Ranking individual players on an NFL team’s roster by importance or value is a new fad that needs to go. Sure, some players are better than others (there are starters, second-string players, reserves, etc.) but quarterbacks don’t play defense, linebackers can only cheer for the offense from the sideline and kickers occasionally make touchdown-saving tackles. So why rank the players? It’s pointless, especially when trying to measure the success of a team like the Dallas Cowboys.
All one-playoff-win-in-forever-and-a-day jokes aside, the Cowboys have been quite the pleasant surprise this December. In fact, Dallas’ three-game winning streak in this particular month is the team’s first since the 1993 season, the second of back-to-back Super Bowl-winning campaigns under Jimmy Johnson. Yes, you read that right: The 2012 Cowboys have accomplished something that hasn’t been done since Jimmy friggin’ Johnson was the coach. That’s saying something.
Now let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. Dallas still has a very high hurdle to clear to even get into the postseason this year, much less contend for a title. The New Orleans Saints will invade Cowboys Stadium in Week 16 before the ‘Boys hit the road to face the Washington Redskins in the season finale and both of those teams are fighting for their playoff lives just like Dallas. However, the fact the Cowboys got this far has do with a team effort, not individuals.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has had an outstanding month and he has a terrific matchup against the Saints’ pass defense this week, which is the league’s second-worst. However, it wasn’t Romo who returned a fumble 50 yards for a touchdown that put Dallas up by 11 with four minutes to play against the Philadelphia Eagles. Likewise, it wasn’t Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware who led the offense down the field to set up a game-winning field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The return of Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray from a foot injury has undoubtedly been a huge boost for the Cowboys’ offense, but he didn’t fill in for any of Dallas’ seven injured defense starters this year when Rob Ryan‘s unit defied odds with feats like forcing the Pittsburgh Steelers to punt with less than a minute left in a tie game and then making a critical interception at the beginning of overtime to seal the win.
Even with all those injuries that have plagued Dallas’ defense this year, it wasn’t one guy like Ware who picked up all the slack. When superstars Sean Lee and Bruce Carter went down, blue-collar players Orie Lemon and Ernie Sims stepped in and did a tremendous job. When they went down, youngsters like Alex Albright raised their game to compensate. Even with the fantastic season Anthony Spencer is having, the unlikely success of the Cowboys’ defense can’t be awarded entirely to him. No one has carried this team on either side of the ball.
Dez Bryant has also had an outstanding season and month, but it was Miles Austin who shouldered the received load against Pittsburgh and finally drew away enough attention for Bryant to score. Even then, tight end Jason Witten was the go-to guy on second-and-long when the Cowboys needed to make an upcoming third down more manageable. On top of that, it was third-string tight end James Hanna who caught two long Romo passes to set up Witten’s touchdown against the Steelers to put Dallas up by 10 early in the second quarter.
Heck, Cowboys punter Brian Moorman hasn’t been great, but he’s done a fairly serviceable job filling in for the injured Chris Jones.
The point is this: Before you try to argue that Murray is more valuable than Bryant or Ware is means more to the team than Romo, look at Dallas’ success this year, and especially during this historical three-game winning streak. No single player has stood out, even in the midst of all the defensive injuries. No one has put the team on his back for a game, much less stretch of games. These players are finally working together as a team and it’s slowly starting to pay off. Even if Dallas gets trounced in the first round of the playoffs or doesn’t make it at all, the Cowboys have started something that should ripen once everyone is healthy in 2013. Enjoy the mild success right now, Cowboys fans, but just wait until next season.