This was the first weekend that I have not watched an NFL game in a very long time (I don't count time spent underwater on a submarine). I just didn't have the heart in me to sit and watch teams play with passion, intensity and execution because it just makes it all the more clear what has been wrong with the team. Its all the more frustrating because you see the team's potential in flashes, where they seem able to make brilliant plays yet are unable to maintain that level of play throughout a game.
This week the Cowboys get back Tony Romo, Terence Newman, Kyle Kosier and possibly Felix Jones (Who isn't practicing today). But let's not kid ourselves; the return of these key players will not instantly turn the team back into the dominant force it was this time last year. Before Romo went down and the offense reverted back into their version of the Chad Hutchinson three and out specialists, this team had issues. An uneven offensive approach against the Redskins, an uninspired performance against the Bengals and a heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals all showed just how many warts this team has. At any one time the offense, defense or special teams could fold and find a way to doom the Cowboys. The biggest concern though was the attitude of the team and in particular Romo, who had lost his fire and love of the game (at least that's how it appeared as the jovial, fun loving kid slinging the football had all but disappeared). That inconsistent attitude stuck with the team after Romo's injury and it became apparent just how much he meant to the team.
Yet to facilitate the Cowboys return to offensive explosiveness, Jason Garrett must find the creative play caller we all saw running the offense last year. The good news is that Garrett acknowledges that he hasn't done his best and he has to find a way to get his best players the ball. This week the focus needs to be on finding out exactly why things were going so well last year and getting back to doing the things they do best. So far its looked like the team, and coaches in particular, have walked around in a daze wondering why things just haven't gone like they should. It's not going to just happen, you have to force it to happen.
Here's the good news. The Cowboys are the keepers of their own destiny; all they have to do is win 6 of the last 7 games and they should be guaraunteed a playoff spot. Philadephia's loss last night to the Giants opened the door for the Cowboys to start seizing control of a wildcard spot.
The only way for this plan to work flawlessly is to find a way to win in Washington. A win against the Redskins, followed by wins against the struggling 49ers and Seahawks would leave the Cowboys 8-4 after Thanksgiving, with the toughest part of their schedule coming up. You would have to think that going 3-1 against Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, against New York and at Philadephia would be a tall order but anything less would leave the Cowboys at 10-6 or worse. Finishing 11-5 would be a pretty good way to assure yourself a playoff spot.
But none of that happens if you lose the Redskins. The team must realize that the season itself hangs in the balance every game from here on out. I expect to see a fired up Cowboys team with the best intentions of turning it all around; the question remains if they can find that equilibrium that powered them in close games against good teams last season. Deon Anderson gets it. Lets hope the rest of them do as well.