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Coming to grips with reality

I did something I haven't done in a long time Sunday.

I turned off the TV on the 'Boys.

After Pacman's ill-advised fumble on a punt return, I knew it was over. The momentum of the game had gotten out of control. We couldn't stop them. We were self-destructing and I didn't want to spend the rest of my evening watching the Eagles laugh at us. I had too many beers to consume. 

The most maddening aspect of that pathetic affair Sunday was the realization that the naysayers were right about us. I spent most of this year mocking and ridiculing journalists like Jean-Jacques Taylor, Skip Brainless, Jennifer Floyd Engel, Trey Wingo, Randy Galloway and others for their extreme pessimism toward the Cowboys. They seemed to go out of their way to rub in our faces after any loss and would always dismiss any significant victory as a prelude to disaster. I still believe that there were some outrageous things written and said about us. I haven't changed my mind about that.

I've also tried to talk extremely negative fans off the ledge. You know the type. "The season is over!" "Wade sucks!" "Romo is terrible!" All of this after any loss or any bad play. C'mon on guys. Have a little more faith.  

But here's the thing though. They were right about a lot of things. Not everything. But certainly their criticisms was accurate in a lot of respects. Our season was filled more with drama than resiliency. T.O.'s character flaws seemed to overwhelm his value to our team. The Pacman Jones Experiment was an unmitigated disaster. Romo, again, wilted on the biggest stages when we needed him the most.

It hurts my heart to agree with these statements. I've spent months arguing against them. I've tried to be a pragmatist with a bent toward optimism. But that effort in that game at this time of the year has forced me to reevaluate. Don't get me wrong. I'm not jumping ship and I never will. I believe in Tony Romo, I still think T.O. can be productive in our system and I still believe Wade Phillips can turn things around. But my arguments seem hollow now. This season was a failure and an utter disappointment. Time to look in the mirror and repeat that old line from Parcells: "You are who you are."

Tony Romo is not a big-game QB and he is overrated

A tough quarterback? No question. A good quarterback? You bet. Pro-Bowl type QB? No doubt. More than 7,600 yards passing and 62 TDs in two years. Big-game QB? He's not. End of discussion. He's played well in big games but not the biggest. He's too careless with the ball. He doesn't command the respect of his teammates the way he should (but that might say as much about his teammates as anything else). This doesn't mean he won't be a Super Bowl-winning QB one day. He very well might be. And I'm certainly not giving up on him. Matt Hasselbeck seemed to mature into an efficient QB after some time. Hopefully Romo will too. But from where I sit right now the evidence is overwhelming.

T.O. was not an elite receiver this year and may never be again

It's a testament to how great his career has been that he's always compared to himself. Last year was one of the best season any receiver has ever had for our team. 81 catches, 1,355 yards, 15 TDs in 15 games. This year wasn't bad. 69 catches, 1,052 yards and 10 TDs. His statistics were solid. But he had problems with physical corners and double teams, something he's seen his whole career. One just wonders if he can ever replicate the typical All-Pro T.O. seasons. He is 35 and for the first time in a long time his drops seem to outnumber his big plays.  

There were too many distractions and they did affect us

Pacman. Meeting-gate. Hard Knocks. T.O.'s interview with Stephen A. Smith. Jerry Jones speaking out of turn about MB3. I would've argued anybody up and down that these things were being blown out-of-context by the media. And they were. But players on good teams are smart enough to read the media, know their intentions and avoid the trap of the newscycle. We never learned that lesson and spent too much time talking about trivial things and not the team.

Our team was divided

Again, I hate drawing conclusions from intangibles. But if you look at the body language of our receivers during Sunday's game, they looked angry. There seemed to be a lot of complaining and not much communication. There was a lot of finger-pointing this year and not much accountability. The quotes from postgame interviews seemed to suggest our offensive playeyers lost faith in our system. Our defensive players were unhappy with their system until Phillips took hold of the playcalling in the middle of the season. We were never on the same page. Gentlemen, that's the definition of a divided team.  

Phillips was not hard enough on them

Brian Stewart would have been fired on other teams. He was softly demoted on this one. Pacman couldn't get a gig on most other teams. He started for ours. Romo waived Wade Phillips off Sunday. Can you imagine him waiving off Jimmy Johnson? Cowher? Holmgren? Sigh. I like Wade and I think It's admirable that he sticks ups for everyone but one wonders when does he ever hold anyone accountable.

We were a soft team

Cincinnati gave us a run for our money and the Rams blew us out. Arizona beat us on a blocked punt in overtime. Who does that? Who loses like that? We did have big wins against the Redskins and the Giants. Duly noted. Nothing indicates how soft we were like the two backbreaking runs against the Ravens. Lorenzo Neal pancakes Bradie James. Marcus Spears is double-teamed and pushed yards out of the play. Tough teams laughed in our faces. They were offended that we were considered Super Bowl contenders and they weren't. They rose to the occasion and we were left yelling on the sideline about how open we were.

Roy E. Williams trade was ill-advised

At least in the short term. For what we gave up for RW2, we received very little in return. I still believe he can be a great player for us one day. But at the time, I thought it was a stroke of genius and would certainly give our offensive unit a jolt. It didn't happen.

What now?

So where does this leave us? Well it should lead to some self-reflection. I'm a big fan of the show "Intervention" and on that show addicts must first hit rock bottom before they can receive help. This is rock bottom for me. I thought losing at home last year to the Giants was it. No. Getting blown out in the most important game of the year is definitely it. Watching the Eagles treat us like Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl is my breaking point. It doesn't get any lower than this.

There's no need to delude ourselves anymore. We need coaches that will challenge Tony Romo and not placate him. We need people with football pedigrees to be in Jerry Jones' ear and he needs to listen to them. Jones needs to defer to their judgment when it comes to bringing malcontents into our fold. We need to protect Romo and draft lineman accordingly. We need receivers that fight for him not quit on routes. We need coaches that will not accept habitual penalties (cough Flozell cough) and selfishness (cough T.O. cough). Players who violate these tenets should be benched or jettisoned. We need players who are subservient to the team, play hard and smart. We shouldn't have to compromise. Do it or move on.

We are not a player or two away from the Super Bowl. We are an attitude away from the Super Bowl. We need to change our identity and become more physical. There were glimpses of it this year. More of that please.

I still believe in the core of this team: Romo, Witten, MB3, Ware. But I'm not obsessed with the fantasy of our championship potential anymore. I'm living in the present. I'm dealing with reality. And the reality of the situation is we're a great story that entertains sports networks during the year and a cautionary tale come playoff time.

Sadly, sometimes the haters are right.

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