Admit it Cowboys fans. In the recesses of our minds we were all thinking the same thing. After all, we’ve seen this movie before. The only question that remained was how this ends. Train wreck? Forty car pile-up? Dumpster fire?
With 5:28 remaining in the 4th quarter, Eli Manning had taken the New York Giants down the field in short order and sliced a two touchdown lead in half. And while Eli isn’t always the most statistically competent quarterback in the NFL, he is among the most dangerous with his back to the wall. Give him a crack and he’ll break down a door, leaving his opponents wondering how it got away.
In past years, the Cowboys offense would take the ball, go three and out, and watch Eli gleefully march the length of the field, sending the game into overtime, where the inevitable loss would take place. This would give the vast legion of people that hate the Cowboys reason to cry out fraud.
But this is 2014, a year of strange occurrences thus far. The Cowboys make a first down. Another first down begets another. Before we know it, they have driven the length of the field, forced the Giants to burn their stable of timeouts, and leave less than a minute on the clock when the indubitable leg of Dan Bailey gave them a 10 point lead that would stick.
This is further evidence that the 2014 Dallas Cowboys are cut from a different cloth than the previous three versions that went 8-8. This is a game that those teams lose. These games are the difference between playoffs and bust, between postseason success and high draft picks.
Take Tony Romo. Anyone that doesn’t see a different quarterback is either lying or not paying attention. He is simply playing at another level. He made one mistake yesterday, and it really wasn’t on him. Prince Amukamara’s 2nd quarter interception was more a product of Dez Bryant falling than it was a bad throw or decision by Romo. He was flawless in the 2nd half, going 9 for 9 with a touchdown. It is obvious that DeMarco Murray’s stunning performance this season is a big reason why Romo is better, but that is just one of the many things that show a better overall decision making process on his part. This is why he is, at 34, playing the best football of his career.
Take this defense. It was supposed to be historically bad. Anyone that knew anything about football was thoroughly convinced that this defense would allow more water in than a screen door on a submarine. But Rod Marinelli has done a heck of a job getting guys to play at a level far beyond what their scouting report says. This may not be Doomsday, but if they can continue to play the way they have, they will be just good enough to give the team a chance to win every Sunday. Detractors will say it’s because the offense is keeping them off the field.
That is true. But they are still able to get stops when they need them. You could not say the same this time last year.
Finally, take head coach Jason Garrett. In the last three and a half years, he has been the model for mediocrity. But there is a different feel to the Princeton grad this season. He is no longer in charge of calling plays for the offense. He is now in charge of managing the personalities on the team. He has proven to be masterful at this so far in 2014. When he addresses the team and the media, he sounds more assured and in command than he ever has before. He is growing into the position, just as Jerry Jones said he would. He no longer comes off like a puppet. He has a swagger about him, and it is showing in his players.
It is a testament to his leadership that the players are buying into him more now than ever when they would’ve deserted a lesser man after 3 straight 8-8 finishes.
The bottom line is that there is still a long way to go. This is a playoff caliber team, but not yet a playoff team. No one is yet. There is still too much football to be played. But it would be negligent to ignore the differences between this and previous Cowboys teams.
If this keeps up the people that are just waiting for the Cowboys annual holiday implosion may get a lump of coal in their stocking this year.
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