DALLAS — For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will face last season's Super Bowl champions as they take on the New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Sunday’s contest is also a chance for the Cowboys, who have failed previous tests against premier NFL clubs with the Saints in Week 4, Packers in Week 5, and Vikings in Week 10, to have one last gauge of how the team would fare against the best in the NFL come January.
Through 11 weeks, the Patriots are among the very best as they are tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the league's best record at 9-1.
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten believes the game is a measuring stick for where Dallas is as a 6-4 team with a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
"There are defining games that happen," Witten told reporters Tuesday after serving early Thanksgiving meals at the Salvation Army Carr P. Collins Social Service Center.
"You look at last year's season and you beat a good New Orleans team. This is one of those games."
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence agrees with Witten's comparison to the New Orleans Saints game from Week 13 of 2018 when the 6-5 Cowboys beat the 10-1 Saints 13-10 at AT&T Stadium to snap their 10-game winning streak.
The win demonstrated to a prime time audience on that Thursday night that Dallas could hang with the best in the conference and had the possibility to play in the conference title game or beyond.
"Absolutely," Lawrence said. "I feel like a game like this is a testament to what kind of team we want to be and what kind of team we're going to be for the rest of the year."
The Patriots are third overall in points for, best in the NFL in points against, and best in the NFL in total defense. While the Patriots are an AFC opponent, and a loss wouldn't cripple the Cowboys' playoff run, Witten recognizes the opportunity.
"To be able to go on the road and play against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their team, they're 9-1 like they are. It's a great opportunity for us," said Witten. "Our guys are up for the challenge. You got a lot of healthy respect for them, but just like any other week, you've got to prepare and know that you're going to have to play your best football."
In order for the Cowboys to play their best football, it will take a consistent trend towards excellence. The team can't afford to have any games with inconsistent play.
"Like I said after the [35-27 win at the Detroit Lions Sunday], it's all about building," Lawrence said. "We're at the stage right now that we have to put complete games back to back in order to get to where we want to be. So, it's all about focusing, keeping the straight, clear eye view on the next opponent and coming out with a win."
The Cowboys have not beaten the Patriots since 1996, which is also the same year that they last repeated as NFC East champions.
Do you think the Cowboys will be able to pass the test against the Patriots on Sunday? Share your thoughts @therealmarklane.
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