In the modern-day version of the NFC East, merely approaching competence can have the look of being dominant. The Dallas Cowboys are making an early-season case for being the division’s closest thing to a competent team, or perhaps even better than that.

Three games into the season, the Cowboys are in first place as the lone NFC East team with a record above .500. Quarterback Dak Prescott is back in the lineup and thriving. The running game and defense are beginning to help out. The Cowboys overwhelmed the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-21, on Monday night in Arlington, Tex., for their second straight victory following a near-miss loss at Tampa in the NFL’s season-opening game.

“It’s something we’ve got to build off of,” Prescott told ESPN after the game. “Obviously I feel great. I’ve got a great supporting cast and a great defense that is making plays and giving me the ball back. So we’ve just got to continue to build. Tonight was a good one that we can build off of, and get a couple in a row here at home.”

It was the Cowboys’ home opener and Prescott’s first game at AT&T Stadium since his 2020 season was cut short when he suffered a fractured ankle during a game there last October against the New York Giants. He said he was emotional before the game, both in warmups and during the national anthem.

“I think there was a couple of times, but definitely again during the national anthem,” Prescott said. “Just gratitude. I’m definitely just thankful for everything that I’ve been through, all the hard work that has made me account for it, just to be back out here doing what I love. It’s a great place to play football.”

Prescott completed 21 of 26 passes for 238 yards. He threw three touchdown passes, two to tight end Dalton Schultz and one to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. Prescott gave way to backup Cooper Rush with the outcome well in hand before returning to the field to take a final couple kneel-down snaps.

“I think a guy like Dak, he’s going to be psyched regardless,” tailback Ezekiel Elliott said. “There’s not any extra he can get psyched up, just the competitor he is, the player he is.”

Elliott ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Tony Pollard added 60 rushing yards.

The Cowboys led 20-7 at halftime and stretched the advantage to 27-7 in the opening minute of the third quarter when cornerback Trevon Diggs raced 59 yards for a touchdown after intercepting a pass by Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The lead reached 41-14 in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a whole bunch of people making plays,” Cowboys rookie linebacker Micah Parsons said in his postgame news conference. “It’s just contagious right now.”

The Eagles suffered their second straight loss since an opening triumph at Atlanta. Hurts threw touchdown passes to tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Greg Ward but had two interceptions in a 25-for-39, 326-yard passing performance. The Eagles scored a first-quarter touchdown on defense when Fletcher Cox recovered an end-zone fumble by Prescott.

The Eagles and Washington Football Team are a game behind the Cowboys with matching 1-2 records, while the Giants are 0-3. Washington won the division last season with a record of 7-9, and there’s little to indicate so far that true excellence will be required to capture the NFC East crown this season.

It remains a relatively low bar, and the Cowboys at this point resemble the team most capable of clearing it. Prescott is off to a superb start after signing a four-year, $160 million contract in the offseason, then enduring a sore shoulder in training camp. Coach Mike McCarthy is in his second season. The defense is playing better under new coordinator Dan Quinn, the former head coach of the Falcons.

There were a few early glitches Monday for the Cowboys. The Eagles’ touchdown on Prescott’s fumble tied the game at 7. Later in the opening quarter, the Cowboys had an apparent touchdown overturned on one play, then lost an instant replay challenge seeking a touchdown on the following play.

Elliott appeared to score a touchdown on a pass from Prescott. But he actually was down by contact just shy of the goal line. The ruling of touchdown by the closest on-field official was overturned via the intervention of the replay official. McCarthy left his offense on the field on fourth and goal from the Philadelphia 1-yard line. Prescott was stopped short of the end zone on a quarterback sneak. He tried to reach out with the ball, only to have it swatted away. Cowboys players signaled touchdown. The on-field officials did not agree. McCarthy challenged. But the on-field ruling of no touchdown was allowed to stand, with no replay angle showing definitively that Prescott had gotten the ball to the goal line.

“I think today we came out hot,” Elliott said in his postgame news conference. “We got a fast start. But we left some points out there. I think we gave them more of a chance than they should have had. We played well. We got the win. But there’s definitely a lot we’ve got to clean up.”

No matter. Not much else went wrong for the Cowboys as the evening progressed. They honored Jimmy Johnson, Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson during a halftime ceremony in which they received their Hall of Fame rings. Johnson was given his ring by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and said to the crowd, “The only thing other than that that I’ve got to say [is], ‘How ‘bout them Cowboys?!’ ” It was that kind of feel-good night in Jerry World.

“This offense is just playing together,” Prescott said. “We’ve got a great pace of play that we’re playing with. We’ve got a great brotherhood. Everybody holds each other accountable. It’s fun to be a part of. We’ve got so many playmakers that don’t have egos. They make my job easy. The offensive line protects. The guys go make plays.”

Read on for live action from Monday night’s game.