[Ed. Note - Gur Samuel regularly writes over at SB Nation's Tampa Bay blog, Bucs Nation. But he's a local in London so he helps out with the coverage at SB Nation for the teams that come over for the London game. This year, since there are three games he has been doing a lot of helping out. This week, he will guest post some articles for us here at BTB covering what the Cowboys are up to in England - Cheers, Dave]
For many of the London school children arriving at the astroturf pitches outside Wembley Stadium yesterday, they were getting their first ever experience of American football. That on its own might have been a noteworthy enough occasion for some of the children, but the thing that will likely stay with them for years is that the first time they picked up a football, they were being coached through drills by the entire Dallas Cowboys roster.
The team as a whole seemed awake and refreshed, perhaps surprising given that they had arrived straight from London Gatwick airport. Of course, they had an opportunity to shake off some of the cobwebs during the team stretching and walkthrough period before the kids arrived.
As the team stepped off the bus, they went straight into their team stretches. All eyes of the media were naturally on Tony Romo, who walked in line with the rest of the team as they stretched, but didn't actually stretch himself. As concerning a sight as that might have been for Cowboys fans, the spinal fractures that Romo is carrying didn't prevent him from taking all the snaps in the walkthrough period.
I asked Romo about whether his taking all those walkthrough snaps meant he was planning on starting come Sunday. "We're taking it day by day," Romo replied, "if you couldn't walk through it, you'd probably struggle getting ready for practice, but it was good." A large number of the questions Romo was asked by the media was naturally about his back. His answers about his back tended to be brief:
How was the flight for his back? "Flight was fine, I slept, went by quick, that part was no problem."
Is he going to adjust his weekly schedule? "Just want to figure it out today first, and we'll go back and reassess for tomorrow, and do it over and over again."
How does he hope to improve in time for Sunday? "You just keep trying to figure out what you're able to do each day, and then go on to the next, and hopefully you're able to improve enough to be able to go."
How does this injury compare with previous injuries that he's played through? "I'm not into comparing them, each one has its own negatives and positives in being able to play through or not play through, you've got to be able to function and you've got to be able to go play."
With the same talking points touched on in each response, it was clear that he had been coached to be cautious with his responses to that particular line of questioning, each answer being some variation of "we'll reassess each day and then decide". Answers on other topics, however, he was much more free, talking at some length about how, as someone who enjoys reading about history, he's looking forward to exploring London, or how being a soccer fan lends an extra air of excitement to playing at Wembley Stadium, and is leading him to expect a passionate crowd on Sunday.
If Tony Romo's back stops him from playing on Sunday, then Brandon Weeden will have to step up again, and he received a measure of backing from Romo - though there may have been some subtext to his response on Weeden: "I think Brandon's done a good job for us. Obviously last week in the game we didn't play as well at a lot of positions as we wanted to, and I think we all want to get back out there and play, to get back in the right direction again."
For local-boy-done-good Jack Crawford, who was born just five miles from Wembley Stadium in the Kilburn area of London, he acknowledges that Romo "has major importance, just for the team in general, he's a great leader... [but] with him or without him, we're still going to be the Cowboys and we still have our identity. It doesn't make a difference who's in there, I think everybody believes in each other and that's what makes this team so special."
Crawford, who despite being local has still never been inside Wembley Stadium, said that playing their Sunday will be a "dream come true, and to play American football there is just crazy." Crawford was asked if he's going to be the team's official tour guide for the trip, but he said that while he's been advising his teammates on what to go and see, he's going to be too busy visiting family and friends - but he's not letting that distract him. "Everyone wants to see me, but we've got a game coming up and that's what's most important, I'm trying to keep my head focused and be ready for Sunday." After having been kept off the field since Week 5 with an injury, it certainly sounds like Crawford intends to play in the national stadium of his home country.
While many people believed a few weeks ago that the Cowboys would be entering their post-Wembley bye week with a 9-1 record, they have lost their last two games, and now sit behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. The Jaguars have one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the NFL, which would suggest that this coming Sunday is a particularly good opportunity to get the team back on track, but Orlando Scandrick doesn't think that's any more true with this contest than any other. "I think every week is an opportunity, it doesn't matter who we're playing - it's not about them, it's about us," the cornerback told me.
CJ Spillman, who has made his third trip to Wembley this week, echoed Scandrick's sentiments, stating that "it's not about who we play, it's about what we do, and if everybody does their job then we'll come away victorious." For Spillman, getting back to winning is a matter of "just getting back to basics with us, everybody doing their jobs, that's really what it boils down to." Scandrick agrees that "we've just got to play winning football. We made a lot of mistakes in the past few games, we haven't played winning football, and the ultimate result at the end of those games is we haven't won those football games."
Crawford, who joined the team this year after being released by the Oakland Raiders, notes that the local media has turned on the team since losing to a Colt McCoy-led Washington team on Monday Night Football. "When you're doing well, people pump you up, but when you slip or have a hurdle, then everybody loves to have some part in bringing you down - but we know how good we are. We understand that in the past couple of games we beat ourselves completely. We made mistakes - it wasn't so much to do with the other team as it was to do with our own personal mishaps, and I think we're going to correct that, we are going to do better, and we're going to move forward."
As exciting as a trip to London may be, there's no confusion of objectives for a team that just two weeks ago looked in position to run away with the top spot in the NFC. "We really came over here as a business trip, to win a game," said Scandrick, "...we expect the team to come out and give our best shot, to go out and find a way to get back in the win column."