The Dallas Cowboys will not contend for another Super Bowl as long as owner Jerry Jones insists on presiding like an emperor over his club.
And he isn't relinquishing an ounce of power until the national media ditches the soft-focus spotlight it currently shines on Big D.
Jones' intent to remain in complete control is a matter of the public record. When you take into account the social/financial profile of the franchise and the man's ego, it's clear it will take massive amounts of pressure to convince him to amend his ways.
Only the national media has that kind of broad, relentless firepower, the kind that can humble a man like Jones into conceding defeat.
Which brings us to the second part of the nightmare facing Cowboy fans.
The national media has helped create the situation—disastrous if you're a Dallas fan, delightful if you're not—by feeding Jones' ego and fostering the idea that the team is always this close to another ring.
The chances of the media suddenly reversing course aren't terrific.
Maybe it's to ensure access to the team, maybe it's the sheer power of the brand or maybe it's something else entirely. Whatever the motivation, reason is frequently abandoned to hype the imminent rise of the 'Pokes.
Case in point...
America's Team knocked Michael Vick out of the game with a concussion, ushered in the Nick Foles Era at quarterback, sent the Iggles to 3-6 and did it all on Philly's turf. It wasn't a terribly surprising performance given the state of the opponent, nor did the fallout from the victory disappoint.
The consensus from the national media was that the Cowboys were legitimate playoff contenders.
As I said, each ray of sunshine from the Lone Star State is blown out of proportion until it's a solar flare, threatening to overwhelm the rest of the NFL.
What nobody seemed to care about was the rest of the rest of the schedule. Beginning in Week 14, sledding for the Star looks considerably more difficult.
Dallas goes on the road to face a Cincinnati Bengals team that dismantled the New York Giants in Cincy, then gets the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cowboy Stadium. Ben Roethlisberger should be back by then if the most recent word on his injury (via ESPN) is any indication. Week 16 sees the resurgent New Orleans Saints visit before the 'Boys head out for a roadie in Washington, D.C., to close out the year.
Toss in Dallas' history of December fades with Tony Romo behind center and the team has to beat the Browns, Redskins and Eagles. Anything less than trio of victories would mean the team is no better than 6-6 heading into a quartet of daunting games, making a 9-7 record unlikely.
Except the media narrative is the opposite: Keep an eye on the Cowboys.
Of course, after their Week 12 loss, the 'Boys are now hoping to reach the final quarter of the season at .500.
They played with fire against the Browns and rallied at the end, but couldn't replicate the feat against the 'Skins on Thanksgiving Day. Three turnovers and a holiday-size helping of Robert Griffin III doomed them in their own building, and now Dallas must win four of its final five games to have a decent shot at the postseason.
Really, though, who's surprised? Even the "experts" who were stoking the hype can't be shocked, because isn't that what the modern Dallas Cowboys do?
They flirt with expectations only to ultimately defecate the bed. That's been their modus operandi ever since the last gasps of momentum from the Jimmy Johnson Era (except when they've been flat-out awful).
Mind you, if/when they beat Philly next week, the groundswell will start again. If they emerge from the Queen City in Week 14 with a W? We'll be right back where we started—the Dallas Cowboys will be legit playoff contenders despite all the evidence to the contrary.
So it goes.
Consequently, little changes.
Head coach Jason Garrett continues to oversee a team that lacks the discipline to learn clock management through trial and error.
Romo continues to make sloppy mistakes and questionable decisions with impunity.
To hear Troy Aikman of Fox Sports tell it on Thanksgiving, Dallas had mysteriously fallen behind by 25 points, despite Romo playing a strong game. Aikman, the former Cowboy star QB, half of Fox's marquee broadcasting team and part-time Tony Romo cheerleader, applauded Romo's ability to bring Dallas back into most games, even if the stats weren't always pretty.
So...forget that they've lost winnable games against vulnerable competition and forget that it's often because Romo struggles early in games. Give the man credit for eventually playing well enough to fail competitively.
Each Romo implosion (like this one) is followed by an outpouring of it's-not-all-his-fault sympathy that you rarely see/hear for quarterbacks. The usual deal is that signal-callers get too much credit when things go right and too much criticism when they go wrong. Such nuances as the dissection of each boner to apportion blame don't usually enter the negotiations.
It's unfair, but it's one of the rules of engagement.
Even so, Romo's not really the problem—he's a good quarterback who's been cast as a great QB because Dallas must have a great QB to succeed.
Jones' fingerprints are all over him and Jones couldn't possibly be wrong.
The Cowboys' struggles since their last Lombardi Trophy are very much on Jerry Jones, who continues to stagger under the weight of his own brilliance.
Take a read through the quick-and-dirty history of the franchise since Jerry's owned them. You'll see two things quite easily:
1. Jones' name is littered throughout the period between the Cowboys' last Super Bowl win in 1995-96 and the present.
2. Jones' name is the only constant in the same time period—coaches, quarterbacks, coordinators and other personnel have passed through Dallas, but Jerry's been there all the while.
What makes the situation even uglier is that debating whether Jones or Johnson deserves the credit for those Super Bowls in the '90s is fun and all, but it's irrelevant for our purposes. Those titles are almost 15 years old. Let's pretend they were all Jerry.
I say again, they are almost 15 years old.
What have you done for me lately?
Yet every year, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the favorites in the national media, destined to make that long-awaited Super Bowl run. Every year, Jerry Jones can enjoy the headlines and bask in the spotlight.
Even though, every year, it's the same basic story with a slight adjustment here or a minor tweak there.
After all, why do something drastic when everyone swears you're so close?