The NFL, come December, is a week-by-week league. Those teams still in the playoff hunt, or those already in the playoffs proper but still jockeying for a higher seed, rise and fall on each week's game. Take the Dallas Cowboys and their rousing victory over the previously unblemished Saints. Dallas was a team on a two game losing streak, already being counted out by some, and generally agreed to be teetering on the precipice by all, and now they are the new hot team. Going on the road and beating a Super Bowl favorite like New Orleans, and doing it in a dominant, non-fluke way, means teams and fans see you in whole new light. But, lose next week in Washington and...well...you know what will happen. That's just life in the NFL playoff hunt. For a look at the other end of the spectrum, the Vikings are a team that suddenly looks very vulnerable.
The highlights from Saturday's big win:
- You really can't say enough about the performance of DeMarcus Ware. Going from a moment last week when we were all contemplating the idea of not having him for the rest of the season, to watching him make two huge sacks on Drew Brees, the last one sealing the game, was an incredible testament to his competitive spirit and athletic prowess. Thank goodness he's going to be a Cowboy for a long time.
- Don't look now, but Ware's little buddy at the other end of the line might just be growing up before our eyes. Earlier this season, BTB's-own Aaron noted that Anthony Spencer kept coming close to making big plays, but was just missing. Then, over the last few weeks, he started to make a play or two a game, and on Saturday he was the perfect complement to Ware's pass-rushing attack. No longer content to play the run tough, the kid is now making plays on QBs. If that continues, the defense would be that much better.
- Sorry Nick Folk, but your time has come. Maybe next year we give you a tryout and see where you're at, but we just can't live with the problem any longer. Seriously, a 24-yarder to seal the game and you miss? The Cowboys are already planning to bring in kickers for tryouts this week, and not a moment too soon. We've gone from Folkin'-A to What the Folk?, and that ain't good.
- Welcome back Marion Barber. It seems like ages since the Barbarian punched one across the goal line, and it was. MB3 scored way back in Week 8 against Seattle before racking up two scores on the ground this week, accompanied by some hard running.
- It's quite possible Tony Romo is on his best run of football since becoming the Cowboys starter. Have you noticed the absence of turnovers from the QB position? Romo hasn't thrown an interception in four straight games and hasn't had a multi-interception game since Week 2 against the Giants. The Cowboys may be 1-2 in December this year, but none of that can be laid at #9's feet. His decisions to either run the ball, or take the sack, instead of forcing a turnover has made a huge difference.
- A lot of the glory in the Saints game is going to the Cowboys defensive line and outside linebackers, but let's not leave out the secondary. Besides for a brief spell in the 4th-quarter, they were lights out. There were plenty of plays when Brees had time in the pocket, and normally that would spell disaster for a team facing the Saints array of weapons. But the Cowboys defensive secondary was up to the task and even turned in a turnover with a Mike Jenkins interception.
- Roy Williams needs to quit writing checks that Miles Austin's butt has to cash. Roy's infamous guarantee/non-guarantee of a victory made his drop on a crucial third down all the more galling. Less talking, more catching.
- Jason Garrett called a great game. Usually, if the player's execute, then the perception is that the coordinator called a good game. If the player's don't execute, then the coach called a bad game. But this week, Garret really did seem to be on his game. We saw a variety of plays like toss sweeps, 'smoke' passes to the outside when the situation was advantageous, and a solid mix of run and pass. Sure, it always looks better when it works, but Garrett never got predictable and left the Saints guessing. Last week, the Chargers seemed to know everything we were doing, this week the Saints never seem to get comfortable on defense.
- The Dallas defense was finally able to exorcise their third-down demons on defense. The Saints were 1 of 7 converting on third down. On the other hand, the Cowboys offense converted 8 of 15 third downs.
- No Marty B? No problem. Rookie John Phillips chipped in with three catches for 40 yards.
- Felix Jones didn't break a big one, but did anyone else notice his tough, determined running and ability to drive the pile forward after contact? He also had a good evening returning kickoffs.
- With a loss by the Giants on Monday night, the Cowboys could lock up a playoff birth with a win over the Redskins next week.
- Finally, I don't know exactly why the Cowboys played so well on Saturday, maybe it was the desperation born of seeing their playoffs hopes starting to flicker out. Or maybe it was Tony Dungy saying the Cowboys had no chance earlier in the week. It sure caught Tony Romo's attention as noted in his post-game interview. Just to be safe, please pick against us again this week, Mr. Dungy.