At night, AT&T Stadium glows like the moon. During the day, as the Texas sun glints off its 800-foot glass exterior, it shines like one of Jerry Jones' Super Bowl rings. Both of those features are, I presume, intentional.
After all, this is Jerry World; 140 acres of egocentric splendor, with the stadium – one of the largest domed structures in the world – at its epicenter. It was built in part as a tribute to the man himself, and, to a lesser extent, the team he owns: "America's Team," the Dallas Cowboys.
When I arrived on Sunday, that team was 2-1, though you probably couldn't tell; as is always the case with the Cowboys, there were more questions than answers. Six hours before they kicked off against the New Orleans Saints, I wandered around the grounds, wondering if I was perhaps walking through the ancient ruins of a once-dominant dynasty. The automated voice of Jerry Jones filled the air and a Texas-sized statue of former coach Tom Landry welcomed visitors to this football palace, yet both also brought on pangs of nostalgia. After four consecutive seasons of mediocrity, one had to wonder if "America's Team" could rise once again.
As they'd prove that night, the answer was undoubtedly "Yes." The Cowboys handled the Saints 38-17, making it clear that this team was different from the many flawed iterations that have taken the field since the franchise's last championship almost 20 years ago. Perhaps this one was actually good.
Maybe this is the team fans have been waiting for.
For the first time since 2008 – and the first time in AT&T Stadium – the Cowboys are 3-1. Sunday's win over the Saints was a statement, to be sure, both for their much-maligned defense and new "offensive playcaller" Scott Linehan (the third man to hold the job in three seasons). The defense frustrated the Saints' Drew Brees throughout and forced three turnovers, bringing their total to eight in the last three games. And behind the solid running of DeMarco Murray – perhaps one of only a few true "single back" runners left in the NFL – and a spotless performance from Tony Romo, Dallas appears to be a legitimate threat in a conference where stalwarts like Green Bay, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle have seemed vulnerable.
But there is still a ways to go. Since their last championship in 1995, the Cowboys have won exactly two playoff games. It's been 18 years since Dallas has made the NFC Championship and Jason Garrett is their fifth head coach since Barry Switzer's resignation in 1997. All of the good will the franchise earned with fans when Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin took them to three titles in four years has evaporated, replaced instead with a nascent pessimism. Surely, fans believe, Garrett and Romo will find a way to screw this up.
But maybe this year they won't. Are the Cowboys back? Well, in Dallas, they never really left. Despite seasons of disappointment, they've remained the star of the Jerry World show…but like their stadium, this year, the Cowboys have an opportunity not just to be better, but to be bigger.
Five Quick Q's:
Has Andrew Luck arrived?
It's certainly possible. Through four games, Luck is now the considerable leader in yardage and touchdowns, while upping his passer rating to 108. That's a huge improvement for a player who, up until this point, only had two individual games where he had posted a rating higher than 108 in his career.
I've had a multitude of people come after me for my opinion that Luck is overrated, but there's a huge difference between being overrated and being bad. I'm fine with it if Luck becomes as great as everyone thinks he is – it's great for the sport – I just hadn't seen anything like this kind of dominance until now.
But now, he's got to do it against teams that aren't terrible. The Colts get the Ravens, Texans and Bengals (arguably the best defense in football) over the next three. Let's talk again after he gets through that slate.
Did the Jags win?
Nope, and they still might go 0-16. Jacksonville has given up 152 points through four games, more than any team over that period of the season since 1961.
Did the Eagles lose?
Yes, and the number one rushing offense from a year ago was held to just 22 yards on 12 carries. In fact, Philly has rushed for just 76 yards over their last two games combined, and Chip Kelly's offense is now be under fire for being "figured out" less than a year-and-a-half into his career in the pros. Whether or not that's actually true remains to be seen, but it's a topic that's now officially ready to be bandied.
Will a team go undefeated?
Hell no. The only two teams without a loss are the Bengals and Cardinals, which is a fact that's as fun as it is ironic. Cincinnati has only won 12 games once in franchise history, back in 1988, and Arizona has never won 12 games. In fact, the Cardinals have only won 11 games three times: 1925, 1948 and 1975.
Is there even one dominant team anymore?
After Week 4, it certainly doesn't seem like there is. The Eagles looked less-than-pedestrian against a 49ers team that was just 1-2. The Panthers "dominant defense" has given up 75 points over their last two games, both losses. The Saints are now 1-3, having been blown out by a Cowboys team that was nearly blown out by the Rams a week earlier. And the Patriots looked completely lost against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football.
So unless you expect the Chargers, Cowboys, Lions, Texans and Cardinals – five franchises that have combined for one Super Bowl appearance since 1996 – to be the dominant NFL forces, it looks like the league is wide open in 2014.