Once again through the first 2 weeks of December the Dallas Cowboys were being haunted by December’s past. Fans and media alike had one phrase circling through their minds, “Here we go again”. This time however, things would be different.
As soon as the final second ticked off the clock, with the loss at home to the San Diego Chargers Sunday a week ago, Cowboys coaches, players, and front office personnel were enveloped by a storm of fans and media, calling for the dismissal of Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett. No one and I do mean no one, gave this team a chance to knock off the “unbeatable” Saints.
Quietly however, a transformation had begun to take shape inside the locker room. That transformation was ignited, not by coaches, or by fans, or even by the owner, no this transformation was ignited by the two “Leaders” of this football team, Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware.
The fans of the Dallas Cowboys have been screaming for several years for certain players to “Step Up” and impose their will on this football team, well guess what people? That is exactly what took place in New Orleans on Saturday night.
Coming into Saturday nights match up, the Saints offense had been lights out. In their previous 15 possessions the potent Saints offense had punted only once, yes one time! The Saints were an unstoppable machine.
In the Cowboys previous game against the Chargers, they were dealt a blow that could have been disastrous. Star outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware while trying to make a tackle, took an awkward hit to the head, and dropped him to the carpet. While Ware lay lifeless on the Cowboys Stadium floor, we all watched in horror. The next day we all heard that he would be okay, but that we should prepare ourselves for a trip to New Orleans without him.
Later in the week rumors began to circulate that the Cowboys defensive heartbeat may have a chance to play against the Saints, was this merely a stunt to keep the fans from jumping off the nearest bridge? Was this Jerry and Wade’s way of keeping the team together? Or was this simply DeMarcus Ware refusing to sit by and watch his comrades go into battle without him?
We the fans may never know, just exactly what took place, but I believe that Ware viewed this scenario like this; this is our time to prove ourselves and I will not sit idly by and let the moment slip past us. This was the beginning, this was the flame that ignited the blaze.
The Cowboys past December failures have placed upon the shoulders of one man, whether they should have been or not is debatable, but Tony Romo received the blame none the less. People have questioned his commitment, leadership skills, and decision making. They have even brought his personal life into it as a reason for the team’s failures. Tony however, has never wavered in his beliefs of himself and of his team; he has taken the abuse in stride.
The Cowboy offense has been very good and very bad, many times all of that in the same afternoon. I and many of you have questioned the game plans, play calls, who should start and who should get more carries, not because we know any better but because we believed that this team could be better than it was.
There has been something slightly off about this years Cowboy offense, not personnel wise or anything like that, there was just something missing. The team seemed to be unable to have the energy level and fierceness, to start a game at full speed to let their opponent understand that the Cowboys were in charge, and there is nothing you can do about it.
We have heard Tony Romo say many times that “individual things are not important” he does not care how many yards he throws for or how many touchdowns he has, he simply wants to win.
From the opening kick off Dallas was ready and New Orleans was not prepared for what the Cowboys had in store for them.
All week long we told of the doom that was in store for our boys. We were told how great Greg Williams was, and how he had transformed the Saints defense into this turnover creating machine, and how they would force Romo into making poor decisions. We were told of the great Drew Brees and the dynamic receiving corps. that surrounds him, and how the Cowboys secondary simply would not hold up to the pressure.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense took their first two possessions the length of the field for touchdowns, and put the superdome crowd in their seats. The blaze that had been started by Ware was now raging out of control, a blaze so big not even the waters that once flooded the streets of New Orleans could have contained it.
The Dallas Cowboys were now in position to pull off the unthinkable, they had the unblemished Saints on the ropes, but like any good team they were not going to just walk off into the night without one last fight. The Saints began to scratch and claw their way back into the game behind their MVP candidate Drew Brees. The ultimate stage was now set for not one, but both of the Cowboys leaders to either, (a) let another game slip through their hands or (b) stand up to the challenge.
After the Saints had brought themselves to within seven points of the boys, Tony Romo took the huddle and looked his mates in the eye and said follow me. Twice in the Cowboys final offensive drive they looked as if things would stall, but each time Romo stepped up and made a play to keep things rolling, when others were crumbling to the pressure he simply did things himself.
Tony drove his team 74 yards and put them in position for a chip shot field goal to ice the game, only to have the kicker clank it off the upright. Now there was nothing more he could do, except stand on the sidelines watch, and all of us had that disgusting December slogan run through our minds once again “Here we go again”.
Then with just seconds left in the game and the Saints driving, the man who just one week earlier had been driven off the field in an ambulance, simply looked across the line at his opponent and said, not this time, not today. We all have seen the explosiveness, and power that is DeMarcus Ware but never like this. Like something out the movies DeMarcus launched himself at the snap of the ball, with so much power that when he made contact with Jermond Bushrod it launched the Saints tackle into the air, and in a flash Drew Brees was enveloped, and the ball he once held was now rolling on the Superdome floor.
The 2009-10 Dallas Cowboy season has been a roller coaster ride, was this, the game that they needed to get them to believe enough in themselves to become the team they aspire to be? Or was this just one special night? We do not know the answer to these questions yet, but at least for now, we can be proud of this team, and of what they accomplished. No longer should they be subject to statements like these,
The Dallas Cowboys have zero chance!
5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.
Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.
1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons
The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.
In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.
This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.
2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor
Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.
The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.
For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.
The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.
Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.
3. Revenge Against the Falcons
The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.
Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.
4. Running Through December
The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.
This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.
It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.
Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.
5. Thanksgiving Tradition
For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.
The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).
Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.
Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.
Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.
Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring
In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:
The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC
Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.
James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.
That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.
Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory
Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.
There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.
Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.
Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.
Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.
Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.
UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC
Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.
Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.
If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.
The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.
Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.
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