As Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was outrunning and outmuscling Cowboys safety Eric Frampton to the loose football rolling on the turf in the waning moments of Sunday’s overtime loss to New Orleans, I could only think one thing:
This is it.
This fluke play will finally be the one that buries Dallas’ playoff chances after this loss and the Giants defeating the Ravens in three hours. It seemed fitting to assume the Super Bowl champs would awake from their month-long slumber and finally deliver in the clutch, thereby putting the Cowboys playoff aspirations on life support, especially in the wake of such a bizarre play that ended the Cowboys hopes for a perfect December record. But, as we all know, the Giants were routed in Baltimore setting up a very familiar situation for the Cowboys.
Win and you’re in.
Nobody needs to be a football genius to know how these situations have gone in recent years for Dallas. In 2008, the Cowboys had a similar scenario against the Eagles in the final week of the NFL season and had a playoff berth staring them in the face. The result? A 44-6 beatdown in Philly and a sudden, crushing end to the season. The Eagles went on to lose in the NFC Championship game to the Cardinals. The same scenario reared its face again last season, also. The Cowboys and Giants were 8-7 and dueled in New York for the NFC East crown. Once again, Dallas wet the bed –for lack of a better term– and was relegated to watching the playoffs from the couch. The Giants? Well, they went on to defeat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in a rematch from 2007 –I also add that in 2007, Dallas was 13-3 and lost in the first round to those same Giants who went on to win the Super Bowl that year, as well.
The point I am trying to make here is that THESE GAMES MATTER. Now, Dallas finds themselves in their third winner-takes-all game in five years, and against the hated Washington Redskins. You could have been prophetic and told me at the beginning of the season that Robert Griffin III was going to guide Washington to a potential division crown and I would have laughed it off like it was nothing; I just did not think that the Redskins were capable of this. Six wins in a row and one win away from their first division title in years, figures right? Dallas couldn’t get it done in Philly and got behind early in New York, It remains to be seen if this team has the toughness to get it done in Washington, but I believe that they can. The signs were there that this cast of “misfits” was different when Dallas started off the dreaded month of December by reeling off three straight wins and securing their first winning record in the month of Christmas since 2001. Last week may have deterred some of the less passionate fans because of the familiar inconsistency the team showed, but the spectacular rally in the fourth down by 14 showed you that this team does not quit; this team will not die without a fight.
New Orleans has an awful defense, this is no secret, so the fact that it took Dallas until literally the final ticks of the game to score 31 points is kind of tough explain, but they got it done and forced the game to overtime. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo continued his masterful month, throwing for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. While receiver Dez Bryant has his best career game, catching nine balls for 224 yards and two long touchdowns, but, Dallas lost.
After the game, none of the players cared to discuss the statistics from the game, the only one that mattered was the one that tacked on “7″ to the loss column. The team was dejected that they had not been able to close the door in overtime on the Saints and still control their own destiny in the playoff hunt, can you blame them? I give all the credit in the world to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for the job he has done considering the plethora of injuries that the defensive unit has sustained, but it was only a matter of time until the lack of first-week starters on the field caught up with Dallas. Brady Poppinga, Sterling Moore, Eric Frampton…those are not the names that Cowboy fans expect to make big plays in the clutch, but a taped together defense can only hold back the flood for so long.
Still, thanks to a beat down in Baltimore that the Giants sustained, Dallas controls their own destiny again; they have a chance to redeem themselves. Can they? Absolutely, Washington is on a hot streak, but they have a defense that is just as banged up in key positions. Will they? I want to say yes, Dallas has overcome a lot this season to get where they are now, but it may be too tall of a task to expect them to knock off a team playing as well as any team in the NFL, especially with so much on the line.
Thanks to the flex-scheduling by the NFL, the game has been moved to primetime on NBC next sunday night. Before defeating the Eagles a few weeks ago on NBC, Dallas had an eight-game losing streak on Sunday Night. The last time the Cowboys and Redskins played a primetime game on Sunday night was in 2010 on the first week of the season, Dallas came up short. The ending still stings for Cowboy Fans to this day and the name “Alex Barron” is outlawed from being spoken.
This is a new year, however, and a new team. Dallas can silence the critics for a week if they can put and end to the Redskins division hopes.
If not, well, it will be another long offseason of analysts and fans saying that “this team just isn’t good enough”
Nobody wants that.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, Cowboy fans.