See, there it is. That’s just the kind of statement that I’m tired of seeing when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. “The Cowboys must win on Saturday to make last week’s win meaningful …” As if to say that blowing out the Eagles last week wasn’t an accomplishment, a great game, a big win, or a stellar defensive effort if the Cowboys can’t win this coming week?
Last I checked, we didn’t take any gambles against Philly in week 17. It’s not like we’re the Colts who said, “Hey, we’re going to sit our starters for the final two games because we need them around to win the Super Bowl when we get there.” That’s the kind of situation where a later event can define the meaning of a past decision.
If the Colts don’t make it to the Super Bowl this year, then they will be looked at as chumps – honestly. Them winning the Super Bowl is going to be the difference between being thought to have made a good decision resting starters and preventing injuries, and choking any chance they had of winning, disgracing the sport by not playing to win.
The Cowboys didn’t do that. Even when we had that game in hand last week, we still sent Romo, Barber, Adams, Austin, and every other starter back onto the field until Romo took a knee to run the clock out with under 2 minutes remaining.
It’s not like with the Patriots who decided to play hard in week 17 and ended up losing their star wide receiver to an injury that would’ve meant IR for him even if it happened in the preseason. They did what they always do and went full throttle for 60 minutes on Sunday, just like any other Sunday before it.
You could argue that they made a choice to keep themselves in a rhythm and try to maintain some momentum heading into the playoffs. Well now if they don’t win the Super Bowl, they’ll be thought less of for not being more cautious with such an important player as Welker going down.
It all comes down to the gambles that a team makes this time of year – if they lose then a firestorm ensues, but if they win, they’re geniuses.
The Cowboys simply went out and played some good football. No lasting injuries, no promises or game plans for Super Bowl glory in a month – they just played some good, hard, NFC East football against a good football team.
Leading up to week 17 it was clear to everyone involved that it was a virtually meaningless game and a big game, all at the same time. Both teams had already been assured a spot in the playoffs after week 16, so there was no type of win-and-you’re-in scenario to be played out.
The Eagles did have something pretty large to play for though as they eyed the shot at a first round bye and the #2 seed in the NFC, which would come with an NFC East Division Championship if they had beaten the Cowboys.
The Cowboys started their day out with those same accolades in sight, that is until Minnesota beat the Giants in the noon game. Then it became a shot at the #3 seed and home-field advantage for the wild card round, as well as the NFC East title.
To the Eagles, who were riding a six game winning streak, that game, aside from all playoff scenarios, just didn’t mean that much more than another game against a long time foe. But for Dallas it was more than that. After having lost nine season finales in a row, going more than a decade since winning a playoff game, and adorning one of the most repugnant December swoons in league history; and after handing the Saints their first loss of the season followed by a shutout against another NFC East rival, albeit one in sad shape and merely a week away from firing their head coach, this game was a chance to go out and show everybody something we hadn’t seen since players numbered 8, 22, and 88 marched us down the field time and time again.
This was a big game for Dallas, and a huge win. It put the NFL on notice that the Cowboys were playing strong, and the shutout simply added the brief message, “Fear Us.”
But that game was that game – just a week 17 regular season finale. It wasn’t a heat race, and it wasn’t a qualifier. It was a brilliant win against a tough Eagles team.
This Saturday at 7pm will be the start of another game against a tough NFC East rival, and this time there are no silly scenarios to work out, no small consolations such as a bye week or home-field advantage to play for – this time it’s for the whole season.
Lose and you go home. Win and you move on to the next round.
And then, just as now, the game preceding will not be made any less important or well played because of this week’s performance. It simply will be another game won, or lost.