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Spagnola: What’s New, Season Going Down To The Wire

Posted Dec 28, 2012

IRVING, TexasNever in my born days have I seen …

         You with me? Just how many times have you, too, said that after Dallas Cowboys games this incredulous 2012 season, one of utter amazement time after time after time?

         I mean, seriously …

         Fumble the opening kickoff at Seattle, then after holding the Seahawks to merely a field goal, run three offensive plays and have your punt blocked and returned three yards for a touchdown, spotting the better-than-perceived Seahawks a 10-0 lead not even five minutes into the 27-7 loss.

         Have two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Chicago Bears, the second 74-yards by Lance Briggs on a ball poked out of Tony Romo’s hands from behind and have a dropped ball on what appeared to be an easy slant pass to Kevin Ogletree getting intercepted, too, in the 34-18 loss to the Bears.

         First allow Jacoby Jones to return a kickoff an NFL record-tying 108 yards, and untouched at that, for a touchdown to give Baltimore a 24-13 lead, then recover to narrow that lead to 31-29 with 32 seconds remaining, only to have the two-point conversion bounce off the hands of a diving Dez Bryant. And if that weren’t enough, the Cowboys recover the onside kick and move in for a 51-yard field-goal attempt Dan Bailey misses wide left by like a foot or so, one of just two misses so far this season.

         Or spot the New York Giants in the second meeting a 23-0 lead, before climbing back in the ball game, trailing just 29-23 with mere seconds remaining when an initially-ruled 37-yard Romo to Bryant touchdown pass was reversed through instant replay, the review spotting the fingertips of Dez’ off-hand landing mere inches out the back of the end zone in that loss.

         Shall we continue, the Cowboys actually winning two games in overtime on Dan Bailey field goals against Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and then another in Cincinnati as the final seconds expired in a game played just one day after the tragic accident killing practice squadder Jerry Brown with teammate and best friend Josh Brent driving the car in the fatal accident.

         Or how about climbing back from a 28-3 first-half deficit to the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving to twice make it a one-score deficit, outscoring the ’Skins in the second half 28-10, in the 38-31 loss?

         And finally, in like a game of seemingly you-gotta-be-kidding-me one-upmanship, the Cowboys lose in overtime to the New Orleans Saints, 34-31, after rallying from a 31-17 deficit with less than four minutes to play to tie the game in the final seconds. But after all that, they have a forced fumble roll 23 yards forward inside their 5-yard line get lodged between the legs of Saints diving, stumbling tight end Jimmy Graham and recovered at the 2-yard line setting up the layup, game-winning Garrett Hartley field goal.

Yes, my friends, these are your 2012 Dallas Cowboys, winning seven of their eight games by no more than seven points and an average of 4.3 points a game, then losing five of their seven games by no more than those same seven points and an average of 4.2 points a game.

In fact, 12 of 15 games played so far this season have come down to the final possession, final kick or finally-recovered onside kick.

And you have the nerve to ask: How do you think Sunday night’s winner-takes-the-East game at FedEx Field, in Landover, Md., Cowboys-Redskins, waking up those bitter rivalry ghosts of the past, will turn out?

Down to the wire, I say.

That’s these Cardiac Cowboys, the lead character in one of those old Spaghetti Western movies. You know, the guy who gets shot time after time after time, spins, staggers, stumbles but just won’t go down.

Think about it. These Cowboys were given up for dead at the halfway point, losing back-to-back games to the Giants and Falcons and four of five for a 3-5 mark. Then what? Why, they win five of the next six, climbing to 8-6, before what most thought would turn out to be a crushing loss this past Sunday to the New Orleans Saints in overtime, finally ending their NFC East Division title hopes.

Un-uh. After the Giants were beaten by Baltimore, and no matter the Redskins won their sixth straight, the Cowboys (8-7) still had one last breath. Beat the Redskins (9-6), and they’re in the playoffs for the fourth time in the past seven seasons. Lose, and they’re out, finishing with an 8-8 record, becoming the first time in their 53-year history to finish at .500 in consecutive seasons.

What an utterly delicious scenario.

“I think as a competitor you love playing in these situations,” Romo said the other day. “This is where you want to be, playing in games like these.”

Pressure? Please, what’s to be scared of? This team has had a noose hanging over its head since that 3-5 start. The Cowboys knew every game after that mattered, the margin for error quite slim. Pressure? What can be worse than trailing in games 23-0 or 28-3 or even 31-17 but nevertheless making them others sweat to the bitter end? Or how about being down 31-24, with 21 seconds remaining, facing fourth-and-10 from the 19 and Romo throwing that 19-yard, game-tying, overtime-forcing touchdown pass to Miles Austin?

And wait, what about in that Saints game, late in the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter playing without six starters, including Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware, and then your slot corner on the nickel defense, which you can bet Sunday night the Redskins will force the Cowboys into just as New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Philadelphia have the past four games.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about Pro Bowl quarterback RGIII, a.k.a. Robert Griffin The Third, and rookie running back Alfred Morris, and having to play at FedEx before en expected 85,000, and likely in game-time temps in the mid-30s. (Uh, note Cowboys practiced outdoors in similar temps last two days while ’Skins practiced in their bubble all three days. Just for the record.) And yes sir, I do know the Cowboys have been in similar win-or-else situations for the NFC East title three times in the past four years, including last season against the Giants, and they have lost that final game twice, although many seem to forget in 2009 the Cowboys beat Philadelphia in a similar situation, the only time they’ve played one of these win-or-else games at home. (Just for the record.)

Pffftt. These guys worry? Get uptight? After what they’ve been through this year, they ought to print up T-shirts inscribed with We Shall Overcome” for the plane ride into Dulles International Saturday afternoon.

“It’s one ball game – this year,” Cowboys veteran Marcus Spears preached to anyone who cared to listen. “We use what we learned this year.”

Now then, whether they are good enough to do this or not, that’s a whole other discussion. But if you are wondering about anything else, all these rather strange and unusual occurrences for the majority of 15 games, home or on the road, against the best or against the worst, and especially this second half of the season, would seem to have these Cowboys’ innards Dri-FIT insulated.

Hey, what’s one more time, and with gusto, and fittingly against the Redskins?

Man, bet you just can’t wait.

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