What if the Cowboys won their opener?

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have run 726 offensive plays so far this season. The defense has had 798 snaps. The special teams units have covered 94 kickoffs or punts, had 80 kickoff and punt returns, and had 41 field goal attempts and 73 point-after attempts.

So it would be unfair to pin the Cowboys' 4-9 season on just one play, but it does lead to a terrific what-if.

What if Alex Barron was not called for holding Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo on the game's final play in the Cowboys' season opener at FedEx Field, negating a game-winning touchdown pass? (And, yes, I'm assuming David Buehler would have made the PAT.)

What if a 13-7 loss to the Redskins turned into a 14-13 Cowboys win?

Would the Cowboys still have dreams of playing in Super Bowl XLV at their stadium in February? Would they still be in the hunt for a playoff spot with three games to play? Would "60 Minutes" have had to reshoot its training camp interview with Jerry Jones? Would Wade Phillips still be the coach? Would the Democrats still hold control over Congress? Would the Rangers have won the World Series?

"We've moved on from that situation," interim coach Jason Garrett said. "It was a long time ago."

But this is why sports are great. You can debate it. Maybe things would have played out just the same and the Cowboys would be playing out the stretch of the 2010 season with Garrett as their interim coach and Tony Romo on the sideline with a broken left collarbone.

But had Barron not grabbed Orakpo or had Tony Corrente not thrown the flag, Roy Williams would have been a hero.

That perpetual cloud that has hung over him since the trade from Detroit would have been lifted with his 13-yard touchdown catch as time expired. He never would have fumbled against New Orleans or slipped out of his break last week and allowed a Philadelphia interception.

Romo would have been hailed as the hero for directing the 81-yard drive over the final 1:45 of the game. Miles Austin had a clutch 30-yard catch to the Washington 13. Dez Bryant caught the first two passes of the drive for 28 yards. Romo hit Williams and Jason Witten for other catches to get down the field. The defense did not allow a touchdown that night.

The Cowboys could have yapped about overcoming severe adversity even if they created most of it, like Buehler's missed 34-yard field goal try and Tashard Choice's fumble at the end of the half that DeAngelo Hall returned for a touchdown. Garrett would not have had to answer questions about calling a play from the Dallas 36 with 4 seconds left in the half.

"It was a poor decision," Garrett said this week.

It would have been a perfect way to open the season: national television, on the road, against a division opponent, with such a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Imagine what that could have done for their confidence.

In 2003, the Cowboys used an improbable "Monday Night Football" win against the New York Giants to spark a five-game winning streak. In 2007, they had an impossible MNF win at Buffalo, which was followed by a loss to New England the next week but then seven straight wins. In 2009, they ended New Orleans' run at an undefeated season and a two-game losing streak with a win at the Superdome and won the NFC East.

Wins like that have a tendency to get a team on a roll.

"Yeah, I understand where you're coming from on that," right guard Leonard Davis said. "But I've seen it where some teams, they don't do as good, then they turn it around and they get on a roll and end up in the playoffs. It probably would've helped, but I wouldn't pinpoint that one game as a difference in the season."

DeMarcus Ware would not accept the whole premise as fact, either, but he didn't dismiss it.

"The Washington game is how our season has been going," Ware said. "Maybe if we did win that game ... "


Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.