The 2014 Dallas Cowboys have an identity: Mental and physical toughness. Demeanor. Do your job. Be the best version of yourself. It’s a nameless, faceless opponent – what matters is what we do. Forget the last play, don’t worry about the next play, focus on this play. Home, away, parking lot, moon – play your best regardless of circumstances. Fight.
So goes the gospel according to Jason Garrett. His sermons have this team two wins away from the Super Bowl, believing they can win every time they take the field.
Will that be enough to win at Lambeau Field? It’s not the moon, but you wouldn’t know that from the mercury. Can Garrett fool his players into believing they can win in these conditions? On the road against a well-rested, 12-win team? A team, by the way, that was a perfect 8-0 at home and is led by the league’s likely MVP?
These Cowboys have already overachieved in 2014, shocking the sports world by starting the season 6-1, then silencing the more stubborn critics by capping a 12-4 season with a perfect 4-0 December and winning the NFC East.
Surely at some point, when a team has so far exceeded preseason predictions, there’s a mental let up. Even if the players and coaches vigilantly guard against it. A perfect December. A division championship. Six Pro Bowlers. Four All Pros. A playoff win. Expert prognosticators humbled. Internet memes obliterated. Exhale.
Given the consensus projections of futility at the season’s onset, how does this team guard against the slow, inexorable creep of satisfaction?
The Cowboys have every excuse to lose this game. The venue. The conditions. The opponent. The 6-point Vegas line. Attrition – several key defenders missing practice with injuries. The top pass rusher and starting middle linebacker both out with concussion symptoms. There’s a very real chance that core special teamer Cameron Lawrence will take meaningful snaps at linebacker. Last time that happened Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints set an NFL record for first downs in a game.
The backup middle linebacker, a fourth-round rookie, is battling through a high ankle sprain. The starting right tackle is out. The All Pro right guard is hobbled with an ankle injury. The league’s leading rusher is playing with a broken hand. The quarterback with the surgically repaired herniated disk is also nursing a cracked spine and coming off a six-sack outing against the league’s most physical defense.
Worse than all that, no one will look down on the Cowboys if they lose this game because the team has so far exceeded expectations. This team is an interloper – everyone expected a Seattle-Green Bay NFC Championship. Those Cowboys were scrappy. They had a good run. Now let’s get back to what we all knew was going to happen anyway…
Green Bay is a fine team, but the threat they pose to ending this improbable run is an afterthought compared to the real enemy. The Cowboys players are all sure to say the right things to the media, and they may even believe them, but satisfaction is the opponent against whom Garrett must prepare his team this week.
Garrett himself has already earned his contract extension – executing the terms is merely a formality to be saved until after the season. The lame duck will soon be a fat cat, regardless of what happens in Green Bay.
Can Garrett live the identity he has crafted for this Cowboys team? Does he possess the leadership ability to get these Cowboys breathing fire in the face of a job already well done?
We’ll find out Sunday.