FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys do not need "alternative facts" to describe their standing in the NFC. They are contenders.
More than a few Cowboys and more than a few thousand of their fans had to wonder how Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal attempt on the Packers’ first drive Sunday after drilling field goals of 56 and 51 yards in the final two minutes against them.
More than a few Cowboys and more than a few thousand of their fans had to wonder why Aaron Rodgers couldn’t have been more human against them than Atlanta. More than a few Cowboys and more than a few thousand of their fans had to wonder why the Cowboys didn’t slice up the Green Bay defense the way Matt Ryan did.
More than a few Cowboys and more than few thousand of their fans had to wonder how things would have gone Sunday if the Falcons had to visit AT&T Stadium for an NFC Championship Game.
But the Cowboys and their fans don’t have to wonder if they are contenders.
They were within a stop on third-and-20 against Rodgers of possibly hosting the Falcons. That’s contending.
They have a young offense with pieces that makes a lot of teams envious. They have an offensive line with three All-Pros. They have the best young running back in the game, Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing. They have a young quarterback in Dak Prescott, who showed he can stand in there against the best competition. They have Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley.
Defensively, they need pieces but they have Sean Lee, an All-Pro linebacker, and some solid pieces in Byron Jones, Maliek Collins, David Irving and some hope in Jaylon Smith. Clearly they need pass-rush help, as does every team, even the Falcons and New England Patriots, who will play in Super Bowl LI. They need secondary help, as does every team. They need to add pieces on offense, too
The Cowboys beat two of the four semifinalists in the regular season. They won at Lambeau Field against the Packers. They won at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their season ended on inches, either Jared Cook’s toes on the 35-yard catch with three seconds to play or Nick Perry’s knock down of a Prescott pass on third down. Or so many other plays.
But they contended.
Nothing is guaranteed of course. After the Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the 2007 playoffs, they looked like a team poised for yearly contention with a young quarterback, young running back, young tight end, good offensive line and a better defense only to implode to a 9-7 finish in 2008 when they missed the playoffs.
That team opened the year on “Hard Knocks” and believed it was ready for a simple coronation.
Jason Garrett’s charge will be to get the same "fight" as he got in 2016. The good news is the Cowboys aren’t in a rebuild.
Atlanta’s 44-21 win against the Packers doesn’t mean the Cowboys are miles and miles away from being in a Super Bowl.
Sunday was more the Falcons’ day, just as last Sunday was Rodgers’ day.
That doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t have their day.