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Looking in the Crystal Ball

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The cruel end of the Cowboys season is too fresh to truly focus on the positive things that happened this season. There's no better way to get over a bitter defeat than looking forward. However, when you do, you'll see that there are plenty of reasons to feel good about what 2010 has in store for Double J's noble warriors. Alas, those who are still mired in Sunday's muck will also find ample evidence that the Cowboys still have miles to go before they return to the mountaintop.

    Tony Romo is as good a place to start as any. Romo proved this season that he can play at a high level without taking the kinds of risks that caused people to have such serious doubts about him in past seasons. He made sensible decisions, didn't try to do more than was necessary and saw the rewards of such an approach. You can't win without a good quarterback and the Cowboys definitely have one. All that said, Sunday's game showed that there's work to do on offense.

    Romo turned the ball over a lot on Sunday, but it's hard to pin the blame squarely on his shoulders after seeing Jared Allen and Ray Edwards take up residence in the Cowboys backfield. Marc Colombo was awful and probably needs to cede his spot to Doug Free this summer, a move that isn't guaranteed to result in significantly better line play. There's no easy fix for Flozell Adams at left tackle, but this season illustrated time and again that the Hotel is no longer an elite blocker. The Cowboys have the quarterback, now they need to keep him upright.

    On the other side of the ball, it's hard not to be encouraged by the development of Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer this year. It took a while for Spencer to make good on the early hype, but he finally got it together and gave the team the complement for DeMarcus Ware that they needed.

    Jenkins's growth was equally important -- it's hard to believe he was battling for a starting job in the offseason -- because it enables Ware and Spencer to rush the passer with abandon. We can't put him in Darrelle Revis's class just yet, but he looks like a guy who will be shutting down half the field for the forseeable future. If Jenkins and Spencer keep growing, a good defense has a chance to be great.

    For some, one of the hardest pills to swallow on Monday is the news that Wade Phillips will be back for another season. There's something to be said for stability, though. It allows for a smooth transition between seasons with the team focused only on getting better and not on rebuilding itself to fit the image of a new leader.

    The flip side is that this is the same leader who has consistently floundered in big spots. Winning the first playoff game since the Clinton Administration was swell, but the Cowboys have lost in the second round of the playoffs under Phillips before so we can't lose all perspective. More troubling is the fact that Phillips's return and, barring a move by the Bills, Jason Garrett's return means that the slightly dysfunctional power structure remains unchanged.

    Don't feel too down, though, because the NFC East looks like it is the Cowboys' division to lose. The Redskins are refitting themselves under Mike Shanahan, the Giants are facing an uncertain future after this year's collapse and the Eagles could be making a move with Donovan McNabb. The Cowboys are already ahead of all those teams, a nice place to be at the start of what could be a chaotic offseason thanks to the uncertain labor situation between the league and the union.

    That's a good place to leave things at the moment because the future is bright for the Cowboys. Be mindful of the red flags above, get a better kicker and there's a lot of reason to believe that the Cowboys could be playing at home come Super Bowl XLV.