FISH on FOOTBALL Cowboys Top Ten Takes: Dallas Not Waiting To Exhale

FISH on FOOTBALL presents a Cowboys-Saints Top Ten Takes, complete with some clarification over the beaten-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life cliché "winning ugly'' ... because there was nothing ugly about Dallas' ballsy 24-17 victory at New Orleans:

1. In the last few weeks, I've had a few people within the Cowboys family swear to me that while DeMarcus Ware is a superstar, while Jay Ratliff has blossomed from "over-achiever'' to simply "high achiever,'' while Mike Jenkins is developing into a difference-maker and while new/old vet Keith Brooking is about as good as he ever was in Atlanta, there is nobody on the Dallas defense who is outperforming Anthony Spencer.

After what happened Saturday in New Orleans, I'm inclined to believe those people within the Cowboys family.

Spencer has spent most of the year being an Almost Standout. He's almost had interceptions and sacks and SportsCenter highlights. But against the Saints, Spencer went from Almost to Most (as in, Most Valuable) as he had two sacks (which would've been three if not for an away-from-Spencer penalty), plus three hurries and a fumble recovery.

You know what Spencer looked like coming off the edge all night against the befuddled and overmatched Saints? He looked like a mirror image of Ware, who was doing the same thing on the other edge.

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2. Speaking of Ware, is he a stud or what? He's old-school, this kid. His pocket is full and his neck is nearly broken and he rubs some dirt on it to record two sacks and force two fumbles, one of those Combo Platters being delivered on the Cowboys' final defensive play, when Ware put a crushing lid on Drew Brees and the Saints.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned here. One is about the Saints in general. Big-time front-line heat on Brees is a disruption and it is do-able. I bet Brees was flushed from the pocket (or worse) in some fashion on almost half of New Orleans' pass-play calls.

Before anybody crowns the Saints as NFC titlists, someone might want to notice that among the teams that stand in their path might be not only Dallas (last year's NFL sack champions) and Minnesota ("The Outlaws'' racking up numbers reminiscent of  "The Purple People Eaters'' before them).

(Meanwhile, in the same weekend, both the Saints and the Vikings displayed some vulnerabilities, eh?)

And the other lesson: This is how you write yourself a chapter in Cowboys Mythology: One week, you're frozen on the ground with doctors unscrewing your facemask. ... and six days later, you are screwing Drew Brees into the floor.

3. Nick Folk just got un-friended on Facebook. No, not just by some fans. By the entire Facebook company.

4. Seriously, while I always say that a team had better have a superior replacement in mind when it dumps an employer (kicker, head coach, whomever), Dallas cannot do worse here. Folk not only missed a clutch FG chance from 23 (the late one that would've put Dallas up 10 points and allowed us all to retain our fingernail tips), but one of his extra points looked wobbly. ... and did you catch the NFL Network's tape of his pregame warm-ups?

Nick's kicks were so off that it looked like he was aiming at the other goalpost. It was one of the most embarrassing pieces of television I've ever seen, so much so that for a minute there I thought Bob Papa and Matt Millen were going to be replaced by hosts Tom Bergeron and Bob Saget.

So. ...

Here's a list of The Usual Suspects (with what I think is the latest on each):

*Steven Hauschka, recently dumped by Baltimore in favor of old Cowboys friend Billy Cundiff

*Brandon Coutu (a Seahawks camp cut)

*Shane Andrus (a member of the Colts and Bucs this year)

*Sam Swank (cups o' coffee with Philly and Cincy in recent years)

*Nick Novak (a former Redskin)

*Dave Raymer (another former Redskin)

*Chris Boniol. OK, I'm kidding. Chris is long-retired. But I'm in contact with him quite a bit, he lives, teaches and coaches in the North Texas area, he's in shape. ... and even Chris Boniol wouldn't miss extra-point-length kicks.

*And ... the winner should be ... Jason Elam.

He was almost as bad with the Falcons this year as Folk's been with Dallas. But you know what? I'd rather miss kicks with one of the most pedigreed kickers in NFL history - and be able to say I tried to ride a great old horse - then continue to try to get mileage out of unproven donkeys.

Nevertheless, there is a report saying Dallas isn't interested in Elam, but might be interested in Shaun Suisham, an old Cowboy discovery recently with Washington.

Will Suisham or another guy come in here and miss a field goal? Maybe. But it's time to let somebody else miss.

5. Tony Romo was positively Steve Youngesque here, spinning out of trouble, running only when necessary, finding targets while on the run, and supplementing super numbers (312 passing yards, no turnovers and a 104 QB Rating) with the best stat of all, a crunch-time victory.

We discussed December Denial in this space last week, and the Cowboys leaders themselves acknowledge it all. After the game, Jerry Jones touched on it ("They showed that they can win a game in December,'' he said, laughing) and Romo let himself smile through questions regarding December.

But shouldn't somebody also note that in the last three winter-month games, while the Cowboys are now 1-2 ... Romo is six TDs up and zero TOs down? And all against Giants/Chargers/Saints?

Romo is passing the December test.

6. Want less of Roy Williams and more of ... anybody? I think if you back and chart plays, you are going to see that No. 11 took an awful lot of "rest breaks'' while Patrick Crayton and even Kevin Ogletree and (double on the "even'') Sam Hurd found themselves "rotating in.''

7. I like Dallas at Washington. Don't you?

The Redskins are interviewing coaches while they presently employ one, accepting resignations from front-office personnel and down to playing Home Depot refugees at some skill positions. The Cowboys beat Washington 7-6 earlier this year, of course, and figure to handle their rivals with greater ease this time around ... and if they do, Dallas is in control of its fate.

"We still can't exhale,'' Jason Witten says. "We can't relax now."

That sounds like the words of somebody who thinks his team is ready to not only accept the pressure, but to relish it.

I like them to do just that ... at least against the Redskins. Don't you?

8. As the Saints were leaving the field, New Orleans fans appreciative of the fact that the losing team had previously won a bunch of games gave their fellas a standing ovation.

Awwwww! Isn't that cute?

To me, it felt like parents encouraging their baby as he takes his first steps. ... and then tumbles to the living-room carpet. Maybe I'm being a Grinch here, but the Superdome audience seemed awfully easy to please.

Easier-to-please than you are, for certain.

9. Let "The Great BTB Debate'' continue (because I think we're the only ones who do this). ... but I think the run-vs.-pass arguments ("Which should the Cowboys do more of?'' ... "Which is the Cowboys better at?'' ... "Which really determines Cowboys wins and losses?'') have devolved toward the bizarre.

Romo was brilliant. But meanwhile, the Cowboys rushed for 145 yards and did so in a way that didn't allow New Orleans' offense to get back on the field. (A season-high 36 runs helped Dallas get up and stay up.) Felix ran hard through holes and was allowed 14 carries. Marion Barber danced with what brung him to the NFL, hammering defenders who dared stand in his way. Tashard Choice and the Wildcat/Razorback got a sniff. ... and in the end, Dallas was a better passing team than New Orleans was AND was a better running team than New Orleans was.

Be that team two more times ... and the team that nobody will want to play in Round 1 of the NFL Playoffs will be the Dallas Cowboys.

10. My friends at ESPN are terming the 24-17 victory at the Superdome an example of "winning ugly.''

Sorry, guys. Not even close.

This was Wade Phillips overseeing a dismantling of an undefeated team in their house before a juiced-up crowd in a hungry town before a national-TV audience. The QB threw for 300-plus. The top receiver (Miles Austin, whom Jerry might want to go ahead and contract-up) was un-coverable. They pounded the Saints into submission with 145 rushing yards. They racked up sacks upfront and played like ballhawks in coverage. A 21-point lead was forged in a dominating fashion over the course of three quarters and then a 10-point lead to close was but a foot away. In the end, the Saints were dealing is desperation and lost a game by seven when they were favored by the same number.

That's not "winning ugly.'' That's just "winning.''

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