Time off is a time for reflection.
It is a time for healing.
It’s a time for respite.
And it’s a time for discernment.
So what have we learned about the Dallas Cowboys in their time away?
First, that the hoopla and hysteria the team has generated during the first six weeks of the season, which includes their current five-game winning streak, was warranted.
The Cowboys (5-1) are legitimately one of the best teams in the NFL, and they should be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender for the first time since their last Super Bowl title after the 1995 season.
So as they return from last week’s bye for Sunday night’s game at the Minnesota Vikings, it should be full speed ahead for what I’m calling Operation Los Angeles since southern California is the site of Super Bowl 56.
Now, nothing is guaranteed and there are other serious candidates in the NFC, including the undefeated Arizona Cardinals (7-0), the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1), the Los Angeles Rams (6-1) and Green Bay Packers (6-1).
They are all good, if not very good, and playing at a level equal to or better than the Cowboys.
But no other team is head and shoulders above the Cowboys, and none of those other squads feature the potential upside the Cowboys may enjoy in the months to come.
And that’s what should excite the long-suffering Cowboys fan base the most.
The bye came at a most opportune time with quarterback Dak Prescott, who is playing the best football of his career, sustaining a calf strain on the final play of 35-28 overtime victory against the New England Patriots on Oct. 17.
If the Cowboys had a game last weekend, he likely would have been unable to play.
Now, with a week off to rehab and heal, Prescott is expected to be ready to go for the Vikings game.
He is out of the walking boot and could practice on Wednesday.
Count it all joy.
And as well as the Cowboys have played — they have outscored their last five opponents 170-115 — they have room to get markedly better because of added reinforcements from a suspension and the injured list.
An offensive line has paved the way for the league’s top offense and second-best rushing attack gets right tackle La’el Collins back from a five-game suspension after the bye.
Michael Gallup, the team’s best deep threat who missed the last five games with a calf strain, will soon return to a receiver corps that already boasts two receivers on pace to top 1,000 yards in CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper.
An improved Cowboys defense, whose 14 interceptions in six games are more than the team has had in any of the last six full seasons, will get two-time Pro Bowl defensive DeMarcus Lawrence and defensive tackles Neville Gallimore and Trysten Hill back from injuries in the coming weeks.
And then there is the matter of the Cowboys’ suddenly manageable schedule.
As of now there are only two games remaining among the final 11 they “may” go in as underdogs — Dec. 2 at the New Orleans Saints and Jan. 2 against the Cardinals at AT&T Stadium in what could be a showdown for which team gets the lone NFC playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference championship.
They should be favored in every other game, including their Nov. 21 road contest against the suddenly average Kansas City Chiefs (3-4), whose defense can’t stop anyone and whose superman quarterback in Patrick Mahomes has proven to be human.
It helps that the Cowboys are in the worst division in football.
The New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team have 2-5 records, giving the NFC East-leading Cowboys a chance to pad their record in the race for the league’s best record and possible home-field advantage.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. There are still 11 games left and an injury to Prescott could derail it all.
But barring the unexpected and unforeseen, there is nothing to be timid about.
Sure, the Cowboys have had good regular seasons before.
But unlike in 2007, 2014 and 2016 — when the Cowboys went 13-3, 12-4 and 13-3, respectively, only to lose in the divisional playoffs — this Cowboys team is real.
In 2007, they had poor leadership from the head coach to the quarterback to the locker room.
In 2014, that defense was a nightmare even though Dez Bryant caught it.
In 2016, the defense was still suspect and the Cowboys were young.
The 2021 Cowboys have legitimate playmakers on both sides of the ball and on every level of the defense for the first time since the last title team 26 years ago.
The team has excellent coaching and superb leadership.
But the path won’t be easy. No one ever said it would be.
But it’s no longer about next year.
The bye is over.
The time is now.