It’s long been said close games build team character. They separate the winners from the losers. Close games can change the tide of a season and instill confidence going forward. This would all be true if we were discussing last week’s game in Baltimore rather than Sunday’s win in Carolina. A win over Baltimore would have shown success in a venue boasting an undefeated record the past two regular seasons. In the past three seasons at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, the Ravens have a 19-1 regular season record. That’s tops in the league. If the Cowboys won a close game there against the (then) 1 loss Baltimore Ravens at home – that would have said something. But, as you surely remember, the Cowboys choked away victory and lost that statement-making game in Baltimore. Instead, the nail-biting victory the Cowboys give you is against a sad single-win team in Charlotte, NC.
Optimists will say a win is a win and close games are exactly what this team needs. Yes, winning close games are what this team needs but this team needs to win close games against quality opponents, not pathetic one-win teams. Not all wins are created equal. Some are clearly better than others. It matters who you beat. Did anyone even feel half as excited after the Cowboys beat the Bucs as they felt when the Cowboys beat the Giants? Of course not. It’s not just because one is a hated division rival, it’s because one was the defending Super Bowl champ and the other was just a rebuilding 4-12 football team from 2011.
The Cowboys have had their fair share of close games the past couple seasons. Since last season they’ve been in 10 games determined by 4 points or less. Their record in those games is 4-6. They’ve had experience and even some success in close games. Looking back, last season started with four close games. The results were completely bi-polar and did not propel the Cowboys to success or failure but rather an 8-8 record.
In the first four games last year, the Cowboys lost to the Jets and Lions and beat the Redskins and 49ers all determined by 4 points or less. The Lions and 49ers turned out to be good but at the time neither was thought of very highly. The only good team at the time was thought to be the Jets and Dallas lost that game. The Cowboys entered the bye week after those four games not feeling particularly strong given the 2-2 record and the quality of opponent they thought they played.
Cowboys vs Panthers: This counts as a much needed win and should not be taken lightly. Just don’t get carried away. The win in Carolina had nowhere near the impact a win in Baltimore would have had. To win a close game mental maturity and calmness under pressure are possibly more important than talent on the field. In a league with such parity it is necessary to become a master of the close game. Garrett is extremely far from becoming that master and it appears Ron Rivera (Carolina HC) is even farther.
For as brilliant as Garrett is, he sure has problems in stressful late game situations. He played this game conservatively as the clock ran down. That was a good thing since it’s been well proven this team lacks the character to step up when the heat is on. That certainly doesn’t mean they can’t learn, it just means they don’t have it yet. Garrett attempted the kill shot on 2nd down with a Pass to Dez Bryant in the endzone. Dez reminded Garrett exactly what he’s dealing with. Garrett responded by calling a simple run play to force a Carolina time out and kick a field goal. Very conservative. Nothing to be proud or embarrassed of.
This team needs to prove they are capable of close wins against quality opponents before anyone gets too excited. True, a win is a win. But not all wins are created equal. The tough part of the schedule now begins. The Cowboys will have plenty of opportunities to win close games against top opponents. THEN, we can get excited. But for now, let’s put things in perspective and just call this a win.