FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s 2011 team -- his first without the interim tag -- stormed into December with a 7-4 record.
They flopped, going 1-4, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs.
That team had eight starters who were at least 30 years old and they combined to start 129 games.
Garrett learned his most important lesson as a head coach that season.
The NFL is a young man’s game. It’s hard for older players to withstand the rigors of a 16-game NFL season and be as productive at the end as they are at the beginning. Older players get hurt more frequently and take longer to heal.
If these Cowboys, who have the NFL’s best record (10-1) and point differential (103) fall apart in December, it won’t happen because they're too old to handle the season.
More importantly, most of the Cowboys’ best players are either youngsters such as rookies Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott or they’re in the midst of their athletic prime, such as receiver Dez Bryant and offensive linemen Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys had five 30-year-old starters in 2012, when they lost their last two games to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs, and four 30-year-old starters in 2013, when they lost three of their last four games.
In 2014, with their young, talented offensive line in place and a young running back, the Cowboys bullied opponents in the season’s final month, going 4-0 and outscoring their opponents 165-79.
The Cowboys have the same type of roster construction this season with an offensive line and a running back who should still be playing at a high level in the last month of the season.
Ask Prescott and Elliott what they do to keep their bodies functioning properly this time of the year and they look at you like you’re crazy.
“I do the hot tub and cold tub and I get a massage once a week,” Prescott said. “Am I supposed to do something else?”
Ask Witten the same question and the answer is decidedly different.
“Hey, I can’t give away all of my secrets,” he said. “I do a lot of stuff to make sure I’m ready on game days.”
He’s talking about massages and chiropractic adjustments and electrical stimulus and whatever else modern technology can offer him.
“I’ve always kept my body right, but I didn’t have to do all the stuff I do now,” Witten said. “That comes as you get older because you still want to play at the same level. I do know rest is more important that it’s ever been.”