We've said this three times already this season but tonight it's more true than it's ever been: lose tonight against the New York Giants and the season is over.
At 2-4, the Cowboys still have hope. A good game tonight and confidence starts to come back to the team, the players and the coaches and some semblance of normalcy might actually descend up Valley Ranch and Cowboys nation. While there would still be a giant hurdle to get past to save the season, the Cowboys would have the chance to build some consistency and could find a way to dig themselves out of this incredible hole they're in.
As we've discussed all week, the Cowboys are not your typical 1-4 football team. They have not been dominated by any team in any loss and it could be argued that they outplayed their opponent in all but one game. Yet it's the lack of focus, the lack of discipline and the propensity for mistakes at the absolute worst times that have doomed this Cowboys team -- not a lack of talent or gameplanning. The hits on the coaching have been related to the overall discipline of the players themselves; if the Cowboys can find some way, any way, to just focus and not let the mistakes snowball then this team could easily get back on the right track.
Fall to 1-5 tonight, however, and the Cowboys season is over. There's likely to be no full recovery from such a start and while Jerry Jones says that Wade Phillips' job is still safe, you better believe that such a monumental collapse could bring about wholesale changes. Right now, in the middle of the season, the media's attention is not on the players on the field -- the attention is on Wade, Jerry, the coaches and the overall team approach. Ex-players are saying Wade is too soft and players, coaches, former NFL players, anyone that can be asked is opining on how the Cowboys are an unmitigated disaster.
A win tonight helps to hold all of that back for another week.
More notes on the game after the jump.
The Dallas Cowboys are ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing the football, partly because the Cowboys have had to air out the ball more than normal and partly because at times the running game has been completely useless. The past two games the Cowboys have turned to Felix Jones more often than Marian Barber and Tashard Choice, and Barber has obviously been held back to use as short-yardage and fourth quarter running back.
Asked if this change in the approach in the running game has affected the dynamic in the locker room, all three backs were adamant they're all on the same team. Says Felix [ESPN Dallas]:
"We just try to do as much as we can for our team," Jones said. "We're very supportive for each other. When you have that type of group around you it's hard to fail mentally. It's hard to fail as far as you doing what you can do as far as making a play. I love those guys. Those guys are very passionate about this game and passionate about winning and we're willing to help each other."
Jerry Jones supports Wade Phillips. For now. [ESPN Dallas]
Bob Sturm says that the Cowboys have to get pressure on Eli Manning tonight. [DMN Cowboys Blog]
This is the absolute key to the game tonight. Forget all the penalties and mistakes, tonight it's going to come down to actual football. The Giants will make the Cowboys pay if they give Manning time to sit back and allow his receivers to get open in the Cowboys secondary -- because they will. The key will be to get pressure on Manning and force him to make mistakes; perhaps he might try another left-handed shotput toss across the middle.
Michael Boley says that the Cowboys are lacking focus and discipline. Because -- you know -- when I think of focus and discipline, I think of the New York Giants. [DMN Cowboys Blog]
``Excessive penalties say a lot about a team,'' Boley said. ``They say a team is undisciplined and lacks focus. In theory, I think all penalties can be avoided. It's just about being focused.''
In a perfect example of the mentality that exists in New York when it comes to the Cowboys, Steve Serby of the New York Post says of the game tonight that the Giants have the chance to "knock 'em dead", and that the Giants have "this chance to bury the 'Boys six feet under in their sixth game of the season." He also gives this key to the game:
Paul Schwartz, meanwhile, says that the Giants must beware of a desperate Dallas Cowboys team. [New York Post]