At 8:20 PM on Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets played a hard-fought, injury plagued game which saw the Cowboys try to play defense with two corners at times. This game, which honestly we should have expected to lose, was a good game.
Obviously, the outcome isn't what we as Cowboys fans want. Especially not with a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter and an opportunity to make a statement (apparently you can do that in the first game of the season and hope it lasts for fifteen more games). But sometimes it's good to take a deep breath and look at what was accomplished.
Our defense kept the Jets, those Jets whose fans like to think have an all-world line, to right around three yards a carry after being gashed game after game in the preseason. That's called progress. That same defense, which was down to 2.5 corners for a good portion of the game (Jenkins' gutty, gimpy performance making up the half) and they managed to keep the Jets from completely eviscerating what was left with the likes of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. I like to think that pulling that off against one of the top teams in the game (minus a hot-and-cold QB, ironically) with minimal offseason and time to install Rob Ryan's defense is miraculous, amazing, or whatever other adjective you like.
That defense, which was decimated in the secondary, gave up 20 points. That's it. Just think about that for a second. If we can get these players on the field and clean up our special teams, Tony Romo can become a "bus driver." This defense, when healthy, can become one of the top units in the league. Everyone is playing their hardest to make the most out of the opportunities. Obviously, we can expect to go after some corners/safeties in the upcoming draft. I expect ChiaCrack to keep an eye on all of the good ones for us.
The offense? That same offense with the shaky o-line and only two wide receivers? They toasted a top unit all night long. Obviously, injuries again got in the way (Dez looked like he could have a 300 yard receiving day, he was so dominant). Then the players got tired (those penalties and mental errors near the end, especially on the o-line) and it killed our momentum. But there came Jason Witten, making a huge play to turn the tide wholly in our favor and give us the chance to ice the game.
So we criticize him for not running through the tackle to finish off the run. Obviously, we expect him to be completely unstoppable. To drag linebackers five yards, get his helmet knocked off and then keep running, and to generally be the 80 catch, 1000 yard reception machine who scores a handful of TDs each year while reminding us that he's the best TE in the game. He may not be the best receiver, but as far as playing the position, you'll find no better.
Then Tony Romo tried to make his magic happen. The kind of magic where a bad snap is kicked twenty yards the other way, only for him to run it back the other way for positive yardage. The kind of magic where he evades four rushers, spinning and dipping, before tossing a touchdown to a wide-open receiver. The same kind of magic that can go horribly wrong. He fumbles the ball trying to finish the play and while hindsight is 20-20, I saw the same hole as it was happening and I thought "no way, is he going to do it?" I bet most of you did, too.
The defense keeps plugging along as if there was no change in momentum. The special teams couldn't pull it off. They couldn't execute properly when everything was going the Jets' way and that tied the game. Out trots the offense with just enough time for Romo to work his magic and still be the hero like we know he loves to. The only problem is that he threw it to the wrong guy. We may never know for certain if Dez was supposed to come back for it, but he couldn't tackle Revis and he certainly couldn't run a route properly.
Nick Folk does that thing he used to do for us and suddenly an upset win becomes an upsetting loss. We all blow our lids and want to throw everyone under the bus. Especially everyone named Tony Romo and Jason Garret, because someone has to be blamed. How could we have lost the game we were never supposed to win? But it's just one game. It's the first game and there's a silver lining.
Young players are making plays. Sean Lee is positioning himself for a breakout, Pro Bowl, All-Pro caliber season. It doesn't matter if we keep losing, but he is who we thought he was. The quick-reacting, play-making, should've been picked in the first round linebacker who is always (and I mean always) around the ball. The sky is the limit for him and judging by the interception he made, that's exactly where he's headed.
Tony Romo got destroyed. He did exactly what we've always wanted him to do when he "cost" us a game. He took the loss to heart. There would be no mention of how it would be a good life if this was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
There was a shock, an acceptance, and hopefully a switch being flipped in his head. The eternal optimist in me sees this as Romo's opportunity to understand that the difference between a Super Bowl and having to tell people why he fumbled the snap on a kick is him staying focused and calm.
Maybe he'll see what he accomplished that night and realize that this team has so much talent that if he just lets the play come to him rather than trying to make it, he can pilot this juggernaut of an offense to a Super Bowl...with the help of a defense that could keep getting better, of course.
We may not get to the promised land this year, if we choose to believe that what we saw in the fourth quarter was the norm. But if we take the majority of the game for what it was - a remarkable performance by a bunch of the right kinds of guys - then maybe, just maybe, we can make the playoffs. Anything can happen from there.