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Bucs vs. Cowboys: Dallas Has to Learn from Underwhelming Performance in Victory

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys fumbles the ball after being hit by Michael Bennett #71 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-10.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 23, 2012

In addition to being oversimplifying cliché-dispensers, people who say "a win's a win" are failing to grasp that not all wins were created equal.

On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys gained ground in the NFC East standings and doubled their win total, and that was the ultimate goal. But it's silly to think that, within a long, complicated season, there aren't dozens of secondary goals.

So in addition to winning, the Cowboys surely wanted to see more from their offense Sunday. After all, the entire unit struggled badly in Seattle after building so much momentum in the opener.

But there was Jason Witten again doing more harm than good, with a trio of dropped passes for the second straight week. And there was Tony Romo struggling to take a breath, with his pass protection failing against a fierce defensive front. 

There was DeMarco Murray averaging only 2.1 yards per carry, and there was Dez Bryant again failing to be a difference-maker (although he did put the game away with a big punt return in the fourth quarter).

It's obviously a good thing that the Cowboys were still able to beat a decent Tampa Bay squad despite such a lackluster offensive performance and despite playing defense much of the afternoon without both of their starting safeties.

But there's more to it than that.

Witten has nearly as many dropped passes (seven) as he does receptions (eight). He also had two false-start penalties in Week 3, leading many to wonder whether his spleen is giving him more trouble than he's leading us to believe. 

So do the Cowboys consider sitting him down? It's tough to take such dramatic measures with respected veterans, but he's hurting the team more than he's helping. With right tackle Doug Free struggling and the interior of the line failing to measure up to strong defensive fronts, Romo needs a security blanket now more than ever.

The pass coverage was stellar, but the Cowboys were lucky to run into a bad Tampa Bay offense at a time like this. Josh Freeman couldn't make the Cowboys pay, as Dallas again turned it over more often and took more penalties than its opponent. 

Such sloppy play likely won't be forgiven as often in upcoming games with the Bears, Ravens, Giants, Falcons and Eagles.

Technically, all that matters is that the Cowboys are now tied atop the NFC East with a 2-1 record. But things are never that simple in this league. Dallas has to prove that it can beat elite teams consistently in order to become one, but America's Team can't live off of its tremendous Week 1 performance in New Jersey much longer.

A team that has for years failed to overcome obstacles will have to get Bryant and Witten back on track. It will have to get past injuries to Gerald Sensabaugh and Barry Church, and it will have to establish some consistency on offense.

If the Cowboys can't do that, they'll be embarrassed in the weeks to come. Chalking this up as "a win, and that's all that matters" is dangerous. Instead, Romo and company have to learn from what's gone wrong the last two weeks. 

That's what elite teams do.

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