It’s been a pretty depressing couple of days since the humiliation of the Dallas Cowboys by the Indianapolis Colts. The buoyant optimism that filled the Dallas fan base has been replaced with a sense of despair and more than a little simmering anger. Many people have just given up on the Cowboys and their hopes for the playoffs. Oh, sure, they may back in, but we all know they are going to be one-and-done, probably in really embarrassing fashion. It’s hard to remember a time like this.
Well, except for six weeks ago. You know, right after the Cowboys had been whipped in their own house by the Tennessee Titans 28-14, and all there was left to talk about for most of us was the draft (now without a first-round pick), and who would replace Jason Garrett and/or Scott Linehan after Black Monday. With their 3-5 record and trailing both Philadelphia and Washington in the NFC East, there was no way they were going to have any reasonable shot at getting back into the playoff race. Most of us had simply given up. (Yes, I fully admit I was one who had.)
Not only is the mood of so many the same, but the issues facing the team are pretty much the same: A basic inability to score points, especially when they get into the red zone, a wide receiver group that has one real star and a bunch of players who are either not very good or just not being utilized, a no-name group at tight end, a star running back who can’t carry the load all by himself, a quarterback who holds the ball too long and takes far too many sacks, a banged-up offensive line trying to get it done with a bunch of backups, a defense that is overall strong but prone to lapses in key situations as well as fading a bit in the fourth quarter, and special teams that make a mockery of their designation.
But of course, in between the loss to the Titans and the bashing in Indianapolis, the Cowboys rolled off five wins, including three against those two teams that once were ahead of them in the NFC East standings. It is the same team with the same flaws that climbed out of the doldrums and took control of the division.
Remember, the Cowboys just need to win one more game against either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the New York Giants, or to have Philly and Washington each lose at least one more game (and they play each other in the final week of the season, so we know one of them is going down). Dallas still has over a 90% chance of making the postseason no matter whose methodology you use to figure it out.
Obviously, an easy win over the Buccaneers would provide some measure of comfort to all us worriers, but any kind of victory gets the job done. The Cowboys have rather specialized in winning close games this season, even those that were never really in much doubt.
Yes, the Cowboys had their vulnerabilities on display against the Colts. But right now, all NFL teams have some warts, especially in the NFC. The assumed top two seeds in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints, suddenly are seeing their quarterbacks have some issues. Drew Brees had another bad game in eking out a win over the Carolina Panthers Monday, and Jared Goff has thrown seven interceptions and only one touchdown in the last three games. (Quarterback struggles seem to be a theme lately, as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have also had some bad outings.) The Chicago Bears may be the most dangerous team in the conference, but they are doing it with an overpowering defense while their offense is more efficient than productive. The Seattle Seahawks were seen as a wild card contender who can challenge anyone, but they just lost to the San Francisco 49ers, who are still contending for the number one overall pick in the draft. If the Cowboys can regain the momentum, or confidence, or luck, or whatever it was that got those five wins in a row, they have a chance against whoever they would face in January.
The biggest thing that has to be avoided by the Cowboys is another start to a game like they just had. Three plays in the first quarter seemed to just eviscerate them. First was the blocked field goal that set Indy up with a short field, leading to a quick touchdown. Then, when the Dallas offense has driven down to the three-yard line, they had consecutive failures, first the missed connection from Dak Prescott to Jamize Olawale that would have tied the game, then the futile fourth-and-one attempt (the first of four chances on fourth down that failed either outright or due to being called back on a penalty). From that point on, something seemed to have been sapped from the Cowboys. The defense was just beaten up by the Colts’ offensive line, and Matt Eberflus not only had Dallas’ number, he had their blood type and all their passwords.
We sometimes forget just how young this team is. It also is still getting Amari Cooper fully integrated into things. And those offensive line troubles would be hard for any team to overcome.
The real point is that all the doom and gloom is a bit overdone at the moment. It’s not all beer and skittles, of course, as things can still go awry, and the Cowboys really could use a win this week. But there is no reason to abandon all hope just yet. We pretty much did once before, and it turned out to be really, really premature.