Playing Jerry's Advocate

Forgive my blind optimism, but is there a chance that Jerry Jones is right?

(Note: If you have decided that you hate Jerry Jones and everything he means to the zeitgeist of professional sports, you may want to stop reading now. If you read my article on Monday, facetiously vowing my allegiance to Jerry, you should know that that was merely a rhetorical tool, and then keep reading. I am aware that this is a drastic change in tone, not only for me, but for just about any writer or fan in the greater Dallas area at the moment, but bear with me. A little positive thinking never hurt anybody, right?)

Optimism seemed to leave North Texas for good, with respect to professional football, anyway, on Dec. 28 of last year. For the first time in recent memory (not counting that insufferable loss to the Rams in October), I turned off the Cowboys game as they were whipped like mules by the loathsome Philadelphia Eagles. I need not bore you (or depress myself) with the details. That's how it happened and I'm sure we'd all just as soon forget about it. But whatever that loss said about the Cowboys seems to be of little consequence; if it were, Jerry would have cleaned house, right?

So, we are to believe that either the Cowboys are doomed from the outset in 2009 (this opinion is particularly popular with Redskins, Eagles and Giants fans) or that we were never as bad as we seemed in 2008.

For the sake of argument, and my sanity, for that matter, let's take Jerry Jones' approach and assume the latter.

The 9-7 Cowboys were relatively bad last year, and they say everything is relative; so I suppose that makes the 2008 Cowboys flat-out bad. You will hear no arguments from this end. However, two things are often lost when reflecting on that ugly season: first, the Cowboys were pounded from beginning to end by a deluge of injuries. And, second, they were, for the most part, beaten by teams that were simply better than them. (Again, I refuse to acknowledge any loss under the leadership of either of our esteemed backup quarterbacks.)

Felix Jones was an increasingly integral facet of the offense before being shelved for good with a torn hamstring in November, and while Tony Romo was far from a world-beater in 2008, he at least gives Dallas a chance to win (usually), a characteristic of which Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger seem to be bereft. And let's not forget about Terence Newman, widely regarded as one of the elite corners in the league, who missed six games with a groin injury; DeMarcus Ware, Marion Barber, etc. etc. The sheer amount of key injuries suffered in 2008 would cause any team to struggle, regardless of coach, owner, GM, presence of Terrell Owens, etc.

To blame the Cowboys woes on a lack of team chemistry is popular and it could be accurate; however more than anything, it is a powerful statement on the lofty expectations this Cowboys team elicits. For many fans (and writers), it seems, the Cowboys being beat simply on talent is unthinkable. “It must be T.O.”

Fittingly enough, two of the Cowboys losses that drew the greatest ire from fans (before the gutless collapse of weeks 16, 17) were those to the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Granted these were two very different games; Cowboys fans were beside themselves over the fact that the Cardinals took us to overtime, beat us, and had the audacity to knock out two Pro Bowlers while they were at it. Little did we know, they would win the conference.

 But more painful (in a figurative sense) was the loss at Pittsburgh. The Cowboys seemed to be in control before (as they proved to have quite a knack for) giving up a 10 point lead and ultimately losing when Tony Romo put an ill-conceived pass between DeShea Townsend's numbers.

Now, both of these losses were ugly, to varying degrees, and they drew the prolix wrath of fans on call-in shows and message boards across the state and probably the country. Ah, but we're being optimistic today, so let's not focus on that. Each game was a loss, yes, but more importantly for our purposes, each was a one possession difference to an eventual Super Bowl team.

Now, were these losses, and ultimately (more importantly) the difference between the Cowboys and the aforementioned Conference champs a difference in character? In talent? In luck? In team chemistry?
Maybe it’s one, maybe it’s all four; no one will really know until next year, and maybe not even then. But perhaps also, Jones is onto something. Maybe another season is needed before the proverbial house is cleaned. It took the great Tom Landry twelve (12) seasons to win a Super Bowl. There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, after all. And there’s no need to dismantle a good (potentially great) football team over a disappointing season.
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