With the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East and beating the Eagles in head to head play, it seems apparent that we are dealing with a different Cowboys' team than in recent memory. However, a look at recent memory suggests that this is simply the same inconsistent team we've all had to watch in recent years.
In 2007, the Cowboys got off to a hot start and we're in the drivers seat in the NFC East. The speculation was that there was no way the Dallas Cowboys would not be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Not even possible. Romo was playing at a Pro Bowl level, the running game was clicking, the defense was clicking, even I was starting to think that the Cowboys might have been the real deal.
However, the month of December rolls around.
The Cowboys beat the Packers and Lions to more or less secure home-field advantage, then lose two out of their last three to the Eagles and Redskins by a combined score of 37-12. At this point, it would be fair to assume that it was the result of clinching home-field early, but losing in December was a pattern that has always held as long as Romo has been the quarterback.
They lost their playoff opener to the Giants at home, killing the possibility of what was supposed to be a surefire NFC Championship and a possible Super Bowl championship.
What happened after that loss astounded me. There was speculation, from the media and from the Cowboys' fan base, that Wade Phillips might be fired. Firing your coach after going 13-3 in his first season?
I don't see that logic. Dallas didn't lose eight straight games or any epic collapse along those lines. How would a new coach help the current situation? Of course the choking talk started surrounding Romo, after the Cowboys lost two playoff openers in a row.
Well, during the course of the offseason, Dallas kept Wade as the head coach and signed Zach Thomas. In the preseason, Dallas was once again the favorite to win it all; even Michael Strahan said they were too talented not to be in the Super Bowl.
After a 4-1 start that included a division win against the Eagles, the talk seemed to be justified. However, the Cowboys lost three out of the next four due in part to a Tony Romo injury, which included a 34-14 humiliation by the Rams, as well as a 35-14 loss to the Giants. At this point it seemed as though the sky was falling in Dallas.
The "fire Wade" calls began to come out of the blue again. Everybody was wondering who the next head coach would be, not who Dallas was going to play in the Super Bowl. The locker room was falling apart. No one player or coach took responsibility for their actions.
The Cowboys turned it around to a degree, winning three in a row and bringing their record to 8-4.
After all the tumult, all the chaos, all the speculation, Dallas was the front-runner in the Wild Card race, and there was renewed speculation that they might bring the Lombardi trophy back to Dallas once again.
However, the December schedule was brutal, having to face the Steelers, Giants, Ravens, and Eagles as their last four games. The Cowboys lost three out of the four games, including a 44-6 stomping at the hands of the Eagles, and missed the playoffs. Offseason speculation was, once again, will Dallas fire Wade? After all, a month before they might have been going to the Super Bowl.
A common reason that Cowboys' fans put forth for last year is injuries. Romo missed a couple of games, Witten and Barber missed some games and were playing through injuries, Felix Jones was on IR, some offensive line and defensive injuries.
However, compare the injuries of the Cowboys of 2008 with that of the Patriots in 2008. The Patriots had Tom Brady miss all but a few snaps of the season. Three of their running backs: Maroney, Morris, and Lamont Jordan, all were on IR.
Adalius Thomas was on IR. Rodney Harrison was on IR. Don't compare the record so much as the locker room attitude: in Dallas the sky was falling because of injuries. In New England, Belicheck kept a tight lid on things, they didn't make excuses, and they went with the players they had.
At no point during the season did it seem like the Patriots were falling apart.
Sure, both teams ended up with the same result, but you can see the contrast between a team that doesn't make excuses and goes with what it has versus a team that collapses under the injury bug and uses that as an excuse. One team has built a dynasty, the other hasn't won a playoff game in 13 years.
Now, we come to the Cowboys of this year. With Terrell Owens gone, the perception is that the team will be more mature than in years past and put together some wins. However, for the first five games this year they fell back into the same trap.
Losing the home opener to the Giants, losing to the Broncos, barely getting a win versus the Chiefs. Entering the bye week, there was already speculation as to who was going to be the next head coach in Dallas. Roy Williams has thus far not lived up to what Dallas gave up in order to get him on the team.
Will this team even make the playoffs? And then behold, Dallas wins four straight games. Now the attitude is that because they've gone on a winning streak it is a sign that they have put the woes of the past behind them. After all, they are in first place in the NFC East. But weren't they on the verge of falling apart just six weeks ago?
I'm not saying it's not entirely impossible.
Clearly, the Cardinals going to the Super Bowl last year showed that any team can make an improbable run and that you can't count out any team. However, Dallas has not entirely put the woes of recent memory behind it, and it needs to learn to play like a championship team every week.
Last week's loss to Green Bay was not a good start in that direction. Also, the most important thing is to finish the season because in the larger scope of things, the Cowboys haven't accomplished anything yet this season.
Despite the success, the Eagles and the Giants are both still easily within striking distance of the division crown.
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