Cowboys facing crossroad in Sunday's game

The Cowboys find themselves desperate for a win after starting the year slowly with a 2-3 record.

It's not even November, but have the Cowboys already reached a must-win game?

Based on the team's 2-3 start and what lies ahead after Sunday's game at Carolina, the Cowboys definitely need to start making some hay.

The Panthers are just 1-4 and this is not a case of their record being deceiving. Carolina has holes everywhere. The Cowboys need to exploit them.

Of course, the Cowboys took advantage of Baltimore's weaknesses last week and still found a way to lose.

"You need to win the games when you do certain things well," quarterback Tony Romo said. "We didn't do that."

You also need to win games you're supposed to win. The Cowboys haven't done a great job of that over the last few seasons. Lately, they've seemed to play up to the level of good teams like the Giants and down to bad teams like Tampa Bay.

Rollercoaster efforts lead to rollercoaster seasons. The win-lose-win-lose trend does nothing to build momentum, chemistry or unity.

Currently, the Cowboys are on a two-game losing streak, which isn't the kind of consistency they're looking for.

"Obviously we want to get back on track and start putting wins together," linebacker Sean Lee said. "Being 2-3, that's not where we want to be. That's not where we expected to be. But we're going to have to find a way to win consistently. Not just this week, but the weeks going forward."

It's going to be a lot harder to stack up wins after the Carolina game. Next up are the Giants at home, then road games at Atlanta and Philadelphia.

The Cowboys won't face another team with a losing record until Nov. 18 against Cleveland. If they are to have any momentum heading into the next three tough games, a win at Carolina is a must.

That's not necessarily the same as a "must-win" because a loss doesn't eliminate the Cowboys from the playoffs. But a loss to Carolina would give them three L's in a row.

A loss to a struggling team like Carolina is the kind that could ultimately keep the Cowboys from playoff contention late in the season when the schedule is always the most daunting for them.

"It's a very, very important game, I think for both teams," Romo said. "There's a great sense of urgency at practice. The guys have taken the right approach and are committed, but we've got to go out and do it now."

Having a sense of urgency in mid-October might seem a little odd, but the Cowboys can't afford to think that way. They've made a tradition out of struggling in December, when good teams gear up for the playoffs and bad teams can suddenly put things together for a game or two.

The Cowboys haven't fit the bill of good or bad the last few years. They've been stuck in the twilight of being almost good enough, but not quite.

That's the way they played last week at Baltimore, a 31-29 loss. There were optimistic signs in that game despite the defeat, but it's no way to play a season. Ugly wins are infinitely better than encouraging losses.

"Last week we thought we put ourselves in position and weren't able to win down the stretch," Lee said. "I feel like we've been close in a lot of these games, but close doesn't get wins."

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire

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