Welcome to a conflicted edition of What They're Saying. In the broad sense, I'm happy we won, but not particularly happy with the way we played. Sometimes we get caught up in having a black-and-white view of things, where something is either this, or it's that, with no in-between. Human beings are quite capable of holding two opposing views in their head at one time. In an effort not to seem wishy-washy, we occasionally place all our eggs in one basket, even though we know that's blocking out part of the story. For instance, I can love having Tony Romo as our QB, but I can also hate the turnovers and inconsistent play during games. I can love T.O.'s big-play ability but I can hate the way he constantly draws attention to himself (and he's no longer the pod-person of last year, but much more emotionally complex this year). I can love the record Wade Phillips has put up as a head coach, but I can hate the laissez-fare attitude he projects and the sometimes uninspired football his team plays. These things are possible and we'll see them in this edition of What They're Saying.
Let's start with Tony Romo. We're used to Romo playing it cool in interviews with an aw-shucks attitude that belies his competitive fire. Rarely does he seem ruffled after the game but his comments after the maddeningly close win on Sunday show a hint of frustration. For example, when asked about limiting his turnovers that include a string of eight straight games.
"You wish you could, but you're just not going to see 11 defensive players on every play," he said. "If you never turn the ball over as a quarterback, you probably aren't going to be that good. There's no way you are going to make plays sometimes if you don't trust it and let it go."
There's truth in that. Risk-takers tend to be the stars in sports. The belief in your abilities is one of the things that allow a talented player to go beyond the norm. We might as well stamp "Take the good with the bad" on Romo's forehead. But the constant questioning does seem to be getting under what is a very thick-skin.
"During the game, you always want things to be perfect," said quarterback Tony Romo, who threw three touchdown passes for the third time this season. "I don't know what standard everybody wants it to be. We want to get every first down and score every time we touch the ball. Is it unrealistic? Probably, but we're going to strive for that. Are we disappointed or something? I mean all we can do is work as hard as we can. What else can we do?"
The inflated expectations for this Cowboys team has set a very high standard. Rightly or wrongly, a team with this much talent is expected to put away a 0-4 team with much less difficulty that the Cowboys did on Sunday. Part of that difficulty was the two turnovers and some passes that were far off target. After getting up 17-0, the Cowboys faltered.
"You get up 17-0 with a chance to put a team away, and you can't do that," tight end Jason Witten said. "You have to learn from that."
I think that's what the point is, not that the Cowboys didn't win the exact way we wanted. But that the Cowboys clearly showed they are a far superior team early and still managed to let an out-manned Bengals team stay in the game. Romo is taking the long-view.
"You don't get crowned champions for being the best looking team right now," Romo said. "You just keep continuing to get better and keep stacking up wins."
You don't, but champions tend to keep their foot on the neck of an inferior opponent and don't let up. Sure it's early in the season but the excuse of not peaking now but later in the season is a weak one. It's a post-game rationalization that doesn't hold up. Why? Well, the general point is true, you want to peak in the playoffs. But just because you're not peaking now doesn't guarantee you'll peak later. Somehow it's just assumed when it's clearly not the case. It might happen, but there is no correlation that it will happen. Jerry Jones gets the fact that you need to deliver the knockout punch when you have an opponent staggered.
"I was so disappointed and upset that we didn't go up 24-3," Jerry said. "We dwelled on not getting the 24-3 lead a little too much and forgot how much football was left."
On the other hand, we did win the game and the Cowboys are 4-1. Generally, anytime a team is 4-1, the fan-base would be ecstatic. So there is something to be said about the unrealistically high expectations that have been placed on this team. I've fallen prey to that as have a lot of the media. But I think the Cowboys themselves have been a part of that too, and when reality doesn't match the expectations, people get defensive. Such as when Wade Phillips was asked about his team "stinking" after they got up 17 points.
"'You stink', I mean, jeez," Phillips said a little while later. "I didn't think it was that bad. People want you to make excuses for winning. I don't make excuses for losing."
Agreed, the Cowboys didn't stink after getting the lead. They did make plays later in the game that allowed them to get to 31 points and to win the game. Still, even Wade realizes there seemed to be a letdown after the excellent opening play of the Cowboys.
"I think it's a concern anytime you are up 17 points and somebody gets back in the game," Phillips said. "But they didn't get back enough to win. That's the big thing."
I guess a win is a win. You don't get style points on your record like you do in college football rankings.
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The Cowboys defense is one of those units who aren't getting style points. My number one issue with the defense on Sunday was the absolute lack of a pass rush. Carson Palmer had all day to throw in the pocket, and with the talent they have at receiver, the results were inevitable. We couldn't cover them. Yes, the secondary is not performing up to the expectations that were placed on it coming into the year but they could certainly have benefited from some kind of pass rush. Palmer is not a mobile QB yet the Dallas pass rush never exploited that. The defense does get some credit for holding the Bengals to FG's when they were handed a short-field, and at the end of the game they finally managed to look like they should have throughout the game.
"At the end of the day, when it's time to make plays, the defense is there," DeMarcus Ware said. "But I think the thing is we've got to make more plays at the beginning instead of the end."
Indeed. Yes you do. One guy on defense who made a big play later in the game was substitute Keith Davis. He prevented a 2-pt. conversion that would have tied the game at 24.
"I didn't see the ball. I was watching his eyes," Davis said. "When his hands went up for the ball, I just put my hands between his hands and tried to get the ball out of there."
Nice play, but overall this defense has yet to reach anything approaching championship form. Too often they are relying on the offense to bail them out. Says the sage-one:
"I don't know if we got better today, including myself," Zach Thomas said. "We've got to go back to the drawing board. ... At least we're getting our wins."
At least the Cowboys didn't fall into the trap that they did last week on offense. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called a much better game this week, allowing the Cowboys to take advantage of some of their best weapons - a massive offensive line and a pair of running backs who can get the job done. Garrett should be applauded for not making the same mistake twice and also for the fact that he got Felix Jones involved early and often.
"I just think he is too effective to not have [Felix] in critical situations," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "To Jason's credit, he's coming in on critical situations. Today, arguably his plays were at [as] critical times as you could have."
Yes, El Gato is providing the perfect complement to Marion Barber and Garrett realized he needs them both in this offense. Last week's travesty of hardly any running plays and no touches for Felix was turned into a run-heavy offense that exploited the Bengals defense. And Felix is a classy guy, giving credit to the blockers and understanding that his time will come.
"I had some great blocks out there," Jones said. "[Marc] Colombo made a great block. It was pretty much just get to the end zone."
"I was very anxious," Jones said. "I'm a football player and I want to have the ball in my hands. But I'm patient."
And then there's T.O. He of the overblown media controversy all week leading up to the game. He only caught a couple of passes, although one of them was probably the biggest play of the game. What did he have to say after the game? Not much, he clearly wasn't interested in reviving last week's brouhaha.
"It was frustrating out there, but I kept with it; my teammates stuck with it," Owens said. "I'm more [than] being a number 81. I'm more about ... it's more than about a star being on my helmet."
After his big play, many observers noted that he put a towel over his head on the bench and let out a cry. Not sure what to make of that, but here's one teammate's observation.
"He's an emotional player," receiver Patrick Crayton said. "He knows he wears his heart on his sleeve. You will get that stuff. I love it, dude. He wants to win."
No one has ever doubted that T.O. wants to win.
So there you have it. Plenty of conflicted emotions and observations that are at cross-currents with each other. Romo made plays that won the game, but made mistakes that allowed the other team to hang around. A defense that held together at crucial times to make stops never was able to dominate the game. A team that won a football game, but didn't look that great doing it. All these things occurred so it's possible for the players and fans to be simultaneously pleased with the win but not so pleased with the play on the field.
Still, as the great Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh once said: "I love winning...It's like, you know, better than losing!"
Wade Phillips and Tony Romo have a little "Nuke" LaLoosh in them.
"The bottom line is whether you win or not," Phillips said. "I think some teams would have lost this game."
"I'm sorry that I'm not sorry that we won," Romo said. "An ugly win is sometimes more important than a 50-7 win."