IRVING, Texas -- The most remarkable part of the Dallas Cowboys' 1-4 start is how the citizens of North Texas haven't really noticed. This must be what it feels like to be one game away from the World Series in a community that has spent years in the baseball wilderness following the Texas Rangers.
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys caught an unbelievable break this fall. His team's collapse is a big national story, but it's getting crickets in the local market. It's rumored that local sportscasters are mentioning this Cowboys-Giants game Monday, but no one's been able to confirm it because we're all watching TBS. I haven't spent this much time on TBS since Dale Murphy was playing for the Atlanta Braves.
Just to keep up appearances, I stopped by Valley Ranch on Wednesday to see how things were going. You may have read by now that Jones addressed the team at some point this week. Coach Wade Phillips confirmed this talk, although he stopped short of providing colorful details such as when the meeting took place. I tried to imagine Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie or Giants co-chairman John Mara walking into their respective locker rooms and delivering a similar message, but something like that would never happen.
Jones is grasping for anything at this point, including awkwardly long side hugs with players. I watched him go into whispering Jerry mode with Dez Bryant following Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and the rookie looked a bit startled. On his weekly radio show Tuesday, Jones claimed that a 1-4 record wasn't an accurate representation of this team. He'd apparently had time to rally after telling a few of us after the game that he wasn't feeling any optimism about his Cowboys. That comment stunned those of us who've been around Jones for the last eight or nine years. But Jerry sounded more like himself while talking to KRLD-FM on Tuesday.
"This is a league that is real close," said Jones. "All you've got to do is look at the scores and see how close these teams are. So it's a real challenge.
"On the other hand, we've got a team that is playing well. This isn't a rationalization, but we're actually better each week. And we are playing better with the exception of the one thing that's got us in this position, and that's these unfortunate penalties. It's not just the rack-up of the yards, but it's the plays being called back."
And there you have it, folks. If you throw those 24 penalties out from the last two games, this team's headed in the right direction. Honestly, this is a team that might be able to rally around some delusional thoughts.
It's one of the few teams in the league that has put itself on post-TD celebration probation following consecutive weeks with infractions. Phillips said the Cowboys will observe NCAA celebration rules, which are designed to make sure student-athletes don't exhibit any behavior that may be associated with joy or happiness.
At 4-2, the New York Giants have regained their swagger on both sides of the ball. Only a few months removed from threatening retirement if he wasn't in the 2010 starting lineup, defensive end Osi Umenyiora is having an All-Pro type season with eight sacks and seven forced fumbles. The Cowboys go years at a time without forcing that many fumbles, like this year for instance.
Some of you might recall that Eli Manning signed the wall in the visiting locker room after his Giants christened Cowboys Stadium with a win in Week 2 last season. Manning has "Aw Shucked" this story to death and swears up and down a locker room attendant made him do it, but don't let the drawl fool you. He can be as cold-blooded as they come when the game's on the line, and he absolutely loves sticking it to the Cowboys.
The Giants have one of the best receiving corps in the league right now, with Hakeem Nicks on the verge of a Pro Bowl season. As some of you know, the Cowboys have struggled in coverage as of late. And if you're having trouble against Jay Cutler and "Slingin" Vince Young, Manning's not the guy you want to see.
The Giants have arguably the best quarterback, receiver and running back (Ahmad Bradshaw) in the division right now. And Umenyiora's playing like the best pass-rusher. There's really no reason the Cowboys should be favored to win this game.
But then, maybe Vegas is buying Jerry's optimism.
Matt Mosley covers the NFC East for ESPN.com and the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.