Let’s not pretend Sunday’s matchup against the St. Louis Rams is anything it’s not, but recent history suggests it could be a crossroads for a Dallas Cowboys team desperately trying to break the sullen mold of 8-8 mediocrity.
By 2011, the San Francisco 49ers had gone eight straight years without a winning season. Coming off a 6-10 record, they started the year 1-1, and the fan base hollered, because even though they’d been led to believe this team was different, this team had promise, they were seeing the same old mediocre can’t-turn-the-corner story on the field.Then in Week 3, the Niners moved to 2-1 by shutting down the Cincinnati Bengals 13-8, starting an 8-game winning streak that ultimately landed them in the NFC Championship game (where they lost to the New York Giants, regrettably paving the way for Eluck-I Manning’s second ring).
Last year, the Seattle Seahawks were a franchise trying to rise above two straight 7-9 finishes. An unheralded rookie had improbably won the starting quarterback job in training camp, and fans were promised this year was going to be different; this year had promise.
But the season began the same as any other, with a 1-1 record. Then in Week 3, the ‘Hawks moved to 2-1 by surprising the Green Bay Packers 14-12; they went on to win 11 games and beat the Washington Redskins on the road in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Now comes Week 3 for a Cowboys team that sits at 1-1, coming off two straight 8-8 seasons. Holes from a year ago have been filled with young talent. Preseason talk of turning a corner was validated with a Week 1 win against a division rival. The familiar fan hollering began a week later with a one-point road loss to a good opponent in a tough venue.
Oddly enough, the Cowboys’ Week 3 opponent is in a similar spot. The Rams are nine years removed from their last winning season, and are coming off a similarly mediocre 2012 campaign that saw them finish 7-8-1. Rams fans have hollered themselves hoarse. With a talented young quarterback, a rookie playmaker at wide receiver, and a stout defensive front, the team is looking to turn a corner this year as well.
Like the Cowboys, and the Niners and ‘Hawks before them, the Rams enter Week 3 at 1-1, with seemingly more questions than answers.
This game will pit two franchises that, odd as it may seem, can feel their backs against the wall in September. Each is scrambling to break the bonds of sustained mediocrity. Each believes they have the talent to compete and contend. Each is wary of falling to 1-2, thus taking an all-too-familiar step backward from the promise of a playoff berth.
Fans are in for a rare treat on Sunday: A matchup of two desperate teams – in Week 3.
It’s a desperation borne of disappointment spanning years, not weeks. The winners will walk away with something to build on, embracing a promise perhaps not yet fulfilled, but at least sustained. The losers will spend a week answering very familiar questions from irritatingly familiar questioners. And perhaps they’ll wonder if they’re really as good as they thought they were…
And the fans will holler.