By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Fine, I'll go first.
Pride swallowed and head bowed, I enter the Cowboys Confessional. Inside this holy little booth—geez, Cowboys Stadium has everything—I take the Sacrament of Penance for Dallas' football team, a squad I wholly underestimated. On bended knee I softly admit to my sins, my misgivings and my horribly shitty predictions. (Wait, can you curse in here?) I need to cleanse my soul, wipe my slate and beg for a spot on the quickly crowding Cowboys bandwagon.
You too? The line forms behind me.
In the wake of last Sunday night's Cowboys 20, Eagles 16, we should all see Dallas in a new light. As a 6-2, first-place team and playoff certainty that for the first time in a long time has the stones to win a big game in a hostile environment. As a team that no longer cherishes style over substance. As a team that will win its next three games and head into December at 9-2.
Seems like 2-2 was five years ago, not just five weeks ago.
With the off-season locker-room sanitizing of Terrell Owens and Pacman Jones, I knew the Cowboys would have better chemistry but not necessarily a better record. I predicted 9-7 and a playoff spot, which at this point would be a disastrous underachievement.
My confession goes like this:
I was wrong for calling head coach Wade Phillips a Stumbledoofus.
I still believe he's a Dead Man Coaching that won't be back next season. And I still cringe when I see him try to excitedly, clumsily high-five tight end Jason Witten after the game-clinching third-down catch in Philadelphia. But a genuine Stumbledoofus couldn't possibly lead his team to four consecutive wins. Until further notice—or the next inexplicable defeat—I'm invoking a moratorium on the S-word.
Stick around, and you might recognize some of the other penitents. Do any of these sins ring a bell?
Wade Phillips should be fired. Now!
Take your time, Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw and Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jennifer Engel. For it was you two who—with the Cowboys nursing a 3-2 record heading into the bye week—called for Phillips' firing and for offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to finish the season as interim head coach. Wrote Engel, "The obvious answer is to relieve the coach of his duties. Wade Phillips so obviously has failed to deliver on his promise of more whatever, evidenced again in KC by 13 penalties, another sloppy game by Flozell Adams, an uninspired start and zero apparent consequences. Give The Redheaded Genius the final 11 games to see if he's got a little Mike Tomlin potential, or if big bags of cash need to be heaved at Mike Holmgren ASAP." Penned Cowlishaw, "The right thing now would be to remove Phillips during the bye week and give offensive coordinator Jason Garrett—the one-time heir apparent whose career has been a roller coaster ride since 2007—the final 11 games to see if he can create a sense of urgency as head coach."
I'm not saying Phillips should be Coach of the Year just yet, but he at least gets credit for having his team ready to play and for coaching the Cowboys to their best football in two years. Unless I awoke in some bizarro universe, Phillips just out-coached the Eagles' revered Andy Reid in a showcase game.
Jason Garrett is overmatched as an NFL offensive coordinator.
This gem came from my KLLI-105.3 FM The Fan radio sidekick and KXAS-Channel 5 sports anchor Newy Scruggs. Garrett doesn't know how to call a game. He's clueless as to how to use his weapons. Quarterback Tony Romo has regressed. Jason's lost without former mentor-turned-Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, Scruggs crowed.
The Cowboys have the NFL's second-ranked offense. Miles Austin is flourishing. Romo has been almost flawless for a month. In Denver, Garrett called two crucial plays for fourth option Sam Hurd. Last week in Philly with the game on the line, he wisely put the ball in the hands of Marion Barber and Witten. That, my friends, is called improvement.
Tony Romo can't win a big game.
Please, one at a time. We can't squeeze 40,000 of you into the booth at once. I know Romo is 0-2 in the playoffs. That's indefensible. But I dare say the win in Philadelphia was Dallas' biggest victory since beating Green Bay with NFC home-field advantage on the line in November 2007.
It was a big game. And because Romo produced, there will be bigger games. Lay this one to rest.
T.O. made Tony Romo.
Without Owens, Romo is the NFL's eighth-rated passer and has thrown 13 touchdowns to only five interceptions while leading his team to a 6-2 record. Without Romo in Buffalo, Owens is 77th among NFL receivers with 23 catches and has scored just one touchdown while leading his team to a 3-5 record.
I know it's painful. Take a breath. Confess. You were wrong.
It's time for Jon Kitna.
Funny, but those of you who chirped this one—and you know who you are—are suddenly harder to find than Osama bin Laden. You'd feel better if you admitted your mistake, but honestly, I'd hide my face in shame too.
Emmitt Smith is a genius.
The former Cowboy received all sorts of praise when in September he said, "Realistically, I think that the Cowboys can win seven games." To do that, they'll have to go 1-7 in the second half of the season. Emmitt, you're up. And your dumb devotees, they're next.
The Cowboys need Michael Vick.
Tashard Choice looks just fine operating the quarterback-less Razorback set, and the Cowboys don't need another distraction at Valley Ranch.
Besides, has there ever been a more overblown story than Vick's return to the NFL? Off the field, there was no picketing or boycotts or dropped sponsors. And on the field, Vick has about as much impact as Cowboys third-string quarterback Stephen McGee. Against Dallas, he carried one time for two yards. Yawn. Urging the Cowboys to replace Romo with a convicted dog-killer is one thing, but desiring a crappy player is an entirely separate, barely pardonable sin.
Roy Williams will never produce.
Through 16 games (a full season) as a Cowboy, Williams—who cost the team first- and third-round draft picks and a $45 million contract extension—had 33 catches for 447 yards and only three touchdowns. Austin had more yards and touchdowns in his first three starts, and it's never good when your third-highest paid player is your fourth-leading receiver. But against the Eagles, Williams had his best game as a Cowboy, settling into his role as a receiver with a big body and soft hands who can run the slant and move the chains. To say Williams would never connect with Romo was just asinine. Something that, for sure, should be confessed, then corrected.
Last year's locker room wasn't divided/ Chemistry doesn't matter.
Yes it was. And yes it does. Right, captain Bradie James?
"Everybody understands their role and accepts it," he said after the win at Lincoln Financial Field. "That wasn't the case last year."
The Cowboys will choke again come December.
Those clinging to that prediction are absolved.