Eastern religions claim that life-or lives- is a circle, with karma playing a huge role in how we 'complete the cycle', ending at the beginning. Western pop culture has has a phrase that has it's roots in these beliefs. You know, the classic old 'what goes around, comes around'. Meaning that if you treat someone badly, down the line that action will come back to you in the form of someone treating you badly, and usually the proportion of the 'comes around' is double of that which 'goes around'.
Thinking about these philosophies while watching Tony Romo drive the Cowboys down the field for a game clinching score late in the 4th quarter against the Raiders, his third such performance in the last month (He led the game winning drive for a TD against the Vikings and Giants last week), got the wheels in my sometimes frightening mind slowly turning, then rolling, and finally now spinning almost at the speed of sound.
I ask myself, what if there actually is something to this ancient circle of life, and what if it also applies to more frivolous ventures that comprise 'life', whether it be gardening, knitting, and perhaps even football. I ponder.
The Dallas Cowboys now sit at 7-5, and are guaranteed to still be in first place when they take the field in what is sure to be a frigid December Monday evening in Chicago on December the 9th. Even though the first twenty-nine minutes and four seconds of the Raiders game threw a scare into our beloved players and assuredly moreso into the hearts of the fanatical fanbase, the players have to be feeling pretty good about their accomplishments up to date, and their prospects for the remainder of the regular season. The offense has seemed to have found a bit more balance between the run and pass, the run game has actually been paying a bit more dividends,they have suddenly discovered how to deploy the screen pass, and it looks like the light may have come on in LG Ronald Leary's cranium.
The season-ending loss of speedy RB Lance Dunbar to injury is a bit of a set-back, as it looked like the Cowboys coaching staff had figured out how to use the talents of the diminutive back, however he hadn't been a major spoke of the offensive wheels, so rookie RB Joseph Randle should be able to fill in adequately.
The good news is that the team should be getting back some very important players for the Chicago game, namely MLB Sean Lee-the MVP of the defense. Morris Claiborne should be back as well, and even though he has a long way to go to live up to his potential (not to mention the enormous hype that was placed on him when the Cowboys moved up 8 spots to the 6th pick of the first round of the 2012 draft-such colossal hype that it's actually unfair to Claiborne to have his media-created hype actually be his expectations-after all he never said he was the best CB to come out of college since Deion Sanders), Claiborne has been playing better each week and is improving. He will be a huge asset upon his return. Justin Durant may be back, though the recent revelation that Kyle Wilber is actually a MUCH better Sam LB than a DE reduces Durants importance to the team, but having him return will be helpful nonetheless. WR/PR/KR Dwayne Harris should also be returning soon. DT Jason Hatcher's stinger now has 11 more days to heal, as does DE DeMarcus Ware's quad muscle. J.J. Wilcox's knee should be 99% healed, drastically helping the Secondary in passing situations.
Could it be that the Cowboys have exited the injury vortex, and are now cruising at warp speed to the 'healthy' quadrant? If this karma and 'circle' thing is true, well, then they should be. After all, I can't ever remember the team having such horrendous luck with injuries two years in a row. It's almost been absurd. My mind keeps wandering around, now thinking about the next four games on the Cowboys' schedule to close out the regular season. The annual 'December -swoon', as the media loves to spin it. Of course there is a lot of truth to the media spin, as we have witnessed the Cowboys in position for a playoff run entering December virtually every year, save 2010, when the team collapsed and the Jason Garrett era was born. What have we witnessed every year since 2008 when the Cowboys were in this position entering December? Well, we did see the Cowboys make the playoffs in 2009 and actually win a playoff game until the loss of LT Flozell Adams in the playoff game at the Vikings abruptly ended the Cowboys' season. In 2008 we saw Willis McGahee and Leron McClain trample the Dallas defense on consecutive 80 yard TD gallops as the Ravens shut down Texas Stadium with a win, a terrible loss at Pittsburgh, a game Dallas SHOULD have won, and the embarrasing 44-6 thumping in Philadelphia to end the season. In 2011 we saw the Cowboys get drubbed in New York to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants, 31-14. In 2012 we saw Alfred Morris carve up the Cowboys defense, and Romo run out of WR's by the 4th quarter as the terrible misread pass into the hands of Washington LB Rob Jacksons' hands to end Dallas's playoff hopes.
So I can understand the meme, and I can forgive the media for the upcoming stories about the expected Cowboys 'December swoon'.
However, there are a few things I see that are different this year. On top of the team getting a few important starters back from injury, the team has recently displayed a long absent mental toughness that is absolutely imperative to win football games in December, and the player who is displaying the most toughness just happens to be the most important one, QB Tony Romo. The team just seems like it is actually developing a , dare I say it, swagger! Yes, SWAGGER! Now I know some will say it was just the Vikings, Giants, and Raiders- but they did win these games with important players out with injury- and these are the games that the Cowboys would have lost in previous years. The team has developed an inner fire, a will to win.
One other thing I see that is different this year compared to years past is that the Cowboys aren't playing @New Orleans, Home against the Seahawks, @ the 49'ers, and then @ the leader of the NFC East in the final game. What do I mean by that? Well, in past seasons, it just happened to be that the Cowboys final four games were against some of the best teams in the league. This year, they play against middling teams-@ Chicago, home against the 5-6-1 Green Bay Packers, at the 3-8 Redskins, and at home against the Eagles. The Dallas Cowboys are gelling as a team, getting healthy, and have developed a 'mental toughness' that has been sorely lacking in past seasons, so when I look at that schedule, I start to think that there is a chance that they can win every single one of those games.Then, the more I think about it, I like the chances if the Cowboys stunning the football world and winning out to finish 11-5, winning the NFC East, and earning the #3 seed in the playoffs.
Then I allow myself to go further into the circle of thought, much further.
The circle continues, and the bad bounces and bad karma of years past changes over into the positive quadrant of the football gods.
As a #3 seed, the Cowboys will draw the #6 seed as their Wild-Card Playoff round opponent, which is the San Francisco 49'ers, who are still suffering from a NFC Championship hangover. In this game, the improved blocking of Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau bring the running game to life, forcing the 49'er defense to drop 8 into the box. This allows Tony Romo to get favorable 1-1 match-ups on the outside, and he hits 2-3 HUGE plays- 80 and 87 yard TD's to Dez Bryant, and a 76 yard TD to a rejuvenated Miles Austin, who amazingly does not pull his hamstring taking a quick slant the distance. Like I said, positive karma is rubbing into the Cowboys, and it's obvious. Karma also loves the defense. As the 49'ers are threatening to score in a 30-27 game with 1:12 left in the contest, CB Morris Claiborne picks off QB Colin Kaepernick in the end zone and returns the pick 102 yards to give the Cowboys the game clinching score, as the Cowboys move onto the divisional round of the tournament to face the New Orleans Saints, the team which completely embarrassed the Cowboys earlier in the season, 49-17.
However, as karma would have it, Saints QB Drew Brees is still recovering from a concussion suffered in the last game of the season, and the effects are obvious. Brees is off-target much of the game when he does have time to throw, which isn't very often as DE DeMarcus Ware eclipses his 2009 regular season effort against the same Saints, and tallies 5 sacks and is constantly in Brees's face, causing the Saints offense to sputter. The Cowboys get 4 turnovers, all from Brees interceptions. The Tony Romo led offense plays an efficient game, and the Cowboys shock the world again, and come out of New Orleans with a rather easy 31- 17 win, propelling them to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX.
Now here is where the circle of life, and karma, comes full circle, as the Cowboys travel to Seattle to face the 16-1 Seahawks , who are 10-point favorites. Yes, Seattle. The stadium of Bill Parcells' last game as a Head Coach, the game which just happened to give birth to the public perception of one Antonio Ramiro Romo. The snap. The fumble. The run desperate run towards the end zone, only to be tackled at the 1 yard line. Opportunity for redemption.
Wouldn't this be absolutely fitting? A plot so bizarre and unlikely that Hollywood couldn't write it. Imagine the stories and build-up the week of the game! How many thousands of times would we see the 2006 Romo fumble?
Wouldn't it be more fitting that the game is much closer than anticipated, with the Seahawks scoring a TD with 1:09 left in the 4th quarter to take a 27-23 lead, and Tony Romo coming out with 1 time-out remaining and 80 yards to go. Wouldn't it be fitting if it went down like this: On 1st down, Romo dumps off a pass to Murray, which Murray takes to the 31 yard line before scurrying out of bounds with 00:58 remaining. Next play, Romo does his Romo-dini act and evades Bruce Irvin with a spin-juke move, rolls right, and finds Dez Bryant on the sideline at the Cowboys 43 yard line with 00:50 remaining, and the crowd so loud that ears are bleeding. Next play, Romo hits Beasley on the patent-pending 10-yard out route, which Beasley takes out of bounds at the Seahawks 46 yard line with 00:43 remaining. Joe Buck mentions that there seems to be a nervous buzz among the crowd. On the next play, Romo hits Jason Witten on a seam pattern, which Witten takes down to the Seahawks 30 yard line before getting popped by Safety Earl Thomas, forcing the Cowboys to use their final time-out with 00:35 seconds remaining. On the next play, with the Cowboys in a 4 WR 1 TE empty backfield set, Romo gets sacked for an 8 yard loss. Worse, the Cowboys have to hurry to get back to the line to spike the ball, which they do with 00:21 remaining. Now 3rd and 18 at the Seahawks 38, Romo hits Dez Bryant on a deep cross, but Bryant is tackled at the Seahawks 19 yard line before getting out of bounds. The crowd is going insane, as the Cowboys hurry to line-up to spike the ball, which they do with 00:01 remaining. 19 yards to go, one play-one play for a ticket to the Super Bowl, and the erasure of 8 years of the unfounded 'choker' moniker that has been bestowed onto Romo. One play for glory.
The crowd is roaring so loud that the stadium is literally shaking. The Cowboys line up with 3 WR (Austin and Williams left, Witten and Bryant right), 1 TE, and Murray in the backfield. The ball is snapped, and in what seems like slow motion, Romo drops back, looks left and pump fakes, and then throws a tight, floating spiral towards the right corner of the end zone, to where Dez Bryant is gliding after faking a slant. Like a Tomahawk guided missle, the ball drops out of the cold , dark January sky perfectly into the just arriving hands of Dez Bryant, whom tightly puts a death grip on the ball as both of his feet tip-toe the corner of the end-zone. Bryant 's momentum causes him to fall, and the ref watches closely to see if Bryant has held onto the ball. After a momentary pause that feels like an eternity, the refs arms shoot up and point straight up into the sky. SILENCE!!! TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!!!!! The Cowboys run out onto the field in a frenzy, while stunned Seahawk players lay motionless on the field, despair gripping their souls. The Cowboys O-Line players, led by Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith, lift Tony Romo onto their shoulders, and carry him off the field. Joe Buck pronounces "Tony Romo has thrown off the Gorilla on his back, and has cemented his claim as one of the greatest QB's to ever play this game".
The circle of life. What goes around, comes around. Karma. Why not? Why couldn't it all suddenly come together- good karma with health, some fortuitous bounces, some fiery play by a team that is gelling and getting on a hot streak?
It can, and would be such proof of the 'circle of life', 'karma', and 'what goes around ,comes around' , if the season would play out similar to this, with Romo and the Cowboys going into Seattle and erasing the Ghost of playoffs past with a performance for the ages. Yes, it would be, and it wouldn't really surprise me if it did happen.
After all, stories like these are what has made the game of football the greatest team sport in the world, and it's about time that the Cowboys get Karma to jump on their side.