An 8-8 season earns a team a long off season. Fans are stuck in football purgatory, nearly 9 months until the next time we see a blue-starred helmet charging on to the field. We lack the excitement of either the playoffs or the high draft picks, stuck in a maddening frustration about the previous campaign. We try to look through rose colored glasses about what went right and what we can build upon, but still we are left with the disappointment of a meager 3rd place finish, sputtering pitifully on the way to a 1-4 finish.
This weekend is simply pouring salt in our festering wounds, which would be much better used with the tequila shots we need to drain out our Cowboy sorrows. We see teams like the Patriots and the Ravens, who have been contenders year in and year out and have two of the best run franchises in the league. We see miracle turnaround teams like the 49ers, who have lived in the proverbial basement since Steve Young retired and Jerry Rice was playing in a Raiders jersey. And just for good measure we even see our hated rival the New York Giants, riding a tsunami of momentum that ended our season what seems like an eternity ago.
So instead of talking Xs and Os, we're talking draft position and Free Agency. Many of the quality folks here on BtB have been drinking the witch's potion, stating that we are still multiple years away from truly competing at the highest level. But I am here to pose a new stance. I am here to offer a new response to the burning question of just how far this team is away from competing. I am here to hopefully put the defibrillator on your impassioned stars, and remind you of just how close this team can possibly be. We just need to look at who is still playing.
Since our season is over but the league's is not yet completed, there has been a U.S Department of the Environment-documented drought of information being released from Valley Ranch. KD and OCC do their best to flip every rock and fallen tree in search of information (or look for bugs. Hmm...slimy, yet satisfying), but the reality remains we fans are left staring at the mangled body that was our 2011 season for answers. Every throw, run, missed tackle, and timeout (especially timeout) is over analyzed to the point of madness. But this weekend, aside from making us more jealous than Cooper Manning at the dinner table, presents us with a chance for some improbable comparison. We played 3/4 of the teams left in the field. We compiled a record of 1-3 vs. the Patriots, the 49ers, and of course the Giants (twice). While the record is clearly not impressive, when one dives a bit deeper we can actually find something that has been lacking at critical levels around this place recently: positive outcomes. Let's take a looksy, shall we.
On October 16th, the Cowboys went up to Foxboro to take on Darth Vader, Senator Palpatine, and the rest of the
dark side New England Patriots. Tom Brady had won 30 straight home games. Yes, 30, as in like three and a half seasons worth. The Pats just didn't lose with Brady at the helm at home. Sure, the 'Boys were coming off their bye week, but the 2-2 Cowboys didn't stand much of a chance. That was until...they did have a chance. A great chance. Somehow, with 5 minutes left on the clock, the Cowboys actually took the lead on a Dan Bailey FG. Against the Patriots. Against Tom Brady. We even made them punt the ball after that! Of course, our offense failed in its futile attempt to ice away the game, punted the ball back to Brady, and the rest is history. But it is impossible to argue that we didn't give New England quite a pulse-pounding scare.
Way back on September 19th in only the 2nd week of the season, the 'Boys traveled to San Fran to take on the lowly 49ers. After such an emotional and difficult first game against the Jets, surely our heros would show up and stomp on the bottom-dwellers of the minor league-ish NFC West. But that didn't go quite according to plan. The Niners played hard all afternoon, even causing injury to our star quarterback. We trailed by 10 points early in the 4th quarter, and an 0-2 start stared us in the face for the second year in a row. But the heart of the Cowboys came pouring out in epic fashion that afternoon. After a last second field goal to tie it in regulation, Dan Bailey kicked a chipshot for the win aided by Jesse "stop celebrating and score the damn touchdown!!!!" Holley and his cinderella reception got the ball down to the 3 yard line. The Niners then rattled off 8 straight wins on their way to capturing the NFC West crown before Thanksgiving.
And finally we are left with the Giants. The first time we faced the Giants, there were columns about clinching scenarios and playoff position filling the pages of BtB. Seem like a long time ago? Well it sure didn't with 5:41 left in the 4th quarter, Dez Bryant having just waltzed in to the end zone untouched after a 50 yard heave by Romo. We had a 34-22 lead, the division almost squarely and securely tucked away in our pockets. Funny how things work out, ain't it? I am not going to rehash the rest of that game, solely for my own sanity. Living in New York is all nice and good, except when an epic meltdown occurs by your team against the hometown team (precursored naturally by a truckload of trash talk you dealt out all week). But the point remains. This game was ours. The Cowboys looked like the better team for about 57 minutes. Unfortunately, it was the last 3 that really mattered.
So why did I just rehash some of the most painful moments in recent Dallas Cowboys memory? Why did I just take us all on an uncomfortable and unpleasant stroll down memory lane? It is to remind you of how close this team is. We do not in any way need to blow up this whole operation Dr. Garrett has going here. We are simply adding a few protons and subtracting a few electrons away from competing and defeating the league's best. If this years painfully average team was this close to beating the leagues best, how much closer will we be next year? Might we even be able to smash through the figurative brick wall that seemingly is always blocking this team from its true potential? The trajectory of this team is pointing upwards, and the only proof we need is to see who is still playing, and how close that was to being us.