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The Dallas Cowboys Quest For Consistency

The win over the Saints was a big step, but it was still just one game. Much work remains to be done if the Cowboys are to finally break out of the 8-8 doldrums.

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In football, there are no unimportant games in the drive to make the playoffs. Until a team is either eliminated or locks up its playoff seed, every single victory or loss has a huge impact on the team's chances. In football you only get 16 opportunities to post a W. None can be wasted.

At this point of the season, all teams are technically in contention, but both the Dallas Cowboys and their next opponent, the Houston Texans, are more than just technically contenders. They are two of the eight teams with three wins, and no team has four in the win column (the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals are 3-0, coming off their very early bye weeks). The two Texas franchises each have the opportunity to move to 4-1 and maintain status as one of the early leaders in the league, while whoever loses will be just one more loss from that dreaded .500 realm of mediocrity.

For the Cowboys, a win would also take them to a record that very few on the team have experienced. The last season Dallas got to 4-1 was 2008.

Only Jason WittenTony RomoL.P. LadouceurAnthony SpencerDoug Free and Orlando Scandrick remain from that team. Only 16 players have been around for the four-game winning streak the Cowboys experienced in 2011.

There is a lot of talk about momentum, but for the Cowboys, this is more about establishing consistency. For far too long the team has been up and down, following a gritty hard fought win with a baffling loss. They have struggled against too many poor teams and been blown out too often by good (and sometimes not so good) ones. Backup and rookie quarterbacks have done amazing impersonations of franchise players against Dallas. This vacillating between good, at times quite good, performances and fall-on-your-face embarrassments is something that has to be eliminated.

That is part of why the reaction to the win over the New Orleans Saints was at times a bit giddy. It was not just that the Cowboys had so much good going on. It was that they came into a game that had so many potential pitfalls associated with it, and avoided them all. A top quarterback with some great offensive tools, a team that needed its own win, and an opposing head coach that has in the past done the football equivalent of giving Jason Garrett a wedgie on the 50-yard line.

At least for one game, Dallas got it completely right. They came out fast, dominated early, and counterpunched when needed in the second half. After we saw them give up multiple possession leads in what seems like 38 games over the past couple of seasons (I know that's impossible, I just said it seems like that many), the team lost only three points of margin in the second half even after Drew Brees started acting more like his old self.

But it is just a step. Now they need to extend the winning streak. They have to keep going forward and, above all, not relax. They have to stay focused on a Houston team that is struggling somewhat on offense, but whose best defensive player, J.J. Watt, is one of the top players in the entire league. The defense is certainly the strongest part of Houston's team. Houston has a long injury list, while it looks like the only player Dallas will be missing (once they figure out who is going to replace Morris Claiborne on the roster) will be linebacker Bruce Carter. On paper, the Cowboys look to be the favorite.

What the Cowboys have to do now is prove on the field that they are indeed the better, more capable team. The clearly obvious level of intensity that the team has shown so far this season must be maintained. The execution that they had against the Saints has to carry over. The players that were making plays in all phases of the game must do the same when the Texans line up against them.

This is one thing that the Jason Garrett has always made central to his way of coaching, but so far the Cowboys have not done it well at all. One good practice followed by another. One good play followed by another. One good game . . . you probably get the idea. It does not do to have the team put in an outstanding performance only to follow it up with losing a three touchdown lead in the second half the following week. It is not useful to have a great offensive game negated because the defense can't get a stop on third down. And it never helps to have another team humiliate you in a national game.

While all teams will have the occasional off week, good teams tend to maintain a certain level of play through the majority of their games. This is something that Dallas has failed repeatedly at. To return to the playoffs, the Cowboys must get rid of the tendency to emulate a yo-yo from week to week. There must be no more worrying about whether good Romo or bad Romo will show up. We have to know that it is the same Romo every week, and that the rest of the roster is also going to give a strong, consistent performance every game.

A win against the Texans can give Dallas a four game winning streak. It would be a victory over a team that Dallas is expected to beat, which is the kind of situation where the Cowboys have come up short far too often of late. It will show that the team is actually starting to become what Garrett has been trying to create, and that he deserves to stick around as head coach. Mostly it would prove that the Cowboys can be a consistently successful team - the kind of team that can continue playing into January.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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