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The Young Cowboys: Learning To Master Themselves

Dez Bryant showed that he's still a youngster on Sunday in New York
Dez Bryant showed that he's still a youngster on Sunday in New York

In my late teens and early twenties, I raced bicycles. Because I'm not a tiny guy (Tour de France-style racers are usually about 140lbs), I wasn't a road racer; instead, I raced in criteriums, which are typically 50-mile city circuits. Nevertheless, I trained on roads, and mixed with all kind of guys with different racing profiles. The point? Well, I usually trained with a bunch of young bucks, who rode largely because we liked to go fast (frankly, its a fun and heady experience taking a corner at 30 mph with nothing but Lycra between you and a nasty road rash). As a result, when the starting bell sounded, we'd usually jump out of the gate and ride like demons, enjoying the pure speed we could generate.

Many times, we'd be in the front of the pack for the better part of the race, only to be passed up by older riders at the end. These "old guys," some of whom were in their--gasp--40s, used to drive us crazy. There was no way they could match us for pure energy and speed, but somehow they always managed to sit in the middle of the pack until, at just the right moment, when we had burned ourselves out, make a move. In cycling parlance, these old guys were known as "masters" racers. Back in the day, we used to deride this term, fashioning off-color speculations about exactly what they were masters of. Now that I am one of these old guys, I know: they were masters of themselves. They knew themselves and had developed an acute awareness of their own strengths and limitations.

More of rabble's rousings after the jump...

Watching the Jets game on Sunday, I was reminded of these old guys--and of myself and the other young bucks. I saw a bunch of young players who hadn't learned to pace themselves. The obvious case in point was Dez Bryant, who came out of the gate at full speed, but seemed to burn out early, running out of juice before halftime. Part of this was the fact that he suddenly found himself across the line from Darrelle Revis; part was that his nature is to ride with all he's got for as long as he's got. On Sunday, he had about 20 minutes worth.

But this criticism can be extended to much of the team, who seemed collectively to wilt as the game settled into the fourth quarter. Yes, there were notable gaffes, such as turnovers and a blocked punt. From my perspective, however, these big plays needn't have mattered had the team not been sagging at the same time. The pass rush that we saw in the first half became gradually less effective; the entire defense didn't seem to play at the same speed as they had initially--for instance, pursuit to the ball appeared comparatively sluggish as the game wore on.

In my brief post-game wrap-up, I suggested that a contributing factor might have been the fact that the Cowboys spent almost the entirety of training camp in air-conditioned comfort, and thus were unprepared for the toll that humidity can take. Again, Dez is the poster child for this claim; he was cramping and had to be taken in for an IV relatively early in the game. In other words, he became dehydrated almost immediately. But we saw many other players on the sidelines, receiving treatment.

In the end, the Jets treated the young Cowboys much like those old cyclist treated me and my fellow young bucks--they waited patiently, kept within striking distance and then, with plenty left in the tank, mounted a charge. When several friends texted me after the game to ask what I thought, my response went something like: "The Jets know how to win; the Cowboys are still learning how." The first step in that learning process will be for them to gain a clearer sense of their limitations; by doing so, players like Dez will better harness (and sustain) their considerable talent.

Jason Garrett wants his charges to play with passion--which they clearly did on Sunday. But he also wants them to adopt a long view, to see the season--and their careers--as a process. Jimmy Johnson's 90s Cowboys made hay in the fourth quarters of both games and seasons because they had young, fresh legs. But to keep themselves fresh, they had to know (and carefully to regulate) themselves. In fact, what was so unusual about those teams was the fact that so many youngsters achieved such a high level of self-knowledge so early in their careers, and lives.

Hopefully, Garrett's mantra will result in what is suddenly a young team learning to regulate themselves, so that they, too, will have those magically fresh fourth quarter legs. If the Cowboys can learn to play in the final frame as they did in Sunday's first quarter, Dallas will be a formidable foe, indeed.

This might not happen overnight. After all, its a process.

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