Sigh. Sometimes I think the Jason Garrett-era Cowboys exist for the sole purpose of making any predictions about the team look as foolish and unreliable as those cheesy horoscope rags that line the racks in dollar store checkout lines. Perhaps I’ll try my hand at writing for one of those once my editors realize what a fraud I am as a sports prognosticator and pull me from this column. It certainly couldn’t be any more difficult. Seems horoscope clairvoyants follow a similar formula to my own, which appears to simply be clawing wildly at thin air, then committing to print anything you can wrap your fingers around, accuracy be damned.
When last we checked in on our silver and blue-clad heroes, they had just been embarrassed by a middling Tennessee Titans team on Monday Night Football, falling to 3-5 on the year and dropping to third place in their division. The season seemed fast-tracked toward a level of failure that most thought (or hoped and prayed with a pleading fervor usually reserved for moments like being pulled over by the police with outstanding warrants) would conclude with the Ginger-Headed Robot headed for the trash compactor like so much scrap metal, likely clapping all the while as the crushing steel walls closed in around him.
But since then, in patented confounding fashion, the Cowboys have inexplicably gone and pulled off back-to-back road wins against the teams that have represented the NFC in the last two Super Bowls. Their 27-20 win in Philly, followed by the 22-20 victory in Hotlanta on Sunday, makes it the first time in 12 games that the Cowboys have managed to string together consecutive wins, going back to last season. They also account for their first wins away from AT&T Stadium in 2018.
The Eagles and the team in Washington both lost on Sunday, which sets up Dallas with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East if they can manage to extend their current win streak to three games – a prospect almost unthinkable just weeks ago. The odds of a Thanksgiving Day victory against the capital city team got an unfortunate boost with solid bus-driver quarterback Alex Smith breaking both bones in his lower leg Theismann-style in D.C.’s loss to the Texans. Hauntingly, Smith lay in agony on the field with the gruesome fracture 33 years to the day that “Captain Bubbly” suffered his famous career-ending injury. Add to this a suddenly manageable slate of opponents down the stretch (discounting the automatic “L” that will come at the hands of the unstoppable New Orleans Saints, of course), and the Cowboys actually look to have the best likelihood ending the season donning the division crown. Go figure.
I’ll admit it, after the Titans loss (which irritatingly puts the Cowboys’ record at 0-2 on Monday Night games I’ve attended), I’d practically set up permanent shop in the stadium parking lot and in various social media circles, armed with a clipboard and an air of smug cynicism, petitioning innocent passersby to join me on the “tank train.” The Cowboys were in a hole record-wise, one that only looked like it would get deeper with a run of underdog games coming up on the schedule. It would have been fair to assume Dallas would have eight or nine losses by the start of December. I saw no recourse but to abandon all aspirations for a postseason appearance and hope that the Cowboys lose as many games as possible, both to improve their (second round, sniff, sniff) draft position and to finally banish Coach Garrett-Bot to the android-populated Off-World Colonies, where he would live out the remainder of his battery life making poor in-game decisions for some interstellar arena league team far, far away.
That’s not to say I’ve been actively rooting for them to lose. Sure, I’ve wanted it to happen but in an abstract sense. Once that ball is kicked, like any good fan, I’ve got on my face paint and foam finger, and I’m cheering on Dak and the ’Boys, hoping they win but cognizant, and being OK with the fact, that they probably won’t.
Except now, dumbfoundingly, they have.
Cue the famous line from what amounts to the only five seconds anyone can recall from the whiff that was The Godfather Part III –– “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
While certain fans may be bemoaning the Cowboys’ sudden surge and the likelihood that it prolongs the inevitability of Garrett’s firing, I’ve done a headfirst triple-axle dive off the tank train. Sure, Garrett still has an embolism-causing knack for game management, and Dak still takes unnecessary sacks and misses wide open receivers on about half of his passing plays, but the O-line looks much improved (thanks to the firing of coach Paul Alexander and, yeah, probably the replacement of injured rookie Conner Williams at left guard), the addition of Amari Cooper has already had cascading effects throughout the offense, Zeke is starting to feast again, and – I say this unequivocally – this looks like a championship-caliber defense. How could anyone root for failure when they see the All-Pro-level play of rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and freakishly disruptive defensive end Tank Lawrence?
I know that even if the Cowboys win the division and make the playoffs, they’re likely to get bounced in the wild card round by the Vikings or Panthers. And even if they could make it past either of those teams, they’d then be facing the juggernaut Rams or the offensive buzz-saw that is the New Orleans Saints (who just hung 48 on Philly, the sixth time this year they’ve scored more than 40). But so what. I’ll take Garrett clapping at Drew Brees hitting Michael Thomas for a 64-yard touchdown over studying up on second-round draft talent come January. I’ll leave the ambivalence to my friend Kevin. I’m all-in again. Who else wants to join me on the rally train?