There is a natural tendency to view what happened yesterday to the Dallas Cowboys as some kind of truth serum. That the Cowboys have now been exposed as pretenders and that the five-game win streak was a mirage. Don’t buy into that. There are multiple reasons not to.
For instance, which provides more evidence of what a team actually is - a five-game win steak where a team proves over a decent amount of time that they can overcome any adversity, even that of their own making, and win football games; or a one-off game where everything goes wrong? In the scientific world, this would be a no-brainer. Test subject A, the Dallas Cowboys, would be viewed as a “good” team, not a “bad” team, based on the overwhelming evidence gathered over their last six games. Recency bias and all that should be thrown out. Sure, the Cowboys have flaws, but so do most teams, the evidence at this point still says “playoff team” despite the black day that was this past Sunday.
There was also the “what are you playing for” factor stacked on the “mental letdown after a stressful stretch” factor. The Colts were desperate to stay in the AFC playoff hunt while the Cowboys knew they had margin for error already built in. The “what are you playing for” factor favored the team from Indy. Additionally, the Cowboys just went through a grueling five-game stretch where their season felt like it was on the line every single game, a feeling that wasn’t exactly the same heading into Indianapolis. The stress was less. You can debate whether a “playoff team” should fight through those mental factors, or should at least have played a better game, and you would be legit in those feelings. Still, there’s no denying there were a few factors lined up against the Cowboys on Sunday.
The one reason, though, that Cowboys fans seem to be in such a disappointed state was the fact that the Cowboys were shut out. 23-0. That’s a beat down. If they would have lost 23-17 we could have all gone on our merry way and waited for this week’s game against Tampa Bay to close out the division. Right? You go on the road, against a rising team that is playing for their playoff life - there’s no shame in losing that game in a decent way. But a shut out? That surely means the Cowboys aren’t prime time yet, they aren’t worthy of the playoffs and even if they get there they will be a quick one and done.
To quote Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friends.
Travel back in time to December 2, 2018. That is the date the Indianapolis Colts traveled to Jacksonville riding a five-game winning streak. Sound familiar? They were one of the hottest teams in the NFL while the Jaguars were just a hot mess. Jacksonville has lost five of their previous six games and were going nowhere. Their defense, once among the best, had been exposed. Even the Cowboys had hung 40 points on them earlier in the year. That was pre-Amari Cooper when the Cowboys offense was still stuck in the mud.
What did the Colts do in the game at the start of December? They got shut out.
A shutout seems to be some kind of death knell. Maybe the Cowboys could have tried another field goal in the game and lost 23-3 and there wouldn’t be quite as much angst. Then again, maybe not. The point is, being shut out is not really a harbinger of anything. The very next week after getting shut out, the Colts went on the road and faced the mega-red-hot Houston Texans, at the time riding a nine-game win streak. Indianapolis promptly dusted them off 24-21 and were right back on track. One week later, they laid the smackdown on a five-game win streak in the form of the Cowboys. It was as if that shutout to the Jaguars had never even happened. Just a blip on the radar.
If the Dallas Cowboys come out this Sunday and take care of business in an orderly fashion by beating Tampa Bay to win the NFC East, they can start their own process of dispensing of this shutout loss as an unfortunate blip. The NFL is certainly a week-to-week proposition. One bad game does not signify anything. Two bad games in a row is different. That is the early makings of a trend.
All the Cowboys need to do is whip the Bucs on Sunday, and all will be forgiven.