It’s funny how quickly perception can change in the NFL.
A little over two weeks ago, the sky was falling on the Dallas Cowboys. They had just been blown out three straight times, twice at home and twice against direct NFC playoff competitors. Cowboys Nation wanted firings – whether that meant head coach Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, Rod Marinelli, or all of the above.
Dak Prescott couldn’t survive without Ezekiel Elliott, and all of the change made to the defense was beginning to be called a failure by the masses.
Fast forward to this week. The Cowboys have now been the deliverers of butt-kickings the last two weeks, and now sit at 7-6 with an outside chance at a playoff spot. And while the team looked like a complete mess without Elliott previously, a win Sunday would put them at 3-3 over the course of the Pro Bowl running back’s suspension.
And is that really all that bad?
Heading into the suspension, most fans probably would’ve taken 3-3 without Elliott and 8-6 overall. Most fans would’ve though that would put the Cowboys right in the thick of the things in the NFC playoff hunt. And most would’ve assumed we’d be happy with an 8-6 Cowboys team.
Unfortunately, 8-6 most likely won’t be good enough in this year’s playoff race. Especially considering the return of Aaron Rodgers and previous losses to both the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons. Plus, the entire NFC South has been fantastic this season (besides Tampa Bay) and two teams from the West look legit as well.
So maybe this just isn’t the Cowboys’ year. But, the success of other teams in the conference shouldn’t cloud our perception of what the Cowboys have done this season if they were to win Sunday night. A win over the Raiders this week would qualify the team’s handling of the Elliott suspension as a “success” of sorts (in terms of on the field, at least) in my opinion.
They would have kept themselves alive in a deep NFC playoff race, discovered a legitimate offensive weapon in Rod Smith, maintained a solid rushing attack over the majority of the six games, and allowed for some real growth from their young quarterback Dak Prescott.
I know the first three games of the suspension were awful, and a team with the talent of the Cowboys shouldn’t be losing that way three times in a row, or three times in a season at all. But, something should be said about how the team has weathered that storm, and kept themselves above water in this competitive conference.
But, of course, the result Sunday night could change all of this if the Cowboys come out and lay an egg in Oakland, effectively ending their season before Zeke even gets back. In that case we will more vividly remember the three horrific losses in which the team was out-coached and embarrassed. But, still those games should be remembered regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
So maybe success is a bit of a strong word.
This week’s game is not only a huge one in terms of the 2017 playoff race, but also may be an important one for determining what the 2018 Cowboys will look like.