Yankees great Yogi Berra had several famed adages he utilized to spur along his legendary Bronx units – a number of which provided continuous motivation for his fellow teammates amidst painful losing stretches. One of his most famous “Yogi-isms” was a catalyzing reminder to his compatriots to push through adversity until it was no more: “it ain’t over till it’s over.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen of Cowboys nation, it’s officially over. Like, over over.
This mountainous slippery slope of a season has finally come to an end, and the millions of Cowboys fans who bravely stuck by their team as the year tossed them around like a violent sea storm can take a breath of relaxation.
Breathe in, and breathe out.
Calm your body, steady your heart, and soothe your mind.
And while this one-of-a-kind avalanche season nearly ended in a playoff appearance fueled by a slew of comebacks from a destitute, but spirited team, those pursuits were simply too little, too late. Putrid defensive play, an undermanned offensive line, and of course, the absence of Dak Prescott created a cumulative formula that could've only ended in explosion. And that’s exactly what took place: a domino-like caving that most could’ve foreseen, as pressure from all sides continuously exerted its force.
But there are some positives that can be garnered from this year, and transfused into the next one. Perhaps the most resolute was that player effort hardly wavered throughout the campaign, and while decision-making by the coach will be under an intense microscope throughout the offseason, the men who strap up their pads daily made sure to leave their exploits all on the field.
These are the ones who stood out the most from their final standoff with Big Blue.
3. Jaylon Smith
Mr. Smith’s name may be the most widely-circulated in D-Town, at least on the defensive side of the ball. Countless fastballs have been hurled his way from the fanbase and media alike, and a good portion is solely centered on his worthiness of the hefty six-year, $68 million contract he inked a few years back. And that’s especially because of the nagging injury that’s cast a looming shadow over his career since his days at Notre Dame.
There are film snapshots that expose some of his shortcomings from an agility and quickness standpoint, and he’s been swiftly beat in both run and pass situations on multiple occasions. But Smith remains a forceful pillar in the team’s linebacking corps, and his overall performance in 2020 is entirety indicative of such.
He racked up a gargantuan 154 combined tackles (89 solo), all the while serving as the lone consistent player for a group that was constantly hampered by physical ailments. Sunday was his cap to a quiet, yet fortified résumé for the ‘20-21 season. For the 10th time, he posted a double-digit takedown total, registering 10 combined tackles on one of his lowest snap count sums (58) all year.
Now, the jury’s still out on what his future holds as a Dallas Cowboy, but Smith did all he personally could to weave his way in Jerry Jones’ future plans at the Star.
2. Donovan Wilson
We’re staying on defense for the second entry of this week’s stars list.
There’s an abundance of question marks pointed squarely towards Mike Nolan and company’s side of the ball, but looking forward, Donovan Wilson seems to be the answer to inquiries surrounding their secondary. He took the spotty bits and pieces of playing time he was deposited early on in the campaign, and parlayed them into a nomination to be the team’s singular representative at the position.
Wilson arrived in the Big D with a glaring reputation as a feisty punisher. What flew under the radar to his coaching staff though, was his potential as an all-around ball-tracking stalwart, and whether it’s been in the deep secondary, shallow middle, or even the backfield, Wilson’s flown to the pigskin like a magnet.
If you’re looking for him on your television screen: just look for the ball and he's more than likely to be somewhere around there. And Sunday was a complete showcase of his dexterity. He was apparent in the tackle column by aiding teammates on three bring-downs while registering his own solo one. He also invaded the pocket for a timely sack.
And in the second quarter, he found himself in the right place at the right time, picking off a tipped pass for his second career interception.
The guy absolutely flies around the field, and he could very well be cleared for landing right onto a hefty lump sum of money.
1. Dalton Schultz
Schultz is another surprise that figures to etch out a niche in Dallas’ long-term plans. Blake Jarwin’s unfortunate ACL tear in Week 1 created headway for Schultz to make an impression on his coaches – and boy did he ever. Schultz’s strong suit has long been his blocking, but opportunity unearthed a special ability to do damage in the passing game.
His four receiving TDs this year equals his total tally in the category, and the man’s played in 43 career games. He brought in 63 receptions for 615 yards in 2020 – an enormous 122 yard leapfrog from his cumulative total. And Sunday, Schultz was Dallas’ leader in receiving yards.
He was a dark horse amongst known stallions, and his seven-catch, 70-yard game fueled the team's near-winning offensive expedition. It was a needed spark that ignited an offense nearly burned into extinction. The performance complements a wondrous yearlong display from Schultz that includes a nine catch, 88-yard dazzler in Week 2, and four receptions for 72 just weeks later.
Jarwin will return from dormancy in 2021 after full recuperation. He’ll be joined by a host of offensive linemen, and of course team centerpiece Dak Prescott. The latter of whom is going to have a field day with both Schultz and Jarwin posing threats in the passing game.