Cowboys must win to show progress is real

ARLINGTON — The same thing is only kind of on the line for the Cowboys and Redskins when they meet in Landover, Maryland for what basically amounts to The NFC East Championship game Sunday.

Yes, thanks to the strange world of NFL tiebreakers and the Giants getting their butts whipped in Baltimore, the Boys-Skins winner wins the division and the accompanying playoff berth. It is not right, however, to say they are playing for the same thing.

Because if the Redskins lose, it will be a sad day but they will get up and think ‘Damn, but we are on the right track. We got this amazing quarterback who is going into his second year, his second freaking year. Things are only going to get better.”

If the Cowboys lose, what they say will sound something like “Oh bleep. What the bleepity bleep now?”

The Cowboys are not young, nor is this their first rodeo with being close. They are the kings of close. Hell, on Sunday, they had engineered this amazing comeback and forced overtime after being down two touchdowns late to New Orleans. They lost 34-31 in OT, and they did so despite forcing a fumble and not getting the turnover. A year ago, they went to The Meadowlands for Week 17 with the same conditions: Win and in. They lost and then watched as the Giants launched that into another Super Bowl victory.

This is how Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and I ended up talking about patience after Sunday’s loss. I asked if it was hard to be patient when the Redskins were finding a way to win with a rookie quarterback. It was the wrong question. The real question is if he’s losing patience period.

“Well now that’s a different question,” Jerry said and then went on to admit that yes, yes he is finding it hard to be patient.

“It is hard watching these games unfold and what we’re doing and especially the way we are doing it we are doing it early in the ballgames the way we are playing,” he said. “When you know and figure what is at stake, a fumble those kinds of things, it is a little bit of agony.”

Nor does he buy into this theory, espoused by many including myself, that this season has an asterisk, an asterisk penciled in by injuries to guys like Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware and so many randoms that have been shuffled in and out.

“We got what everybody wants and that is our corners are healthy and our pressure players are healthy,” Jones said. “I’m not minimizing the injuries. I guess I am minimizing the injuries.”

In other words, the owner of the Cowboys said shut up and play.
He expects his defense to do better against Robert Griffin III and his offense had better do better than what we saw early against New Orleans. He believes his team has a chance, and a chance to go on a run once in the playoffs.

“Just because I thought it was so doesn’t make it so,” Jerry joked.

He thought when the Cowboys won the toss in overtime they were scoring, and that did not happen. That New Orleans scored points against this Cowboys defense is hardly surprising. That the Cowboys offense struggled against this Saints secondary was, especially after Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo strung together this amazing comeback that included going 64 yards in 74 seconds and tossing a 20-yard touchdown to Miles Austin on fourth down.

“There were a lot of good things that happened in the ball game. Certainly, the resolve the fight, and determination and will was displayed by our football team again. Those are real positive things,” Garrett said.

There is legitimacy to the resiliency defense of the Cowboys. They have not quit under unbelievably trying circumstances—the death of a teammate, another charged in that death, injuries and a season that looked to be doomed after a loss to Washington on Thanksgiving. That they did not quit is a testament to Garrett and players who showed resilience not usually seen in this Cowboys locker room since The Jimster left.

In most years, this might be enough.

Not this year, not in Dallas.

The Giants have Super Bowls to cushion their fall. The Redskins, by all indications, are a team on the rise, a team that will have to be dealt with for years to come no matter what happens Sunday. The Cowboys are in the murky middle having not won and not just starting out on this journey. They were the ones who told us before the year that their window was closing. They were not lying.

This is where the impatience comes from, from an owner who believes he has the right players, the right GM, the right coach in place. I have covered Jerry Jones for long enough that I speak Jerry fluently now. After last Sunday’s victory against Pittsburgh, he answered almost every question with an answer praising his coach Jason Garrett.

Q: Where does this resiliency come from?
A: Jason Garrett.

Q: What color is the sky?
A: Jason Garrett.

This translates loosely to: He’s back. No matter what happens, he is back. And this is what is on the line for the Cowboys, a win validating this belief that progress is being made and a loss testing exactly how much more patience Jerry has.