IRVING, Texas – Maybe if the Dallas Cowboys had won on Thanksgiving against the Carolina Panthers you could feel pretty good. Maybe if they had just won one game in Tony Romo’s first absence with a broken collarbone you could feel pretty good.
The Cowboys’ season has been filled with maybes.
Washington did the Cowboys a favor by beating the New York Giants on Sunday, which means they remain just two games out of first place in the NFC East despite their 3-8 record.
Or maybe the Redskins didn’t do them a favor.
Maybe the Cowboys just had the agony prolonged.
Since the 33-14 loss to the Panthers, the players have been off. They have an extra day off because of their Dec. 7 meeting against Washington on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and won’t start their preparation for the game until Thursday. Jason Garrett wanted everybody associated with the team to use the time off wisely.
“We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and take full responsibility for it,” Garrett said after the loss to the Panthers. “We have to decide over the next few days what we want to be; what we want to be individually; what we want to be collectively. When we get back together again, early next week to recommit and be the type of team we’re capable of being. There’s nothing we can do to what’s happened up to this point. What we have to do if focus on going forward, learn from the experience we’ve had and be hardened by the experience we’ve had and move forward, take it day by day, game by game.”
That is as close as Garrett will say the Cowboys are playing for pride. The last time the Cowboys played for pride was in 2010, when their 1-7 start led to Garrett’s hiring as the interim coach.
“I feel like everybody’s going to come back in and definitely going to be hungry to get back in here,” safety Barry Church said. “It’s a long break. It’s a long time to just relax, be with your family, all that stuff. But I think guys will recommit and get back into the game.”
When the Cowboys do get back to work, they know they won’t have Romo. His season is over because of a fractured left collarbone, the second time he has suffered the injury this season.
Until the Cowboys can prove they can win a game without Romo, there is no use going through the machinations of how the Cowboys can make the playoffs, even if it is clear there isn’t a team able to pull away and put the Cowboys out of their misery.
Just know this: they are tied for the worst record in the NFC with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Cowboys have lost nine straight games in which Romo didn’t start. Raise your hand if you knew the last backup to win was Stephen McGee, in Week 17 in 2010. Kyle Orton lost his one start. Brandon Weeden lost all four of his spread out over the last two seasons. Matt Cassel lost all four of his.
Cassel will get his second run as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback after posting four touchdown passes and five interceptions in his four previous starts. Twice in Cassel’s four starts the Cowboys did not score a touchdown. Twice Cassel did not throw for more than 200 yards. He had two interceptions returned for touchdowns, in losses to the Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.
“We’re still trying to battle,” Church said. “It’s definitely going to be hard. We put ourselves in a huge hole right now. We definitely got to battle. There’s no conceding anything. Hopefully the rest of the team feels that way.”
What does Garrett want the Cowboys to recommit to anyway?
“Being the best versions of ourselves,” Garrett said.
That’s yet to be good enough.