This isn't going to be a popular theory.
In this knee-jerk, dog-pile news cycle, it's chic and easy and lazy to call the Dallas Cowboys overrated. To label them underachievers. To say they are perpetually hyped yet eternally flawed. To pronounce them—at only 0-2—dead before Big Tex's first "Howdy, folks."
Sorry to color outside the lines and throw some Pythagorean Theorem at your first-grade flash cards, but my nonlinear premise goes thusly: The Cowboys aren't broken, just out of focus. A tiny tweak here. A little fine-tuning there. And presto: Dallas beats the favored Houston Texans down south Sunday in Reliant Stadium, improves to 1-2 and comes out the other end of their bye week as one of the best teams in the NFC, if not all of football.
And, yes, as I type this I am sober.
"There's no pointing fingers at each other," tight end Jason Witten said at Valley Ranch Monday in the wake of a shocking 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears that left the Cowboys 0-2 for the first time in nine years. "Our backs are to the wall. We know that. But I know that, to a man, we believe we're not that far off. We've made mistakes that have killed us the first two games. But they are mistakes we can fix. Mistakes we will fix."
Don't look now, but for the first time in a long time the Cowboys' bandwagon is rapidly emptying. Another bandwagon is filling up, the one just down Randol Mill Road—the red one emblazoned with the bold Texas "T."
"For you guys with microphones and pads and pens talking about us being Super Bowl favorite and the Super Bowl being at our stadium, it's kind of blown out of proportion," receiver Roy Williams said. "We're 0-2 and all that's over now. You guys that were hyping us won't say you were wrong, just that something's wrong in Dallas and the Super Bowl is out of reach. We don't feel that way. We can get this thing back on track."
Out of guilt, my hand is raised as one of the preseason over-hypers who picked the Cowboys to play in Super Bowl XLV February 6 in their own stadium. Out of stubbornness, it'll remain raised.
Granted, it's never a good sign when you're circling the wagons two weeks into the season. And let's be honest: A Cowboys season supposedly lathered with super spice has—after two losses in eight days—decidedly turned sour. After last week's lethargic, laughably bad loss to a very mediocre Chicago team, owner Jerry Jones put the achievement into stark perspective.
"Am I shocked? Yes, I'm shocked," Jones told the media in Dallas' locker room. "Of the disappointments we've had over the last 22 years, I'd say this one is right up there with the worst. Right there with any of them."
Whoa! It's not that bad. Is it?
First of all, 0-2 is not a death sentence. The Cowboys—albeit with the return of Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith from a contract holdout—regrouped from losing their first two games in 1993 to win Super Bowl XXVIII. As recently as 2007, the New York Giants turned the trick. It's not an escape exclusively for Criss Angel.
The Cowboys remind me of a team that overdosed on sleep. Five preseason games is too much. After a while—blind to a finish line or a discernible carrot—they began coasting during training camp and stopped preparing. Urgency was supplanted by survival. By complacency. You saw it in the exhibitions. You've been angered by it during the regular season's first two weeks.
The longer you snooze, the harder it is to wake up. Make no mistake—for the Cowboys, the alarm just went off.
It looked bad in Washington; worse against the Bears. It's been an amalgamation of coaching clusterfucks, physical errors, mental blunders, penalties, turnovers, missed field goals and injuries. If we blamed backup offensive lineman Alex Barron and his holding call for the loss to the Redskins, last Sunday's blame was much more carpet-bomby, with fingers pointed at kicker David Buehler, quarterback Tony Romo and a defense that again failed to force a turnover while having head coach/defensive coordinator Wade Phillips out-foxed by Bears' offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
It's ugly, no camouflaging that. How hideous?
Asked for an explanation as to how such a talented offense could muster only two touchdowns in two weeks, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett responded with, "I don't have a great explanation for you."
Asked if it was already time to push the panic button, Phillips declared his team in Week 3 would indeed be at the crossroads. Although, I coulda sworn he called it the "crosswords." Like you'd be shocked.
I don't necessarily believe in Phillips as a coach or Jones as a general manager or, for that matter, in Garrett as an elite, innovative play-caller. But I believe—somehow, some way—that this team is too talented to crater after a mere 0-2 speed bump.
I'd feel differently had the Cowboys been blown out or in any way, shape or form been dominated in either of their first two losses. To the contrary, they were the best team on the field that happened to wind up with the least amount of points.
Color me naïve, hard-headed and wholly saturated with blue Kool-Aid, but I still think the Cowboys are better than the Redskins, the Bears and, yes, the Texans.
I know statistics can be misleading, but they can also be encouraging. Through two games Dallas has dominated its opponents in first downs (47-31), third-down conversions (11 of 26, 4 of 24), total yards (790-558), offensive snaps (142-105), passing yards (651-431) and time of possession (33:51, 26:09). Almost at will, the Cowboys move the ball between the 20-yard lines, only to bog down, peter out and fail to produce points.
How do you negate such a substantial statistical dominance? With 18 penalties. With two missed field goals. With a turnover margin of minus-4.
Said Williams, simply, "If we don't turn the ball over, we'll win games."
Now isn't the time to scrap plans and grow frantic and run for your life to baseball. It's the time for Buehler to make medium-sized, game-tying field goals. Time for Phillips to stop being uber-aggressive (pooch kickoff, I'm looking at you) when his team has more talent, home-field advantage, the lead and momentum. Time for quarterback Tony Romo to regain his accuracy. Time for the defense's seemingly relentless pressure to result in field position-flipping turnovers. Time not for the Cowboys to run the ball more, but to run it better. And time for linebacker Keith Brooking to perhaps funnel his pre-game enthusiasm into on-field performance.
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To borrow a marketing slogan from the Rangers, yep, "It's Time!"
"Push the panic button?" defensive lineman Marcus Spears says, incredulously repeating a question. "That's not the issue. We've just got to play better. You can talk about this until you're blue in the face. But we need to work on the practice field and win games on Sunday. That's the cure-all for everything."
Super Bowl or bust.
Hard to believe, but suddenly it's Houston or else.