What Changed for the Cowboys on Sunday


As all are now aware, Dallas Cowboy linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a single car accident this weekend. Josh Brent, his teammate, friend, and driver of the vehicle was subsequently arrested for intoxication manslaughter. In a high profile league where logistics and scheduling are extremely expensive and inflexible the Cowboys were expected to play on Sunday amidst the tragic circumstances. The Dallas Cowboys traveled to Cincinnati to play the 7-5 Bengals. Since Dallas needed a win to keep their playoff hopes realistically alive, they did not have the luxury of allowing their heavy hearts to impact their performance. It’s a sad reality but a reality none the less.

In what was a physically exhausting game the Cowboys were able to rally from behind and claim victory in the final seconds.  The emotional release was intense. Thoughts of their missing teammates invaded their minds as they stormed the field in what was part celebration and part memorial. The Cowboys didn’t play very good football on Sunday. That much is true. They did show strong determination and focus in the face of epic distraction and sadness. The Dallas Cowboys finally showed their Will to Win.

Building a team of talented athletes is the easy part. It takes time of course, but with today’s scouting resources it is genuinely achievable for any team. It’s the intangibles that are the hard part. It’s the intangibles that dictate who the “winners” are. In a league where parity is king, the intangibles make all the difference in deciding champions. Having a will to win is perhaps the most important intangible to have, unfortunately also the hardest to learn.

As recently stated, Jimmy Johnson achieved a will to win in the 90’s by drafting proven winners and instilling fear in the locker room. Players responded the way any competitor would, by giving that extra effort they didn’t even know they had (many refer to this as giving 110%). Since Jason Garrett does not run his team that way, it seemed far-fetched to believe the Will to Win would ever exist.

But that changed on Sunday.

Make no mistake that was an ugly game from both sides of the field. While neither team looked like a playoff contender, one team stepped up when it counted and willed itself to victory. That was the Dallas Cowboys. Fear wasn’t the motivator but rather heart was. Many plays succeeded on Sunday because players played above themselves. DeMarco Murray is good but he played great when his team needed him to. Romo has always been elusive in the pocket, but it seemed he was stubbornly refusing to quit in some seemly dire situations. Lineman on both offense and defense played above their level. This may have been the biggest mismatch of the season for the linemen considering how strong Cincinnati’s lines are and how damaged Dallas’ are. Somehow they stepped up when they had to. The Cowboys wanted this win more than any win before. They truly willed themselves to victory. It seems this team cares a great deal in matters of life and of football.

Watching the other relevant division games it is clear the Giants and Redskins are playing much better fundamental football than the Cowboys. The Giants have already displayed the will to win in route to two Super Bowls and the Redskins seem to have made a step in that direction themselves on Sunday. The Cowboys will no doubt need to play much better if they hope to overtake either of these teams this season. The will to win is important but if you play bad football it’s pointless. But at least they found what they were missing. Ask any champion, to become a winner you need want it more than anyone else. You need to play well and be intolerant towards failure. The Cowboys showed it on Sunday. They need to find a way to keep this desire, this motivation, this will to win and build on it. If they do, they may just have a shot at this thing.