Anytime you have a heartbreaking loss such as the Cowboys had, it takes a moment to push that aside and look forward to the future. Seemingly, it took a lot less time this season than it has in the past for many Cowboys fans. The reason why? Well, call me an optimist but these Dallas Cowboys aren’t finished in my mind, not by a longshot.
You have to keep in mind that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys were never supposed to be as good as they were. Nobody gave the Cowboys a fighting chance once news broke that Tony Romo suffered yet another debilitating injury that would sideline him 6-10 weeks. Nobody saw this defense performing as well as they did with very little resources thrown its way in the offseason. Yet, when the bell rang on the beginning of the season, the Cowboys answered in a huge way and became the story of the year.
This team is filled with youth at many important positions. The quarterback, Dak Prescott, just had a record-shattering performance that beat out Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie campaign. Ezekiel Elliott was exactly the big-time player that was advertised when he was taken fourth overall. This team created a chemistry that few have been able to match and they made it electric and addicting to watch. This was a new and fresh Dallas Cowboys team that was defying all the odds stacked against them.
They walked into Lambeau Field and won. They beat the Steelers at Heinz Field in one of the best games of the season. They battled through injuries and circumstances outside their control and left everything out on the field. As good as they were, they made critical mistakes in a game where it’s win or go home. These are mistakes that can be fixed and learned from. As hard as it is to admit, they got beat by the hottest team with the league’s best quarterback. The type of campaign the Packers are on mirror campaigns of Super Bowl Champion’s past. Green Bay could end up losing this week and making this talking point invalid but then again Dallas may have just been beaten by the league’s MVP on his way to his second ring.
It doesn’t change the fact that this loss stings and that the Cowboys didn’t fully capitalize on their special season's potential. It’s okay to be disappointed and it’s okay to have trepidation about the future. Still, the future looks pretty bright behind this young nucleus of players. Of course, they will have their exit interviews and coaches will continue to evaluate talent. Some guys will stay and others will move on to other ventures in the offseason. The coaches and players will put this loss behind them and get away from football for a while but make no mistake; they won’t forget.
Forgive me if the comparison doesn’t match your thoughts but in so many ways, this team feels like the 11-5 Dallas Cowboys of 1991. They had some lofty expectations though the league didn’t think they would be that good. They had holes, big ones that stood out like a sore thumb. Still, the one thing they had a tremendous amount of was the heart and the will to fight. They fought and clawed their way to the Divisional Round where they were spanked by the Detroit Lions.
They held their heads high as they went into an offseason where they were very well aware of the areas they needed to fix. They made those adjustments and marched all the way to their first Super Bowl victory in 15 years. They began a run that wasn’t rivaled until Bill Belichick came along with his New England Patriots a decade later. The Dallas Cowboys could be building toward a sustained success that can bring them right back to the top of the NFL once again.
The Dallas coaches and personnel department know what they’re missing. They knew well before this divisional game what they need to focus on. As we move into the offseason, the Cowboys will tweak their team with additions that will help them take that next step. As good as they were at times; the Cowboys know they need more defensive help. They know that they need some offensive tweaks. If they want to compete with the big boys of the NFL, they’ll need upgrades at certain positions throughout their roster.
It’s losses like these that really frustrate you and make you anxious to get going again. In that 1991 season, Michael Irvin tells a story about how Emmitt Smith was driving home after the playoff loss and called him. As defeated as Irvin felt, Smith reiterated to him that they would most assuredly be back and it fueled their entire offseason. They couldn't wait to get back on that grind. You better believe that it’s going to be eating at the young players on this team as well.
They’re already focused on getting back on the field and making another run at that ultimate goal. The NFL has a short shelf life and it can all be over before it even begins. That’s why when you catch that lightning in a bottle, you have to seize that moment. These Dallas Cowboys, led by a youthful revival that swept over the team have brought the electricity back to Dallas. The "Star" is shining brighter than it has in a decade and hopefully, this team is ready to seize their moment and revel in it.