To their credit, Cowboy players and coaches say they have no interest in being "spoilers." Yes, Dallas has lost eight games, and I would ask (beg?) even the most ardent and optimistic Cowboy fan to knock it off with the "We're still not completely out of it yet" pollyanna gibberish. Have some dignity.
Still, this is the NFL and the idea, really the only idea, is to win football games. Ruining somebody else's party--while often satisfying--is incidental.
Five more chances to play, five more chances to win, starting Sunday in Indianapolis. A Colt loss would have more playoff significance than would a Cowboy win. Still, winning remains its own reward. Seems to me the 'Boys have a pretty decent chance to get "rewarded" Sunday. And if in the process the Colts wind up with a cockroach in the onion dip, well...
Indy is a one-dimensional, jury-rigged mess. Its string of seven straight seasons with at least 12 wins has ended. At 6-5, the Colts bear no resemblance to their AFC Championship team of a year ago. Only one game separates the AFC South leaders--the Colts and Jags-- from the bottom-dwelling Texans and Titans. The Horseshoes have to win their division. There'll be no wild card out of the South.
It's hard to see how the Colts can pull it off, even with Peyton Manning at the controls. They've lost three of their last four. They can't run it a lick. Their receiving corps has been decimated. The Indy defense remains undersized and now frequently appears overmatched. Even the Colt culture appears altered.
It's all on Manning, and the burden is too large for even a member of the all-time NFL Quarterback Pantheon. An over-pressured and under-weaponed Manning threw four picks in Sunday night's home blowout loss to the Chargers. Two of those INTs were whiplash cases, winding up in the Indy end zone. Still, it seems to me the Cowboys will have to utilize a different formula to beat the Colts than San Diego did.
It's unlikely Dallas can come anywhere near the five overall takeways the Chargers generated. Manning will protect the ball better, and the Cowboy D--while it has produced seven turnovers in the three-game Jason Garrett Interim Era--still doesn't disguise coverages nearly as well as the Chargers do.
So, it's really on the Cowboy offense. Control the ball. Pound that Indy dwarf defense. While Marion Barber's availability as of this posting remains uncertain, Felix Jones is showing a new toughness and it seems to me Tashard Choice's (underutilized) game could cause the Colts' particular problems. Early on, let Kitna throw exclusively off three-step drops and bootlegs before trying to expand the passing game. Expect Jason Witten to have a huge game. Take care of the rock. Don't give P. Manning a short field.
Can I give Kitna some love? He has completely outperformed expectations since taking over for Romo, completing 65% of his throws and connecting for 10 TDs against eight picks, several of which were by no means his fault. Beyond that, he has operated with a cool that clearly resonates with his teammates. Says Kitna, "I like it here." It shows.
One more note. You're gonna really like newly acquired and activated safety Andrew Sendejo, who finished the UFL season with the second highest tackle total (48) in that league. I've had the pleasure of watching Sendejo both in high school and in college. At Rice, this dude was The Sandman. He puts people to sleep.
Sunday, it's not about spoiling, It's about winning. Sweet dreams, Cowboyphiles.