Coming off last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss at Baltimore, the Dallas Cowboys face a situation many thought they would face—a must win game before Halloween.
The loss in Baltimore didn’t teach us a whole lot about Dallas, but it did re-affirm what most of us already thought. For example, I would have never guessed that the Cowboys would come to within a last second field goal of beating a Ravens team that just doesn’t lose at home.
But that’s what they did.
The point is this: On a given day, anybody can beat anybody in the NFL and you don’t even need to play particularly well to do it.
I trust you can recall the matchup against undefeated New Orleans in 2009 in which Dallas picked up a road victory against a team that was perfect well into December.
Again, on any given Sunday …
This week’s task doesn’t appear to be quite as daunting as winning a football game in New Orleans or Baltimore. The Cowboys can actually turn their frustrations on a team that is in the midst of a rebuild and another young quarterback named Cam Newton.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Cowboys will be letting last week’s loss go, emotionally speaking.
The culture in Dallas is about as bad as I can remember and I lived through 3-13 in 1988 and also 1-15 the season after.
There were three consecutive 5-11 seasons to begin the millennium and also the debacle of 2010 that saw the first midseason coaching change in team history.
Even as we speak, the Cowboys are, again, below the .500 mark and have shown nothing to make themselves or anybody else believe that they are ready to turn things around. At some point the Cowboys have to start connecting wins and this week is as good an opportunity as there is for the foreseeable future.
Carolina has won a single game this season, that coming against New Orleans on Week 2 as the Saints were reeling with a new head coach and the rest of the fallout stemming from Bounty-Gate. But with a record of 1-4, the Panthers find themselves only a game behind 2-3 Dallas, so don’t think that this crew will be in awe of the Cowboys.
A loss this week would pretty much drain any realistic hopes of postseason play and I realize that there is still many that have their fingers crossed that the Cowboys can right the ship before December closes. Well, if this is to happen then it has to begin with the Panthers.
The only good news about the next three games is that it’s the second and final time Dallas plays on the road two weeks in a row.
Is Sunday's meeting at Carolina a must-win for Dallas?
Yes, the Cowboys have to win, period. They can’t leave North Carolina with a record of 2-4 and expect to qualify for the postseason. Sure, it could still happen, but the odds would certainly take a serious hit.
In closing, the Cowboys did show that perhaps they can take advantage of opposing weaknesses when they ran all over the vaunted Ravens defense for a Baltimore franchise-worst 227 yards. A week prior, Kansas City had hammered the Ravens on the ground as well.
Attacking the Panthers boils down to keeping Newton in the pocket and disallowing him to win the game with his legs, which he certainly can and will if allowed.
Beyond Newton’s legs come those of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, a potentially dominant pair of runners that can keep Carolina in any ballgame.
Yes, the Panthers will want to keep the Dallas offense off the field as much as possible, but the Cowboys know this going in. This is one of those games where the better team needs to know it and play accordingly.
But if Dallas comes out, drops passes, turns the ball over and allows momentum-swinging plays for the Panthers on special teams, then the Cowboys could be looking at a very long, dry season of football the rest of the way.