points in the second half, although just 17 were against the defense. Ravens rookie cornerback/return man Lardarius Webb's 95-yard kickoff return at the start of the third quarter opened the second-half scoring.

With the schedule Denver has, it was only a matter of time before the Broncos tasted defeat. But the trick will be to ensure that one loss doesn't quickly become a losing streak. The defeat at Baltimore won't hurt Denver much in the AFC West if it can rebound next week at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (5-2), who will be coming off their bye.

• Wow. Break up the Titans. And good to see Vince Young is alive and well after all. What took you so long, Jeff Fisher? And if you're inclined to say Tennessee's beatdown of Jacksonville had more to do with Titans running back Chris Johnson than anyone else, we won't argue. But benched veteran quarterback Kerry Collins had C.J. in his backfield, too, and he didn't win.

• As the Giants slide continues, how long until Tom Coughlin loses the kinder, gentler sideline persona that has worked so well for him since late 2007 or so and goes into one of those red-faced tantrums we all miss so much? I say if things don't start looking up next week against San Diego, the old T.C. makes a return appearance.

• Speaking of the Giants and their former selves, are we watching the resurrection of Eli Manning's once-maddeningly inconsistent game these past three weeks? With two more interceptions in the 40-17 blowout loss at Philadelphia, Manning has seven turnovers (six interceptions and a fumble lost) during New York's three-game losing streak.

You can't tell me Manning's passing isn't being affected by the plantar fasciatis he's playing through. Manning seems to be sailing a lot of his passes high over his receivers' heads, and that's probably an indication he not's real comfortable planting his feet and following through on his throws.

The Giants don't get their bye until Week 10, so Manning has to tough it out through Sunday's game against San Diego. New York has to hope the rest will do Manning's foot -- and flagging confidence -- some good.

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