When the Dallas Cowboys played the Kansas City Chiefs, they had no idea that the other three teams in the NFC East would lose their games. The one-point defeat in KC turned into a huge missed opportunity. Dallas could have been all alone in first place in the division.
Well, it's deja vu all over again, only this time things are certain. Instead of just a possibility, it is assured that a Cowboys win against the visiting St. Louis Rams will result in sitting all alone in first place in the division, thanks to those same Chiefs going into Philadelphia and laying a ten-point smackdown on the Eagles in Reid's Revenge.
How important is that? Some people will quickly argue that it will only be three weeks into the season, of course. These arguments are likely to be particularly loud from the direction of the fans of those same Eagles, since as of right now, they are the only other team in the NFC East besides Dallas to have a win. Of course, they also have a losing record.
And that is why a week three lead may be more important this year than normal. To put it in precise and mathematical terms: The NFC East stinks this year. Like a dead skunk on a highway in Arizona in August stinks. After the Thursday night game (where, at a minimum, questions were raised about just how effective Chip Kelly's approach is, especially if it comes to surviving injuries to Michael Vick or LeSean McCoy), the division is 2-7. And the only teams anyone in the division has beaten are other NFC East foes. For the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, who both sit at 0-2, this may be a make or break weekend already.
No team has made the playoffs after an 0-3 start in 15 years, since the Buffalo Bills did it in 1998.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 20, 2013
I think there is a very good chance that Washington could fall into that category (for how all the FPW see the games this weekend, check out our weekly prediction post). I do expect the Giants to rebound - but the way Eli Manning has been finding the defenders with his passes, that is certainly still debatable. If they should both fall, then the division will already be shaping up into a two team race.
It is not too early to start making a move. The Cowboys will be no worse than tied for the division lead - but who wants to be tied at 1-2? Any show of strength right now would position Dallas as the front-runner, and put pressure on the teams trying to catch up.
There can't be any doubt that the team realizes the chance it has to seize control of the race this early in the season. If you don't think so, consider the talk Jason Hatcher gave after practice on Wednesday.
He didn't talk long, but in a passionate soliloquy -- yes, he dropped several F-bombs, according to multiple witnesses -- Hatcher talked to his teammates about being singularly committed to winning, avoiding another mediocre season and playing for something other than a paycheck.
Then he implored Witten to ride with him. Romo, too.
Hallelujah. It's about time.
Well, the "It's about time" in the original was referring to a point the writer makes further down that Jason Garrett has actually been seeking a player to stand up and speak out like this, but it also is about time in the sense that this is a moment that you don't often see. Three of the division teams are teetering on the brink of having their seasons spiral out of control. And Dallas is poised to start pulling away if that happens. But it is going to take something more from the team. Hatcher himself was hesitant to talk to the media about what he said, but DeMarcus Ware was willing to fill in the blanks.
"You're calling out all of the leaders and saying hey, this is how we need to play, calling out the rookies, this is how we need to play, week in and week out, because that's how we're going to win," Ware said. "It's not like we don't have enough talent to win or have the guys not to win, but what type of demeanor, what type of heart are you going to play with every week."
Ware, Jason Witten, and Tony Romo are players that the team is built around - and players that don't have that many more chances to get into the playoffs. Another vet, Anthony Spencer, is not likely to have any more chances in Dallas with the economic dictates the team faces, and Hatcher may be in the same boat. It is time for a "win now" attitude among the players.
It is also time for that attitude with the coaching staff, and there is a lot of evidence that they are right in line on this. The Brian Waters acquisition is one example of the "all in" approach the team is taking. The recently announced decision to start J.J. Wilcox ahead of Will Allen also shows a bit of urgency, since the rookie is probably more prone to mistakes. However, the team wants the aggression and athleticism he brings to the field, trading off greater risk to get more of an impact and better playmaking ability. There were some predictions that Wilcox would be competing for a starting job by mid-year or so (take a bow, KD), but I think this is much earlier than even the most optimistic expected.
It all is going to have to translate to wins on the field, of course. But that old cliche about "controlling their own destiny" just demands to be mentioned here. The Cowboys just need to get on a roll here. There are still five games against division opponents to work with, and of course they can't be caught if they win and keep on winning. The opportunity is here. It may be a long time before the division is in such disarray again. It's time for that carpe diem stuff.