FISH on FOOTBALL offers up Top Ten Takes as we sober up from the Cowboys' loss at Minnesota and take some steps forward - with no need to detour over to Jerry Jones' "woodshed'':
1. "It's Super Bowl or Bust!''
Cowboys fans who have lived through the Jerry Jones Era understand that this is Mr. Jones' annual rallying cry (not to mention his personal mantra). I will gently suggest that fans take a similar approach to their mourning ... along with a tempering of their anger.
"A football team is like a shark,'' another icon of the Jerry Jones Era once said. "It's either moving forward or it's moving backward.''
That second icon is Jimmy Johnson. He's right.
And so are your Cowboys. Because they are moving forward.
So mourn. And gripe. And map out your thoughts for what we all hope is a positive Cowboys future.
But understand, too, that when you and I and Mr. Jones boldly say "It's Super Bowl or Bust!'', there is no "bust.''
Romo doesn't retire. Jerry doesn't sell. The Cowboys don't spontaneously implode. There is no "bust.''
There is, rather, another chance at a Super Bowl. And then another. And then another. ...
2. Not that 34-3 came down to placekicking. But by gosh, you spend two recent draft picks on placekickers, you have (too much?) patience with one of them, you finally give up and stage a world-wide search for someone who is moderately reliable. ...
And you get to a playoff game and you can't make a kick.
To the credit of the Dallas front office, the position of kicker joins the Roy Williams situation as the only true personnel foibles of this season. And, in further defense of the front office here, even when you think you have a sure thing at kicker (San Diego's Nate Kaeding) you are a toenail away from failure.
Sadly, what happened to Shaun Suisham here was almost predictable. Care to guess what his kicking record this year in domes was?
Counting his two misses and a make in Minnesota, his lifetime mark in domes is 9 of 16.
4. Now to the other end.
From elementary school on up, we make so much of the "stars'' - left guards date the head cheerleader far less often that the QB does - that we often forget that the core of football, the essence of football, still occurs at the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys didn't lose the game because Tony Romo tossed a silly interception, and they certainly didn't lose the game because Brett Favre tossed a silly touchdown.
They lost it when the Minnesota Vikings' fourth-best defensive lineman was superior to anyone who tried to block him.
On the other end, Minnesota rarely needs to get creative. Jared Allen is the elite of the elite, a pass-rusher who also plays the run, a blue-collar guy who is also high-profile. He is in a sense a one-man show at defensive end, but you'd better assign two men to block him.
And for one week, at least, a star is born.
5. The "classless'' argument is an empty one.
Oh, it gives everyone a chance to hand-wring and teeth-gnash. It's a can of spray paint we can use to disguise what really matters. But there is no "gentlemanly personality'' to the Vikings that is any different from the personality of the Cowboys or the Saints or the Seahawks. Minnesota has its vague motivations for the late TD throw - Favre was vengeful from the "cheap'' hit from Bradie James, or Childress wanted to use another score to fortify his guys' NFC title game confidence, or it was Minny's answer to Dallas calling timeouts when down 24 with six minutes to play - but those motivations are really not any of Dallas' concern, are they?
If I'm coaching a team, I might not throw for a score if only to avoid the "classless'' criticism driven by the likes of Cowboys inspirational leader Keith Brooking. Of course, if I'm Brooking, maybe I don't dance around the Falcons' field flapping my wings. If I'm Marion Barber, maybe I don't pound my chest after a two-yard gain to set up a second-and-8. If I'm Marcus Spears, maybe I don't go all WWE on a Vikings blocker after I'd made a meaningless tackle while my team was trailing by three scores.
But Brooking, Barber, Spears, and yes, Favre and Childress, are free to make these decisions for themselves.
If you are a supporter of the team doing the gum-flapping or the wing-flapping, you consider it fun. If you are a supporter of the opponent, you find it "classless.''
It started at the beginning of the game, when Brooking gave his televised "We Gonna Bloody They Noses!'' performance (Cowboys fans liked it, Vikings fans didn't). It ended at the end, with another televised performance, this one by Favre sing-songing "Pants On The Floor!'' (Vikings fans liked it, Cowboys fans didn't.)
There is no "right'' or "wrong'' here; there is only "my team's business'' and "your team's business'' and those twains needn't ever meet.
6. However, that didn't stop Brooking from approaching the Minnesota sideline in search of offending coach Brad Childress. And it didn't stop Brooking from inviting the media to approach him later, so he could say:
"I thought it was classless. I thought it was B.S. Granted, we get paid to stop them, but we had zero timeouts left. I didn't think there was any call for that.''
I found it odd of Brooking to broach the "no timeouts'' issue - because the reason Dallas was out of timeouts is because the Cowboys used them to stop the clock when down 24 with six minutes left.
Dallas had its motivations. Minnesota had its motivations.
But there was something even more strange here.
Brooking also mentioned that the two teams are scheduled to face off again next season."They've got to see us next year,'' he said. "They've got to see us. You better believe I'll have that one circled on the calendar.''
Again, if you are a Cowboys fan, you like the chest hair of Brooking charging into an enemy foxhole. But upon reflection, don't you also respond by wondering whether the Cowboys should've circled the calendar this year?
7. The Elite Eight QBs and their regular-season interceptions:
Commit to stopping Adrian Peterson - which the Cowboys did do, and successfully, too - and what you are left with is Gerald Sensabaugh covering Sidney Rice downfield, one-on-one.
The Vikings have counted on Favre to exploit those decisions all year long. His incredible TD-to-INT ratio is 37/7. In a sense, there is no shame in the Cowboys losing to that.
8. I did not like what appeared to be Dallas' grab-bagging for return men. Felix Jones has been the kickoff return guy all year; why switch to Kevin Ogletree (who certainly did not look assertive or comfortable)? Patrick Crayton has had success as a punt returner; who exactly was being fooled by Dallas' two-man duo of Crayton and Newman (who looked shaky when he almost went to his knees to field a routine fair-catch ball)?
I don't mind upgrading to stars at the position when the postseason comes; i.e., letting Barry Sanders return kickoffs. But otherwise, like we say in Texas, dance with who brung ya.
9. We now know that Wade Phillips is coming back. That's a decision that needed to be made, one way or the other, and publicized. Meanwhile, published stories are announcing that Roy Williams also will be returning. ... and by "returning,'' I assume they don't mean "returning to the University of Texas, where he belongs.''
All sarcasm aside, Roy's disappearance ranks with that of previous Cowboy mysteries Quincy Carter and Lincoln Coleman. How do you decelerate so quickly from 60-to-zero? And why?
10. At the end of last season, Jerry Jones promised he'd take the entire organization "to the woodshed.'' I scoffed - and did so to his face, in a one-on-one conversation in which I told him I didn't see how a couple of guys in their 60's (Jerry and Wade) who've experienced life-long success with a certain personal style would suddenly change their leopard spots.
I was wrong. To the woodshed they went. And the Cowboys really did change.
Next up comes an easier shift. The Dallas Cowboys don't need a facelift, a makeover, a come-to-Jesus meeting or a trip to the woodshed.
They just need to get a little better.