As things began to ramp up for the start of the 2015 NFL season hopes were high in the Metroplex and around Cowboys Country. The Dallas Cowboys had exceeded expectations in 2014 and the team looked poised to be a legitimate contender to hoist a sixth Lombardi Trophy. The biggest speculation seemed to revolve around the 'Boys chances to better the 12-4 mark of the previous season and their odds of securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Little to no thought was put into the possibility that the team could become this season's NFC East cellar-dweller.
There was plenty of reason for such rampant optimism. The pass rush that had been lacking on the 2014 squad had been augmented with some serious talent acquisition. Dallas made moves to secure one of the best pass rushers of the last few years in Greg Hardy with a one-year rental and then compounded the move by drafting Randy Gregory, a first-round talent, in the second round. Those two pieces would be added to the corps alongside DeMarcus Lawrence who was coming into his own as a pass rusher during the closing phases of the previous season. It was expected that this upgrade to Rod Marinelli's Merry Band of Rushmen would provide one of the necessary sparks to elevate Dallas to a place among the elite of the league.
Further back in the defense the Cowboys also took steps to strengthen the pass defense. Byron Jones, another first-round talent secured by the Dallas front office, was coming to town to bolster a secondary that needed help. He was expected to strengthen the middle of the field while Orlando Scandrick and a serviceable Brandon Carr manned the outside. The secondary might not have shut down capabilities, but it too was expected to be vastly improved over what fans has witnessed in recent seasons.
Then there was the return of Sean Lee in a new role designed to limit his exposure to injury. Rolando McClain did an admirable job in filling #50's shoes in 2014 and fans were eager to see the duo paired up. The middle of the defense would get a performance boost as well. The defense that overachieved during the previous season now had a collection of talent that had the ability to take over a game and limit the opposition. They also had the motivator, Rod Marinelli, to insure that the team understood that being good enough was not good enough.
The other side of the ball was considered to be very good without a major influx of talent. The biggest concern was in replacing the loss of DeMarco Murray, the 2014 rushing champion. It was assumed that there would be a drop off in production from Murray to the running back by committee, but that having one of the best offensive lines in the game would keep the drop off from being fatal. The running back philosophy in Dallas became "horses for courses". No single man would have to shoulder the load and carry the burden the way Murray did.
The wide receiver corps returned intact outside of Dwayne Harris. He was considered expendable since his main chores revolved around returning kicks and other special teams duties. Dez Bryant was there to lead the way and Terrance Williams would fill the number two role as well as that had in previous seasons. There was even reason to believe that that Williams would be better in his third season of professional football. They would be bolstered by the little engine that could, Cole Beasley, who somehow always managed to make good things happen when the ball went his way.
The core of the group would be the tandem of Tony Romo and Jason Witten. Romo had been playing the best football of his life over the past two seasons and he entered 2015 healthy for the first time in recent memory. Witten was still Witten; nobody doubted that he would continue to experience success on the gridiron. After all the Senator never let the Cowboys down. All was well and good at Valley Ranch. There was reason for the high expectation of the fans. Such has not always been the case, but 2015 was shaping up to be a good year. Romo and Witten were faced with there best shot at finally hoisting a silver-clad Tiffany trophy at the end of the season.
And thus it began, and thus it soon ended. In spite of two early wins, the signs were there that this Dallas Cowboys team was not as advertised. Things did not look fully together from the onset of the first game. The high cost of the two initial victories only compounded the problems that the team would face. Losing Dez Bryant and Tony Romo in consecutive games did not cause the Cowboys to fall apart, they only escalated the collapse. Perhaps having the pair of star players would have given the team enough to pull itself out of the doldrums, perhaps not. Speculation at this point is moot anyhow.
What I do know is that Tony Romo is 35 years old, and Jason Witten is 33. Both men have precious few seasons left on the gridiron. That translates into a limited number of shots to earn what every football player covets, a Super Bowl ring. They started the 2015 season as one of the favorites to finally fulfill a life long dream. That season rapidly turned into heartbreak as things went off the charted course. There is no need to recap the issues here; we all know them well.
The one thing that we are going to be left to wonder if this was the season that the Dallas Cowboys let the last best chance for two great Cowboys slip away.
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