EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There's nothing the Dallas Cowboys can say to persuade us they've changed.
They must show us. It's really that simple.
They gave us one more indication Sunday night against the New York Giants that this Cowboys team is different than others that have disappointed you so much over the years.
These Cowboys possesses a mental and physical toughness their predecessors never consistently displayed. This squad plays with poise, and it believes in its coach and each other.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl. Or that they’ll win each of their five remaining regular-season games.
What it means is these Cowboys will keep playing through the ebb and flow of every game, never looking beyond the next play. And they will play that way until the clock hits zero.
When the game ended Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the scoreboard read: Dallas 31, New York 28
The Cowboys trailed 7-0, 14-3, 21-10 and 28-24. They never flinched.
Why should they?
Trailing the Giants, who had lost five consecutive games, just didn’t seem that daunting.
Maybe it’s because the defensive players knew it was only a matter of time until they adjusted to the Giants’ no-huddle offense.
Or they figured there were only so many sensational catches Odell Beckham Jr. could make in one game. His dazzling, one-handed grab for a 43-yard touchdown -- easily one of the top plays of the year -- was on Twitter soon after he made it.
“We’ve always been tough,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said, “but we haven’t always played with poise. We’ve panicked. We weren’t consistent to start this game, but we knew what we had to do to win it, and we had the poise to go do it.
“We’re a group that fights. We’ve done it before, but we’ve come up short. It feels good to come up on the other side. This win is big, even though we didn’t play great.”
The victory means the Cowboys have matched their win total from last season with a month left in this season. More important, at 8-3 it allows them to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.
It’s a two-team race, and on Thanksgiving the teams will meet the first time this season to break the tie in the standings. We all know the difference between 9-3 and 8-4 after the holiday tilt will be more than just one game.
A loss Sunday in New Jersey would have filled the local airwaves with conversations about yet another late-season collapse by the same old Cowboys.
Now their victory sets up a Turkey Day contest between two of the best teams in the NFC.
"I think you just gain an understanding and that you never feel like you’re out of it," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "You’re comfortable being in uncomfortable situations, if that makes sense. That comes through having been through it, experienced it, and then having to go out and figure out a way to win."
This qualifies as a team win, because all three phases contributed.
The defense, pathetic nearly the entire first half, allowed New York to score touchdowns on each of its first three drives. Then the Giants went six possessions without scoring until they took a 28-24 lead on Adrian Robinson’s 1-yard touchdown catch with 3:00 left.
That gave Romo way too much time to lead the Cowboys to his 23rd come-from-behind win.
And the special teams were just that, with Dwayne Harris, in particular, offering outstanding coverage on kicks and punt returns in the second half.
This win provided one more piece of tangible evidence that Dallas coach Jason Garrett’s process works. You probably get as sick of hearing it as the players do, but it’s all part of creating a culture that’s been missing at the club’s Valley Ranch training facility since Bill Parcells left.
It’s about having the right kind of guys on the roster who can battle through adversity.
“You just have to keep taking it play by play,” Garrett said. “That’s something we emphasize as a coaching staff maybe more than anything else. This game is about one play at a time. Focus, do your job, be physical and be relentless.
“Regardless of where you’re playing, when you’re playing or what the circumstances of the game are, there’s only one way to play. You’re always trying to get players to play that way and your team to play that way.”
“It’s a daily struggle,” Garrett continued. “It’s our job as coaches to get our guys to play like that all the time. We try to emphasize it, but it’s always a work in progress.”
Players such as Romo and Witten have always taken that approach. They learned it from Parcells.
They’re no longer alone. Three consecutive 8-8 seasons have everyone training, practicing and playing with the same vision.
The locker room has a different vibe, one that’s palpable. And it’s helping the Cowboys win games they used to lose.