It's first-and-10 at the Dallas 31, just under seven minutes into Cowboys-at-Redskins. Washington's Phillip Daniels envelopes his 6-6, 306-pound frame around Tony Romo and a sack is inevitable. What Romo did here makes no highlight reel and doesn't even show up in the boxscore, but it tells a story ... a story about a mindset, a story that is a factor in Dallas' guaranteed playoff berth, and a story that starts off today's FISH on FOOTBALL Cowboys Top Ten Takes:
1. Down goes Romo (for the only time in the 17-0 win at Washington, by the way) and the force with which Daniels is hugging the Cowboys QB is matched only by the force with which Romo is hugging the ball. There will be no gunslingery here, no underhanded improvisation, no reason for anybody to notice the play at all. Romo squeezes the ball, the two of them - Tony and his football - take their lumps together ... and as Romo is climbing from the ground, he gives his football a love pat. You know, a warm little tap right on the little fella's laces, just to assure it that they - Tony and his football - are in this together.
2. That's tiny picture. You want big picture?
Suddenly, the 10-5 Cowboys - while still fully capable of throwing the ball around the yard with great accuracy (except for when Roy's frying pans don't cooperate) - are protecting the ball like a newborn.
The lone interception? It was a carom off Roy's disinterested hands, it was the first Romo had thrown in 168 attempts, and in 15 games this season, he's only thrown more than one pick in a game once. In total, Dallas has coughed the ball up just 17 times this season. Only three teams have secured "the little fella'' as well as that.
The lone sack? This year, in six games, the Cowboys have allowed one or zero sacks. In five more games, it's been two sacks. Heck, the Philly, Denver and Green Bay games were responsible for 14 of the team's total of 32 sacks. So were talking about a high percentage of the time when Romo is taking care of the ball, and we're talking about 12 of 15 outings when Romo is being taken care of himself.
3. How bad does it suck when you are playing your final home game in a venerable stadium, against a team you are favored to beat, and the next thing you know you are giving up 40-yard runs all over the place and you end up being accused of lacking the heart to ride the available emotion to a history-making victory?
I don't remember.
Let's ask the Giants.
4. All ribbing aside, what the Giants (blowout losers to Carolina on Sunday at Giants Stadium in a setting eerily similar to what happened to Dallas against Baltimore a season ago) did on Sunday is a nice bookend to another event ... from this same Sunday.
The Cowboys have had a rough time of it in December, right?
The Giants are having a rough time of it in December, right?
Is this some magical formula not being obtained? Some curse? Some voodoo thing?
For voodoo, we go to New Orleans ... and what we get is my belief that Dallas' "December problems'' have company.
The Saints have been contenders for most of the last half-decade. I wonder how they've done in December?
*This year, we know they are 2-2 in the month, including two 3-point last-second wins over non-contenders Atlanta and Washington.
*They were 2-2 in 08
*They were 2-3 in 07
*They were 3-2 in 06
*They were 0-4 in 05
You think Dallas has December problems? The Saints - the vaunted Saints, the top-seeded Saints, the almost-undefeated Saints - are in the last five seasons 9-13 in the month.
You've got to be able to win outside and you've got to be able to win in inclement weather and you've got to be able to win on the road and you've got to be able to stay healthy and you've got to be able to overcome other teams trying to play their best and you've got to be able to play under pressure ...
If you accomplish all those things - and only if you accomplish all those things - you will win the Super Bowl.
If you don't, you won't.
5. I know Bruce Allen a little bit, and I like him. He is part-football man, part-CEO, part-politician and he's all-Redskins. But what a mess he's taking on in Washington.
The Redskins just went 0-6 inside the NFC East, something that happens about once every 20 years. Their head coach is in way over his head, they've got more play-callers in the organization than they have effective plays, they are interviewing assistants to be coaches while they already have a coach ... while at the same time fully intending to bring in a new coach. They've got extravagantly-paid players trying to take vacation from practice and what their fans are left with is somehow extracting pleasure from a shutout home loss by booing the other team's kicker on extra-point tries.
Good luck, Bruce.
6. Five times in the second half in Washington the Cowboys running game was stoned five on third- or fourth-and-short. Is that on Marion Barber? Is that on an offensive line not getting push? Does Washington deserve some credit? Is pulling a guard and a tight end to try to clear a hole too much trick-‘em? Didn't a couple of the play designs seem to call for the handoff to occur seven yards behind the line of scrimmage ... i.e, seven yards away from the point of attack?
And doesn't all this need to get fixed before the NFC East Championship game with Philly in which there will certainly be a few third-and-shorts in need of being gotten?
7. I'm sure glad Keith Brooking backed up his NBC-filmed, WWF-inspired pre-game pep talk to the troops with yet another fine performance. Nothing looks sillier than a big-hat/no-cattle football player.
Brooking has the hat and he has the cattle.
8. LaRon Landry, however, has only his hat.
Last time the Cowboys and Redskins played, Landry accused Roy Williams thusly:
"Scared. Yeah. I know he was. Y'all can quote it, too. Y'all can tell him right now, tell him I'm sayin' it. I can say it right now: Yeah, he was scared, I think. I told him he was scared."
That's juicy, and it might not even be inaccurate; while Miles Austin and Jason Witten are now catching virtually every pass targeted at them, Roy seems like a 33-percent guy: 33-percent chance he'll catch it for a TD (as he did Sunday), 33-percent chance he'll fail to use his body to screen off a defender and allow a pop-up that can be caught by the wrong team (as he did Sunday), 33-percent chance he'll just flat drop it ... and then follow up with that overly-wide "What, Me Worry?'' grin.
But doesn't Landry have enough of his own problems? How many plays did he make? Outside of headhunting, what impact did he have? How did it feel to get outfoxed, outrun and outplayed by big Jason Witten, not much of a threat to take one coast-to-coast. ... unless he's being covered by you, LaRon Landry?
Scoreboard, son. Check the scoreboard.
9. I do not understand why NBC's Sunday night game telecasts require so many pregame hosts. They've got more talking heads than Tiger has cocktail waitresses.
But once the game begins? In terms of pure information, NBC blows away the competition. Michaels and Collinsworth seem to have collected anecdotal nuggets on virtually every guy on both teams.
Think about this: You, as a Cowboys fan, spend the season gobbling up info on your ‘Boys, right? So much so that really, there is very little that some TV foof from New York can tell you that you don't already know, right?
10. So now is it OK that Wade gave the fellas Christmas Day off?
I had this argument on the 103.3 ESPN Radio air with Nate Newton, who thought the day off sent the wrong, softie message to his players. I countered by saying it's all about revisionist history: If a Super Bowl team parties and plays golf and busts curfew and then wins, it's because they were "loose.'' If a Super Bowl team doesn't party or golf or carouse, and instead keeps thinks buttoned down, and they win, it's because they were "focused.''
So now that Wade's won, can we all give him credit for being right?
Now that Wade's defense has thrown a shutout (leading to a debate regarding how well this defense ranks with the NFL's best), can we all give him credit for being right?
Now that he coached a game without special-teams boss Joe DeCamillis (rushed to a D.C.-area hospital with appendicitis) ... and stuck into Joe's place Wade's own son, Wes! ... can we all give him credit for being right?
This has nothing to do with playoff wins (yet) and it has nothing to do with the coach's future in Dallas (yet), but doesn't Wade Phillips deserve a lot of credit for 10-5?