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Some Needed (But Possibly Unwanted) Perspective On The Cowboys’ Playoff Loss

Yeah, the loss hurts. Time to get over that.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
There still are reasons to believe in this team. A lot.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The gloom and absolute despair set in for so many. The Dallas Cowboys had such a great chance to get back to the Super Bowl, but it all came apart, leaving fans to question how long the suffering would have to continue, what had gone so horribly wrong, and what has to change. Twitter was (and still is) full of demands that Jason Garrett be fired for the loss.

To this, I offer these words of gentle encouragement: Time to get over it.

(OK, to get the full effect of that, imagine it being yelled by Rod Marinelli on the practice field, with suitable alterations to terminology.)

Have you ever run the numbers on winning a Lombardi Trophy? 32 teams in the league, meaning that if you could equalize everything for each, there is about a 3% chance for each team every year. If the NFL had that longed for parity since the inauguration of the Super Bowl, all teams would have one and another 18 would have two.

The Cowboys have five. Yes, it has been 23 years now since the last one, but we are still ahead of all but two teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers have six (and a chance for seven still), and the San Francisco 49ers are tied with the Cowboys at five (and a lot further away from getting another one).

There are still thirteen teams that have never won the Super Bowl. One, the Atlanta Falcons, still has a shot to change that. The Philadelphia Eagles, of course, do not.

OK, but still, 23 years. This is America’s Team, for crying out loud. The marketplace continues to make that clear.

Well, that leads me to do something I rarely do, because no one likes it when some of us do this, but I’m whipping out the age and experience card. Did you know that, before the “America’s Team” moniker was attached to the Cowboys by NFL Films, they had another nickname? It’s true.

“Next Year’s Champion”.

Yep. Once upon a time, the Cowboys were the team that repeatedly would get close with a talented roster, but come up short in the playoffs. It took multiple tries, starting with two losses to the Green Bay Packers (hmm, history is said to repeat) and also including a loss to what was then the Baltimore Colts in Dallas’ first trip to the championship game. They would have many, many other playoff runs that didn’t end with the trophy, of course. And the league was a good bit smaller then as well. Now the road is even harder (albeit with a more diluted talent pool in some aspects). And the salary cap totally changed the rules on building a team after the incredible run of the early 1990s. Now, the team has a good foundation for making repeated attempts to get back to the top over the next several years - and that may simply be what it will take. It isn’t supposed to be easy.

It is not readily grasped in this age of instant gratification, but some things take time. This just might be one of those things. The Cowboys may need multiple runs to make it all the way. There is no guarantee that they will succeed, but then, they weren’t expected to get as far as they did this year.

Don’t forget, the Cowboys were not supposed to be in the divisional round with a bye. They lost their franchise quarterback in preseason and had to roll with a fourth-round rookie. The early take was that maybe the team could eke out enough wins to have a chance at a run once Tony Romo was healthy, but his injury could well cost them even that. Instead, Dak Prescott may have put up the greatest rookie season ever by a quarterback. But most of the QBs that win the Super Bowl are seasoned vets who have fought their way to the pinnacle, usually with more than one failed playoff run beforehand. Take a look at who has led the AFC representative in championships this century.

That is a pretty limited list of names, with only two outliers - and two of those names are meeting one another for the chance to add to their team’s total of trophies next Sunday. So maybe we got our hopes up a little too much with Dak - who came incredibly close to doing enough to win the game as it was. Maybe he will do better in the next decade or so.

And it took more than one simply phenomenal throw by Aaron Rodgers, who has also been there before, to pull the game out. It literally is a game of inches, and he made perfect pass after perfect pass to scratch that win out. And then it took two great kicks from Mason Crosby, who has not been all that reliable in the past, as well. I confess to being one who thought that Dallas having a better overall roster would overcome the incredible run Rodgers is having, but I was clearly wrong. A slow start by the Cowboys’ offense, something we knew they had to avoid, wound up dooming them. It was just too many mistakes, mostly mental, early on. And part of it might be the inexperience in big games, both for the players and the coaching staff. But they have some more experience now. Hopefully they will learn.

This team is on the rise. The very strong rookie class from last season should just get better, and Stephen Jones has made it clear that improving the defense is the priority for this offseason. The fact is that building a Super Bowl champion takes years. The Cowboys started the process several seasons ago, but it does not always go as fast as we like. It also takes longer when a team is committed to mostly growing their own through the draft the way Dallas is. We will have plenty of time to analyze how much they have accomplished so far and how they can build on it, but right now, we need to recognize that they have not only come a good ways, but were so very close this year.

There is still no guarantee that this will pay off, but right now, it is hard to find any team that is in better shape for the future than Dallas. Yes, losing that playoff game hurt. The players are no doubt suffering far more than any of us, because they put everything on the field in coming back, only to come up just short. But for almost half the roster, this was the first playoff disappointment. That first Super Bowl winner in Dallas had years of that, and still overcame it.

Some out there may be ready to give up on the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, or the players. Let them. The heart of the community here will not. Now, we have to turn our sights to free agency and the draft, along with 27 other teams whose season is over. I am doing so with great optimism. I hope you are, too.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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