The Dallas Cowboys are definitely not in the best shape possible heading into the 2012 NFL season opener against the New York Giants on Wednesday night. Dallas is 1-5 against New York over the past three seasons and the Cowboys haven’t beaten the Giants in primetime since 2008. History isn’t even the half of it; Dallas will be without a healthy Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. The latter two might play, but they won’t be anywhere near 100 percent.
This isn’t a “statement game” as they say; this is a game that will define the 2012 Cowboys. Now before you go shaking your head at that last statement, delve into the facts and numbers.
Dallas lost five games in 2011 in which it led in the fourth quarter. Four of those leads were at least 12 points, a franchise “record.” Three of those losses came on controversial and/or demoralizing plays at the end of games and one of those was against the Giants.
The Cowboys aren’t a mentally tough team. Not yet, at least. The Cowboys are 2-11 in primetime games in the past two years, a majority of which were played with Jason Garrett as the head coach. The Cowboys already have four games slated in primetime for this year and two more that will undoubtedly be moved to primetime as is typical for a Dallas season. In other words, the Cowboys can run, but they can’t hide.
Frankly, Dallas has been awful when under the lights. The Cowboys have given up more leads and lost more games in primetime than any other team during Garrett’s tenure as head coach. That means Wednesday night’s season opener for the league is going to be a major early-season test for Dallas. The game will not only be watched by more than just Cowboys and Giants fans, but every NFL fan will be tuned in as it will be the first taste of football in 2012.
The Cowboys have two major areas in which they’ll be tested Wednesday night: depth and mental toughness. With the injuries to Witten, Austin and Bryant, to name a few, several young players will be forced into action against the defending Super Bowl champs on the game’s second-largest stage. That means Garrett’s coaching will be on display as the mental toughness of those young players will be exposed. How will they perform? Don’t even try. Predicting a Cowboys game is like predicting the weather in Texas.
If Dallas flops in this big game at the new MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, all the fake Cowboys fans (70 percent of the fan base) will immediately turn to other shiny new things while all the true fans (only about 15 percent of the fan base) will wake up tense and sore on Thursday morning from all the teeth- and fist-clenching and swallowing those lumps in their throats. As the great Jimmy Johnson once said, “It can’t be ‘oh, here it goes again.’ ” However, that’s exactly what it will be unless the Cowboys show some resilience on Wednesday night.
Whether or not he deserves the blame for the loss, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will be burdened with it. The chants for a new signal-caller will begin from fans who don’t know the difference between a touchback and a safety and then the morale of the team and players like Romo will take their annual nosedive. That will, in turn, prompt the typical outlandish statement by team owner Jerry Jones (as if he hasn’t made enough of those already), then some head-scratching gibberish from Garrett and finally the mailing in of the season by the team. If the Cowboys flop in this game, it will definitely be ‘oh, here it goes again.’