Another season has come and gone for the Dallas Cowboys and here we sit with conference championships approaching and plenty of tickets secured to be on our couches.
We all want the Cowboys to do well. There isn’t a soul among us that wants them to finish anywhere shy of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end. There is one dream that is universally understood among all those that decorate themselves in blue and silver.
Unfortunately, Dallas has fallen short of that goal, season after season, since 1995. Patience is a virtue but it continues to fall on deaf ears. People want to see the Cowboys win the Super Bowl and that’s not an unfair desire to have.
While it’s true that the Cowboys have yet to taste postseason success of the degree we’d prefer this century, it’s also true that they have had important marks of improvement that are worth celebrating. That’s the thing about stuff like this, multiple things can be true, even if the internet tells you otherwise. This leads us to the both/and.
The Both/And: You can be proud of the Cowboys yet also want more from them
There’s a paradox of sorts that I like to think about from time to time that’s referred to a both/and. Here’s my favorite definition of it.
A type of logic used in decision making that allows for a greater variety and scope of outcomes than a rigid either/or decision making process. This approach is useful when comparing two or more possible tracks or outcomes in a real world setting.
When you talk about the Cowboys and try to measure whether they’ve been successful or not people tend to live in one of two worlds. Dallas is either surging and a franchise to be proud of or they’re an embarrassment that hasn’t achieved relevance since VHS tapes were all the rage.
You know that the Cowboys haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1995 just like you know that they’ve won the NFC East in three of the last five seasons. In a world where playoff wins are the measuring stick that matters to most, the Cowboys have two and also achieved a first-round bye since 2014. That’s three cracks at getting to the NFC Championship Game in five years. 60% is pretty solid.
But it’s not solid! It’s pathetic! We’re lowering the standards by aiming for such low heights! Again, we live in a world where the both/and is possible.
Do you know how many teams have made it to the Divisional Round at least three times in the last five seasons just like the Cowboys? Six. They’re teams that are regarded to be the class of the NFL:
- New England Patriots (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
- Green Bay Packers (2014, 2015, 2016)
- Seattle Seahawks (2014, 2015, 2016, 2018)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (2015, 2016, 2017)
- Kansas City Chiefs (2015, 2016, 2018)
- Dallas Cowboys (2014, 2016, 2018)
To be clear: making the Divisional Round is NOT the goal for the Cowboys or any team. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a remarkable achievement. It definitely is. The both/and.
Think about how respectable that is, though. These six franchises were all two steps away from the Super Bowl in three out of five seasons. Those are odds that you’d sign up for any day of the week while obviously hoping that you would cash in at some point.
Dallas has actually navigated all of this with a serious change
While six teams have accomplished what we’re talking about only two of them did so with the most difficult hurdle you can face in the game of football - a change at quarterback. Both the Cowboys as well as the Kansas City Chiefs have achieved 60% success (as we’ve so defined it here) with reins being passed at the signal-caller position. That’s insane.
Winning is so hard in the National Football League yet the Cowboys and Chiefs have managed to do so with smooth transfers a la Indiana Jones and the idol at the opening of the movie. That is quite the testament to who the teams are from an overall standpoint as it proves that they have roster and coaching talent that can help ease rocky waters.
Not only have the Cowboys and Chiefs done this with changes at quarterback, but they’ve done so with incredibly young quarterbacks. Dallas won a division title during Dak Prescott’s rookie season (plus his third) and Kansas City got to the AFC Championship Game (and counting) during the first season of Pat Mahomes. That’s elite game-planning and adjustment.
We should all learn to embrace the both/and
When I originally tweeted about the six teams that have reached the divisional round three times over the last five seasons I was met with one common response:
Only one of those teams failed to reach a conference championship game.
Yes, the Cowboys are the lone outlier of the group as far as championship game appearances go, but they’re in the group! This is the part of the both/and that refuses to be acknowledged. It’s a glass-half-empty mentality that chooses only to see the negative. The Cowboys locked down a reservation to the finest place in town and people are upset that their table is closest to the door.
The 2018 version of the Dallas Cowboys managed to pull themselves out of a 3-5 hole (granted a self-induced hole) and ascended to a 10-6 record that included an NFC East title and playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks (one of the other elite teams mentioned above). The season included so many improvements both on the roster and in terms of play style as well as a disappointing and bitter end. Multiple things can be true.
Only one team can win the Super Bowl every season, it’s part of what makes this game so great and painful. Only one team gets to count their season as a success in the way that is universally defined. Only one team gets to eliminate all of the fallout.
While only one team gets all of that there are a wide-ranging number of results and points of truth for the remaining clubs. It’s important to keep that perspective. It’s important to realize that things aren’t just one or the other. It’s important to remember the both/and.