I cannot recall seeing such a discouraging win by the Dallas Cowboys in all the years I have been following them. I'm not talking about my own feelings about the team, but about the general air of malaise that has settled about so many fans and sports writers who follow the team.
Almost every discussion of the win seems to have a "Yeah, but" in it. Or several. Putting it in the classic terms of half empty versus half full, the empties are at least making the most noise.
One typical reaction to the game is that of ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, Cowboys' hopes alive but unrealistic.
Plain and simple, this is not a playoff-caliber team. And the Cowboys certainly aren't the Super Bowl contender that Jones seems so determined to convince the world they are.
Reality comes reckoning next weekend at The House that Eli Signed, aka Jerry World. And the New York Giants will arrive with revenge on their minds, having been on the wrong end of the lone occasion the Cowboys looked like a legitimate threat this season.
It hits all the main themes: Jerry Jones made some ridiculous statements about the team being competitive this year, the talent on the team is overpriced and underperforming, and one that MacMahon is pushing pretty hard, that Jerry sells 'hope' to keep people interested, but never delivers a successful football franchise.
In some ways, it is a distorted mirror image of Jones' outlook. He believes the team is good enough to win now, which he almost always thinks. The critics believe because it isn't winning now, it never will. Neither of the viewpoints accepts the theory that Jason Garrett, aided and abetted by Stephen Jones, is trying to build a team that will last, and that he had a much bigger job ahead of him when he took the team over in 2010 than most people realized.
No one is supposed to be happy in the Dallas Cowboys organization. The fact that Rob Ryan and his defensive assistant coaches had a celebratory cigar was met with a barrage of tweets, mostly like this:
I guess that after a close win, you should hold a wake instead? Don't celebrate the fact your defense held up its end in sealing the win at the end? I don't get this reaction at all.
However, I don't want to tar all the media types with the same brush. Another viewpoint, one I feel more in tune with, was given by Fox Sports' Bob Strum, Cowboys win with plenty to clean up. While he does maintain a pretty rational viewpoint, seeing the warts that Dallas has pretty clearly, he also brings up some facts that the doomsayers seem to have lost somewhere in the fog.
It is a league where as I write this, 21 of the 32 teams have either 3 or 4 losses. They are neither in a good place on October 22, nor are they out of the race. They have handful of wins and a handful of losses.
None of these teams want to be in this spot, but when 66% of your league is all in this similar position of having 3 or 4 losses so far, it is tough to say that all the complaints about Dallas right now don't apply to quite a few different teams. Not expecting that to make anyone feel better, but rather, just to understand that the issues are not uncommon and league-wide.
Welcome to the world of parity. Right now, there are only five teams in the NFC with fewer losses than the Cowboys. And there are exactly two in the AFC. Yep. Only seven teams have fewer than three losses in the entire league.
So why exactly should the Cowboys be considered dead and buried? Yes, I know that the Giants are one of the "hot" teams right now and everyone expects them to storm back to the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl. But they have two losses, to two 3-3 teams, who also happen to be in their division. And they barely pulled off a win over the other team in the division, who is 3-4 now.
I am not trying to say that Dallas should be favored to win the game on Sunday. I just am saying that it may not be quite as improbable as so many believe. This is basically the same bunch of players who beat the Giants rather convincingly less than two months ago. And that for four plus games, up until a couple of late calls that went their way in Charlotte, seemed too often snakebitten.
Although the odds would seem against them, the actuality is that there are several ways Dallas can win the game against the Giants. A few Cowboys could catch fire during the game. A couple of big plays could break their way. Eli Manning could come down with an inner ear infection that renders him unable to stand upright. Or he could just have one bad game, like Victor Cruz did against the Cowboys on September 5th.
The Cowboys have played very poorly at times in all three losses and the Carolina game. But in the three wins and the Ravens loss, they have also played rather well at some key moments. It is still about consistency, and this team deciding who exactly it is. The starters are by and large capable of very good play, but they also have a very hard time getting on the same page, and staying on the field. In looking at the NFL as a whole, the Cowboys really have not been hit that hard with injuries - but they seem to be nagging and persistent ones, in a way that affects the whole team.
This is reflected by the strange and pervasive phenomenon that Dallas draft choices have, for the past three years, seemed strangely injury prone. This was incredibly evident this year, when every one of the Cowboys' draft choices missed time due to being hurt. No matter how you look at things, that can only be a wildly disruptive factor in trying to get them integrated into the team and to figure out just what you have for the season. In a way, it seems to have had a cascade effect throughout the team. Most NFL squads start the season with a set lineup, and then adjust as injuries happen. Dallas never seemed to get to that set lineup, but was making constant changes on the fly.
Some of the problems with the Cowboys can be traced back to talent or coaching, but some is just pure random chance. What are the odds that you would draft seven players and every one of them would have injury issues before the first game of the season was played? It is statistically highly unlikely, and yet it happened. And those kinds of things have a way of averaging out. The question, which is what Jerry Jones accidentally swerved into, is whether they will balance out for the Cowboys this season or next. He is just betting on the early side of things.
No matter what they say, the difference between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns is not that huge. There was always a saying that on any given Sunday, any team in the NFL could beat any other. It has never been truer. Does Dallas have to get some problems solved in order to have a chance against the Giants? Undoubtedly. Is it impossible? Not at all.
Everyone is second guessing everything about the team this week. The players. The play calling. The coaches. And Jerry Jones. Right now, anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen on Sunday cannot be taken seriously. Dallas is a .500 team today. But nothing is out of range right now, not the Super Bowl or the first pick in the 2013 draft. Some are more likely than others, but they have 10 games left to play. Let's not pass final judgement on this team until the season is done, one way or another.
And it was a win, for crying out loud. Try to be a little bit happy.