Close wins can galvanize a team like nothing else, and create the kind of confidence that leads to even more clutch performances. Was yesterday's win over the Panthers such a game for the Cowboys in which they flipped the script and showed they can hang on and persevere in close games?
Dallas Morning News - Cowboys get much-needed road win in ugly fashion
Fox Sports Southwest - Cowboys' ugly win looks pretty to Jerry Jones
NFL.com - Cowboys win ugly
San Antonio Evening News - Officiating aids in Cowboys' win over Panthers
Not exactly the headlines I wanted to read this morning as I'm trying to maintain the warm, tingly buzz I got from last night's game. As I scanned the other NFL headlines out there this morning, I started wondering why I wasn't reading stories like Steelers D puts clamps on Bengals in 24-17 victory, or Steelers back to .500 after physical win over Bengals, or perhaps something like 49ers turn back Seahawks in second half.
Then I ran across a headline by Don Banks on SI.com titled Patriots claw out win over Jets and are better for it, and I thought heck, that would be a good title for a Cowboys game summary as well. So here goes:
I think there's a case to be made for the Cowboys' narrow victory over the Panthers on Sunday being their most important of the year. And not just because it puts Dallas back to .500 as we near midseason.
The Cowboys (3-3) beat back the Panthers 19-14 at Bank of America Stadium in a game that was far more competitive and uncomfortable than Cowboys fans would have preferred. But perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
Let's face it: We've seen the Cowboys win impressively in the season opener, with a 7-point victory at New York and earn a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 6-point victory over Tampa Bay in Week 3. And a long the way, we also saw a 20-point humbling at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 2 and mistake-filled effort in a 16-point loss to the Bears in Week 4.
But until Sunday, Dallas hadn't been able to win the close ones, the tight, taut games that every playoff team seems to test itself in on the way to the postseason. The breaks hadn't gone the Cowboys' way in many of those close games, dating back to last season, and Dallas hadn't made it happen when it mattered most.
There was the very close 2-point defeat by the Ravens in Week 6, a game the Cowboys could have won with the final field goal; the 34-37 loss to the Giants in Week 14 last season which the Cowboys led by 34-22 until three minutes before the end of the game; the overtime defeat at the hands of the Cardinals in Week 13; the list could go on and on.
The Cowboys needed this win, and they needed it to unfold the way it unfolded: With Dallas fighting to hold off an upset-minded Panthers (1-5) team that scored the first touchdown, went into the half with the lead and got the ball back with 3:25 left on the clock in the fourth quarter and needing only a field goal to take the lead. The Panthers forced the Cowboys to fight for survival throughout the game. The Panthers hurt themselves with some crucial mistakes, but when pushed, the Cowboys pushed back, and that's a good development in Dallas.
Close wins can galvanize a team like nothing else, and create the kind of confidence that leads to even more clutch performances. But until Sunday, the Cowboys hadn't proven themselves in such a crucible. In terms of resiliency and perseverance, it may reap benefits down the road for the Cowboys to have finally flipped the script and persevered in a close and competitive game.
Note that the italicized portion above is taken almost word-for-word from Don Banks' article on the Patriots-Jets game. I have simply replaced those two teams with the Cowboys and Panthers. Strange how those things go, no?
As you review a game like yesterday's win over the Panthers, you can focus on the positives of winning a tight, competitive game like Banks did in his report about the Patriots. Or you can focus on the negative, uglier aspects of the game like many others have done. In a perfect world, you'd find a summary that gives equal weight to both sides - and doesn't let the author's personal bias shine through too strongly.
Let me know when you find one of those.
Until then, I choose to think that yesterday the Cowboys displayed the type of intestinal fortitude that has been lacking in Dallas for quite some time. They'll need more of it, and more often, if they're going to succeed down the line, but at least we know they have it.