There are moments when the Cowboys feel less like an NFL team than the Hickory High basketball team.
That would be the high school basketball team from Hoosiers, of course. Coach Norman Dale didn't just have to deal with a small student body and undertalented players, he had to deal with a town full of former players and boosters that all thought they knew more about basketball than him and weren't afraid to share their feelings.
It seems like we can't go a week without hearing some harsh criticism of the Cowboys from a player who won the Super Bowl with the team during their own playing career. Slamming the current Cowboys is a cottage industry for Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and others. This week, it is Emmitt Smith doing the honors in surprisingly intelligible fashion.
"Mental toughness for four quarters or five quarters, if you have to go that far. But that's something our Cowboys have not been able to do in close games. And that's where mental toughness comes into play. Unfortunately for us we've lost four games this year in the fourth quarter -- four points or less. And so that in itself is something we definitely need to get corrected in the short period of time to make that happen up in New York."
Emmitt's not saying anything new here. Everyone is well aware of the fact that the 2011 Cowboys have shown very little ability to close out games this season. His diagnosis of the problem seems off, however.
Physical mistakes had as much, if not more, to do with those losses as any mental shortcomings. The Jets loss featured two bad turnovers by Tony Romo, but was a lack of mental toughness what allowed Plaxico Burress to catch a touchdown or what led to a blocked punt? The Giants loss in Week 14 was a simple case of defensive breakdowns, i.e. a talent issue that all the toughness in the world can't overcome.
What's more, buying into the idea that the Cowboys just aren't mentally tough requires one to ignore any moment when the hypothesis doesn't fit. The wins over the 49ers and Redskins in Weeks Two and Three required the team to play very well with their backs against the wall and a team without mental toughness doesn't win the rematch with the Redskins in overtime.
Basically, things aren't as simple as Emmitt, the man who predicted a 7-9 year in 2009 before jumping on the bandwagon when things went well, would have you believe. Not that it really matters, anyway.
Should the Cowboys win on Sunday night you can be sure everybody calling them weak right now will be praising their intestinal fortitude for winning a do-or-die game on the road against a divisional rival. If they lose, we'll have nine months to discuss the reasons why in order to come up with a real conclusion instead of sound bites that sound a lot more incisive than the facts indicate.