The “Easy Streak” of Three
A few weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys thumped the Buffalo Bills in a game that served as a media launching pad as it was the first time Dallas had beaten a strong opponent since the early season victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Looking ahead to the remaining schedule, Dallas appeared to have some advantages against divisional opponents as the Cowboys were looking at the next three games as some sort of easy streak in which they could pick up ground and make the playoffs.
I held to my preseason prediction that the Cowboys would go 8-8. I was not fully convinced they had corrected their error-prone quarterback and receiving corps. Even though the Cowboys would be facing three teams with losing records in the three weeks following the Buffalo game, I would not buy into the enthusiasm of the local fan base. An 8-8 season still seemed reasonable since the Cowboys had not yet played either of their two games against the New York Giants, and they still had a game to play against the Philadelphia Eagles who crushed them just a few weeks ago.
After the Thanksgiving Day game against the Miami Dolphins, however, the Cowboys are brandishing a 7-4 record, standing a half-game ahead of the Giants in the (NFC East) divisional race, which will either become a tie or a one-game lead for Dallas after the Giants play on Monday night against the New Orleans Saints.
The Cowboys play the 3-7 Arizona Cardinals in next week’s game and hope to pull off the trifecta that many starry-eyed Dallas fans believed they would do with ease.
It has not been so easy however. The game against Washington went into overtime when Dallas beat the Redskins on a field goal. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys defeated the Miami Dolphins on the last play of the game with a field goal, capping off a beautiful drive by quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas offense.
Next week’s contest will be equally challenging as Arizona has beaten the Philadelphia Eagles and played some of the league’s toughest teams very closely throughout the year. The Cowboys will have their hands full. Some easy streak!
Doing Things Right
Amateur analysts, like myself, have seen some things from the Cowboys over the last two games that are very encouraging. One of the most important developments has been the play of Romo. Often complimented because of his talent, Romo has been criticized fairly and soundly about his inability to lead the team on the field when things are not going his way.
Memorable pictures of Romo sitting on the bench alone with his hat in his hand, looking like he was thinking of his long lost love, usually led the team to a sound whipping by its opponents. One of the best advances of the past two weeks is that he has performed well after falling behind, and he has found some of his key players, like Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson, on passes that used to fall into the hands of his opponents.
In the game against the Dolphins, he had two interceptions early in the game, but after the offense started getting their legs back under them late in the second quarter, it appeared these were not the same old Cowboys. This team began to take on a different character, one of urgency and balancing the risks between playing it safe and playing to win. Romo led the charge and has played very well in the last three weeks.
Cowboys Looking Like a Winning Team
There are three characteristics of winning teams that the Cowboys have picked up in the last few weeks:
- Coming from behind to win games they might have lost earlier in the season, showing maturity and a sense of urgency about winning;
- They have managed to win the “trap” games against opponents with losing records, demonstrating they are not listening to the boastful fan base which tends to crown the Cowboys as the victors at the first sign of strength;
- Statistically, their third down conversion rate has improved greatly as well as their turnover ratio, the two key statistics which kept them from scoring on key drives earlier in the season.
Exceeding My Early Expectations
My confidence in the team is building, and I am seeing the Romo I have been looking for. He is healthier, not only because of his recovery from a rib injury earlier in the season, but he seems mentally more capable of handling the stresses of the position. His level of confidence is much higher.
It appears the Cowboys will beat my early season prediction of 8-8. It now looks like they could finish the regular season with 10 wins. I believe they will win two of the three games left to play against the Giants and the Eagles, and they should win at least one of the two against Arizona and Tampa Bay. If things go very well, the Cowboys could win 11 games on the season and surpass even the most optimistic predictions of local fans and media.