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Optimism and sadness combine in an odd week for the Cowboys

An unexpected optimism about the season is tempered by the sudden emergency for coach Paul.

Minnesota Vikings play Dallas Vikings Nov. 22, 2020
Here’s a player to be very thankful about..

It is safe to say that before the season, no one thought that the Dallas Cowboys would somehow manage to be 3-7 and in a virtual tie for the NFC East lead. Yet here we are, as the most bizarre season in NFL history rolls along, and the Cowboys manage to somehow be having one of the most outrageous years of any franchise. Now, on the eve of the annual Thanksgiving Day game, let’s look at the state of the team.

Thoughts, prayers, and best wishes

The biggest story for Dallas this week has nothing to do with the win over the Minnesota Vikings or the holiday game against the Washington Football Team. It is the scary story of strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul being taken to the hospital after what is described as a medical emergency. It is understandable that the team would use such measured, even bland terms to describe the events. But all indications are that this was very serious. It is not stretching things to say that he may be in a fight for his life. We don’t have a lot of information, which is only proper as his family should make the decisions on what to share with the world.

This has to have a huge impact on the team, because his job meant that he probably had as much one-on-one contact with every player on the roster as anyone on the staff. It has to be a weight on the hearts of all the players, and all reports are that he was very well-regarded by everyone else in the organization. We all should hope for the best.

Unfortunately, there was one report that he had passed away that hit social media. I won’t mention the individual that put that out, but it is a sad commentary on how the emphasis on getting it first too often trumps getting it right. It was a relief when the truth began to emerge. I am proud that our founder and leader, Dave Halprin, specifically guided us to not repeat that unconfirmed report while things were still unknown, and he waited for official word before posting anything specific. We take a lot of pride in being as accurate as we can here. You deserve nothing less.

Are the Cowboys suddenly the class of the NFC East?

It may be a dubious honor, given just how raging this particular dumpster fire of a division has been. But making the playoffs is now absolutely very much within the realm of possibility for Dallas. Moreover, the team seems to finally be getting everything together on the field. The win over the Vikings was easily the best all-around performance by the team. Andy Dalton looked solid, if not great, but still may be the best starter in the NFCE at this point. Garrett Gilbert might be the best backup QB as well. The running game finally got untracked and played a huge role in the win. The wide receivers, especially Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, were excellent. Dalton Schultz just keeps looking better. And that offensive line has finally gelled, now that the coaches decided to move Zack Martin out to right tackle.

The defense was just as important in the win, although they had plenty of warts, especially when trying to stop Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. But they kept Dalvin Cook from running roughshod over them, and Donovan Wilson was a one-man turnover-generating machine. Mike Nolan got just enough out of them in the end to preserve the win, and that is all you can really ask.

Even the special teams made a positive contribution, as the Cowboys absolutely won the field position battle. We will have to see if the team can build on this, but they have what appears to be the easiest path going forward of anyone in the division. That vagary of the schedule could be huge down the stretch.

But what about the draft position?

Like so many, I assumed when Dak Prescott was lost to injury that all Dallas had to look forward to was a high place in the draft order. In almost any other season, that would have been a given.

Being in the worst division in the league, and one that is flirting with a historic level of badness, has changed all that. There’s an old saying about assuming, which I won’t bother with stating. A team can only deal with the hand it is dealt, and suddenly the incredible ineptitude of the division rivals may just outweigh the incredible string of injuries that the Cowboys have suffered.

Many are bemoaning the fact that winning will just move the team farther and farther down the draft order. However, after some reflection as this remarkable season progresses, making the playoffs should be much more valuable. We have to trust that Will McClay and his people can recapture some of the magic that brought Lamb, Trevon Diggs, Neville Gallimore, and Tyler Biadasz all in one draft to help add more talent next spring, but what making the playoffs after sitting at 2-7 going into the bye can do for this team should be far more valuable. The new direction Mike McCarthy and his staff have tried to point this team seems to be working at last. Success can build invaluable confidence for the roster.

We must always eschew tabulating fetal domestic fowl, of course. Dallas has to take it one game at a time, and the fighting Football Team is next up. They are also still in the hunt, tied with the Cowboys in the standings. There are still games against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles to survive, plus Dallas needs to get at least a couple more wins outside the division as well. But seven wins looks like it will win this sorry excuse for a division, and there is at least a chance they could get to eight.

I never thought hope of hosting a wildcard game in January would still be alive at this point. Yet it is, and with all the surrounding circumstances, it may not just be on life support. Being able to honestly root for wins is much better than suffering through a string of futile performances.