There are still two weeks left in the 2012 NFL season and they must win both of their remaining games to make the playoffs, but the Dallas Cowboys have already overcome more this year than anyone ever thought possible.
To say Dallas has been plagued by injuries this season is a drastic understatement. Six of the Cowboys’ 11 defensive starters (seven if you count slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick) have missed significant playing time this year, three of which have been placed on injured reserve, including safety Barry Church and linebackers Bruce Carter and Sean Lee. Even backups like linebackers Orie Lemon and Ernie Sims, who stepped in and played extremely well, were helped off the field. Still, Dallas’ defense has remained one of the league’s better units for the majority of the season.
Even on offense, the Cowboys struggled severely in the first half of the season but are now clicking on all cylinders. That’s due, at least in part, to the return of DeMarco Murray, but the Cowboys’ offensive line was absolutely awful in 2011 and not much was done to fix that heading into 2012. Yet, Tony Romo was only sacked once and Murray averaged almost six yards per carry during Dallas’ 27-24 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. There’s no way to explain it with X’s and O’s or dollar signs; the Cowboys have simply shown unusual heart this season.
But why? They never have before in similar situations.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett must be very different to his players than he is with the media. Sure, all coaches hold at least part of themselves back that their players know when talking to the media, but Garrett has to be completely opposite. This is the same guy who iced his own kicker in Arizona and then passed blame for it. He’s also the same guy who said the Cowboys weren’t rebuilding at the start of the 2011 season but then said the exact opposite after the disastrous 8-8 campaign was over.
These definitely are not the traits of a coach who preaches accountability to his players. However, he’s either one heck of a talker to his players (Lord knows he’s about the most boring coach in history in front of a microphone) or he actually does hold himself accountable in front of them. Regardless of the method, Garrett has the current group of Cowboys believing in him and themselves, which is something that can’t be said about this team for nearly the past two decades. Because of that, he’s bought himself some time to turn this team into a contender because his players haven’t given up on him like they did Wade Phillips, whose firing gave Garrett his first head coaching job.
Now there’s still a ton of football left, but Dallas has at least given its fans a very small amount of genuine hope with two games to play. That hope became genuine with the win over the Steelers because now the Cowboys can win the NFC East by winning their last two games, the first at home against the New Orleans Saints and then what would become the division title game against the Washington Redskins. Somehow, someway the Cowboys still control their own playoff destiny and contrary to popular belief, they can no longer just be written off with no postseason hope.