Admit it. If you are a Dallas Cowboys fan, in your heart you were severely worried more than once. There were so many moments it looked like they would lose to the Detroit Lions. At times, you really wanted to give up hope, because hoping has hurt so much in the past. For the most timid, it probably came when the Cowboys went three and out on their opening possession. It might have been when Golden Tate raced away from a stumbling Barry Church to score the first touchdown of the game, making it look way too easy. Perhaps it was when Dekota Watson bailed the Lions out on the foul against the punter in their end zone. Or a few minutes later when Matthew Stafford and company completed a 99-yard touchdown drive with the help of that penalty. It could have been on any of the sacks of Tony Romo. There was certainly a sinking feeling in your stomach when the Cowboys got absolutely nothing out of Kyle Wilber's interception of a passed tipped by Jeremy Mincey at the beginning of the second half. And the last time was when DeMarcus Lawrence recovered a fumble that could have sealed it all only to turn the ball right back over.
I felt the doubt. With all the Kool Aid I have swilled, I still saw the specter of another failure.
Once upon a time, you would have been right to abandon hope. Once, the team with the Star on their helmets would have caved under the pressure. Once, the key mistake in the fourth quarter would have been made by them.
But in the Wild Card playoff game, those Cowboys grabbed yet another tired meme about them, drug it out to the middle of the field at AT&T Stadium, and totally dismembered it in front of a national audience. The slogan for the Cowboys lately has been Finish the Fight. This time they unquestionably did just that.
Is there anyone out there who has not figured out that Jason Garrett has built a new Dallas Cowboys football team? Its only connection to the past is to have taken inspiration from the champions coached by both Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson. It lives and breathes the Way of the Rooster, to take it one game, one series, one play at a time. Everyone in the locker room has bought in to what the red-haired head coach is preaching. The coaches are on board as well. This team is able to face adversity and overcome it. Garrett, who once looked to play not to lose with conservative calls, went for it twice on fourth down and wound up with two touchdowns as a result. The defense, which looked so ineffective in the first quarter, allowed only two field goals for the rest of the game. Dallas' offense, which was bumbling early, kept to their game plan, with crucial adjustments, and scored the last 17 points of the game to take the lead and the victory. In a movie-script worthy moment, DeMarcus Lawrence got his moment of total redemption with the first sack of his career, when he strip-sacked Stafford on fourth down with a minute left in the game.
There is going to be a great deal of controversy about the pass-interference-that-wasn't play involving Anthony Hitchens and Brandon Pettigrew, although video of the play seems to show Pettigrew grabbing Hitchens' facemask before the ball gets there. Maybe that is what happened, or maybe the Cowboys just got lucky. There were certainly times when the breaks went both ways in the game, but in the end, Dallas got the best of it.
But sometimes guts make luck. And one thing that every Dallas player had on the field in this game was lots of guts. Cole Beasley drew an unnecessary roughness flag when he got laid out, but hung on to the ball and bounced up like he was the biggest, baddest guy on the field. The defense kept putting it all out there, and as Bob Sturm observed, they have a rare ability to play harder as the game goes on.
I thought again if there is one thing you have to like about this defense, as the game goes on, the pass rush becomes a bit more furious and relentless. That is an amazing characteristic. Those final drives, the Cowboys were getting to (Stafford) with just four guys. When they had DeMarcus Ware, it seemed the pass rush was slowing down not speeding up. I'm not sure how they're doing it. That's a very valuable tool to get pressure at the most vital points of the game.
In a very real way, this is what the entire team does. They keep bringing it until the last play, never giving up. Being behind doesn't discourage them, it just gets them fired up.
The Cowboys now travel to Green Bay to play the Packers on what promises to be a frozen Lambeau Field. I don't know what will happen in that game, of course, but I do remain optimistic. And I know that, win or lose, this team will put every ounce of effort they have into the game.
It's a new Dallas team. And I suspect that this journey is just getting started.