One win, and everything gets turned around. The defense creating sacks, turnovers and touchdowns. Tony Romo doesn’t turn the ball over two weeks in a row. Dez Bryant finally gets a break. Jason Witten keeps being the most reliable target in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys are still only 4-5, but they feel confident once again.
Looking at the past month, which has been a roller-coaster 2-3 ride for the Cowboys, and they won or were very close to winning in each of their games. Against the Baltimore Ravens, with the second best record in the AFC, they lost 31-29 and were a Dez Bryant dropped pass from the win. Against the Super Bowl champions New York Giants they lost 29-24, with mere inches separating them from a win. Dez Bryant again. It wasn’t that different against the best of the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons (8-1), losing 19-13.
Things came together against the Eagles. Yes, the offense is still not clicking like it should and the penalties are still a huge problem, having 13 (losing 75 yards) being called against them, mostly for pass interference and the big scourge and thorn in the Cowboys’ side this season, false starts. That offensive line is doing a better job at protecting Romo, but the timing is still terribly off.
But the defense, which is ranked among the best in the NFL when it comes to points and yards allowed, finally got some points on the board, helping the mediocre attack. Carr got an interception Sunday and returned it for a score, Anthony Spencer had a pick negated by penalty, and Orlando Scandrick should have had two. Spencer’s blindside hit forced a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Jason Hatcher to seal the victory in Philly.
Only one team with a winning record is left on the 7 game schedule: The Pittsburgh Steelers, at 6-3, who should have Ben Roethlisberger back by then. The rest? Two games against the 3-6 Washington Redskins, one more game against Philadelphia in Dallas, the Saints, battling for the same playoff spot as the Cowboys are, at home and next week, the Cleveland Browns. While going 7-0 is unlikely, there’s a lot of potential for a big finish.
The general thought is that the Cowboys are going to need to win the division to get into the playoffs. They’re not so hot in the wild card race at the moment, with the Seahawks also enjoying an edge thanks to their 27-7 week 2 win, if that ever comes to play. But being 4-5 means so much instead of being 3-6.
You go 3-6, it’s a different mindset and you basically have to go 7-0 down the stretch. It was our backs were against the wall, but you just stay together and you focus on what you need to do to win the game and the entire team did that the whole game.
The Giants look reachable. At 6-4 and their usual second half of the season slide going on, with Eli Manning playing like the Eli of old; the one that doesn’t win Super Bowls, and costs his team wins as much as he earns them. The Giants have a bye, and by next Monday the Cowboys could be 5-5 and just a game out of first place. Coming off their bye, the Giants have a Sunday night game against the Green Bay Packers. Not too promising.
Only 7 teams have made the playoffs after a 3-5 start since 1990. The Dallas Cowboys have the talent on both sides of the ball to make it happen, along with a favorable schedule and three relatively easy division games waiting for them. The question, as always, is their mental toughness and ability to remain focused and avoid any sidelines on on-field implosions. It’s not just about reaching the playoffs after another too-long stretch. It’s also about keeping the jobs of the head coach and even their starting quarterback.