The Cowboys opened up the season in grand fashion by defeating the New York Giants. After a sluggish start and the ability to weather a near pick-six by Michael Boley, the Cowboys played a crisp game that was based on exceptional execution. They also managed to help owner Jerry Jones not eat his words.
After blowing a 12-point lead to the Giants last season and losing to them in the final game that put them at home for the holidays, the Cowboys had finally gotten some much-needed redemption. Everyone was feeling great about the win, and the Cowboys were the talk of the NFL. Life was great.
But would this type of win be the springboard to a stack of wins or would going to Seattle be more than just landing in a dangerous trap? Well, Week 2 sort of smacked the Cowboys in the face. I'm sure Sean Lee would agree with that assessment, literally. If it's any consolation, losing to the Seahawks is a little more palatable after seeing the beating that Aaron Rodgers took and the way their defense played.
So would playing a team like Tampa Bay be the perfect remedy to fine-tune things and have an offensive explosion?
Not quite. In fact, the game against Tampa proved to be a comedy of errors, mental lapses and false starts. Penalties were the main source of the headache, but overall, it was a sub-par performance that fortunately resulted in a win. And in this league, you take them any way you can get. The Tampa Bay game was clearly won by the defense, and for that, no apologies are needed. That's what Rob Ryan failed to do last year, but it's something that should be expected of his unit.
So with one outstanding performance and two sub-par performances, the Cowboys still find themselves at 2-1 and in the lead of the NFC East due to tiebreakers. While the rest of the NFC East battles their own problems, the Cowboys now face a Chicago Bears team with an identical record. But if the Cowboys can find a way to win this game and go into the bye at 3-1, the first quarter of the season should be deemed a success.
The bye week would allow the Cowboys to get back some healthy starters and possibly have some lineup changes when they face the Baltimore Ravens in their next contest. The Cowboys have suffered a rash of injuries to players like Jay Ratliff, Phil Costa, Gerald Sensabaugh, Matt Johnson, Barry Church and Jason Witten, so the extra week off should do wonders for this team.
Phil Costa could be one of those players who reclaims his starting spot at center despite the steady play of Ryan Cook. But is Cook part of the flurry of false-start penalties that are plaguing this team? Or is it Witten's apprehension due to his injury? The extra week off could be exactly what Witten needs to be ready both mentally and physically in trying to reverse this string of bad play.
The Cowboys could also see the return of Jay Ratliff, which would be a welcome addition to a defense that is currently ranked first in the league in total yards allowed. Josh Brent has done an admirable job replacing Ratliff, but having his veteran presence and experience clearly makes this defense more dangerous. Having Matt Johnson back could give the safety position some much-needed depth with the shelving of Barry Church for the year.
The Cowboys coveted Johnson in the fourth-round as a valued playmaker and interception machine in college and it's time to start reaping some of those dividends. He was injury-prone in college and so far the same has proven true of his brief pro career. He has to get on the field now.
The Cowboys have to look at the Chicago game with an immense sense of urgency and not the sideshow Jerry Jones will try and create by being a Monday night game. This team is dealing with its share of injuries, which now includes Anthony Spencer. Despite the injuries and the inconsistencies on offense, the goal is simple. Win the game, go 3-1, rest up and come out with guns blazing after the bye week.
So what have we learned about this Cowboys team through three weeks? As good as things looked against the Giants to as bad as they were against Seattle, we've probably learned that the Cowboys are a very talented but inconsistent team with a lot to clean up in all three phases. For right now, the defense has been the main constant, and they will probably have to carry them against Chicago.
Jay Cutler will be looking to make an early and often connection with Brandon Marshall, and the Cowboys need to be ready for a Bears defense looking to make Tony Romo's night uncomfortable. The key to the game will be protection and offensive execution since those are currently the two biggest weaknesses.
The biggest thing that we will learn is how badly the Cowboys want to be 3-1 going into the bye and if this is mentally tough enough to accomplish that. The season is a series of pieces to a big puzzle. Whether you think the Cowboys are as good or bad as perception holds them, going into the bye with a 3-1 record would speak for itself.
Tonight's game is one of those pieces, but it could be a big one.