In years past, we've heard the same gripes about this Dallas team. We've consistently heard how talented this squad is, how utterly laden with superstars the roster is, yet they lack the internal toughness to actually win anything. All of the losing Decembers that we've seen from the Cowboys this Millenium have been attributed to a lack of intestinal fortitude if you will, an inability to focus and power through when it matters most. Those are also the reasons given when the Cowboys blow a 4th quarter lead, something they did 5 times last year. The Cowboys of late have had no heart and have had very little success gritting out victories with their season on the line.
Dez displayed a ton of toughness suiting up this past weekend (Photo by LM Otero / AP)
But now, it seems that script has been flipped. The 2012 Dallas Cowboys are all of a sudden one of the toughest teams in the league to close out. They've had exactly 2 non-competitive games this year (Chicago and Seattle), and zero since the early season Week 5 bye. Countless times this team was on the verge of being blown out and, whether it was Thanksgiving against the Redskins or the 2nd game against the Giants, they've battled back. The 4th quarter, which has doomed this team in years past, is all of a sudden their most confident time. Dallas has the 2nd best mark in the league, behind only New England's 10.5 points per 4th quarter, scoring an impressive 9.8 points in the 4th period. Compare that to 6.9 in 2010 and 7.4 in 2011 and what do you have? Progress. We have progress. This Dallas Cowboys team is clearly on the right track, and it comes down to sheer toughness.
So how'd it happen? Where did all this newfound toughness come from? There's no need to look any farther than the core players on this squad and we can begin to see how this transformation occurred. Let's start with Tony Romo, the most vilified winning QB of all time. A lot of people used to question his toughness, whether or not he had what it takes on the inside to actually win when it counted. Does anyone question his toughness now? No. Not after his broken-rib-and-punctured-lung performance last year against San Francisco. Very few men on this Earth would feel comfortable walking just minutes after sustaining that injury; Romo was playing football. Not only was he playing, he delivered a 4th quarter comeback against the top team in the NFC that led to an overtime victory.
Now let's look to Week 1 of this season, against the despised World-Champion New York Giants (I can't begin to tell you how thrilled we'll be to not have to say that anymore). The Cowboys were optimistic about the season and the game, but were relinquished to the fact that they'd be without their All-Pro TE Jason Witten. Witten had recently suffered a lacerated spleen. It just sounds painful, doesn't it? One of his internal organs was lacerated for shits sake! But none the less, #82 trotted out on to the field that evening. He finished with only 2 catches, but his production didn't matter. It was seeing him out there, gutting out an intense physical injury, that delivered the biggest impact. Now, he has 97 catches on the season and has his sights set on breaking the single season record for catches by a Tight End.
Naturally, this unceasing toughness displayed by the franchise's cornerstones has had a trickle down effect. Look at Demarco Murray, coming back for the Eagles game when we was clearly not playing above 80% health. And then doing it again against Cincinnati, a punishing team known for its defense. He's had 58 carries over the last 3 weeks and revitalized one of the league's worst rushing attacks. And finally, we have this past weekend's performance of Dez Bryant. It's been so heavily reported that I don't need to rehash the details. But tell me, does the Dez Bryant of a couple years ago make that same decision? I'd have to guess no. He has been taught by the leaders of this organization to power through and tough out injuries, no matter the effect on your production. Dez wasn't perfect out there. He dropped a couple bullet passes that we've become accustomed to him catching. But the sheer motivation given to his teammates by seeing him out there more than makes up for any lack of production. It's inspiring, even to us fans, to see him and this team never give up.
And so, the Dallas Cowboys are in the midst of a 4th quarter come back for their season. They started incredibly and frustratingly slow, going a mere 3-5 in the first 8 games. Since, they've been 5-1, continuously defined by their lack of ever giving up. Defined by their toughness. Defined by their indelible determination. We've seen this team in contention in recent years, but this somehow feels different. Whether or not the outcome is any different is yet to be determined. But count us among the group that thinks this team finally has what it takes below the pads to make it happen.
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