Close, But ...

IRVING, Texas -These were the final two paragraphs from my column on Sept. 9, 2011, two days before the Cowboys opened the season on Sunday Night Football against the AFC Super Bowl favorite New York Jets:

So to me, 9-7 should be expected, with 10-6 not out of the question if a few cards fall right, er, a few tipped passes by Cowboys receivers don't land in those other guys' hands like last season. This is not starting from scratch, and that is not and was not the Cowboys' intentions when cutting some fat, so to speak, off this roster. This is about trying to get better - this year.

Forward bound.

Now then, to all those who have been flying out the windows for the past week, spewing venom, writing scathing emails and making vicious accusations during phone calls, if you can just chill for a moment - just a moment - cutting the emotion out of your thinking, then ask yourself: Did the Cowboys get better this season? Better than last season?

And as for fearless and tireless correspondent, allow me to remind you about last season, the 2010 one in which the Cowboys finished 6-10, the one matching the franchise's second-worst season record since going 1-15 in 1989 (They suffered through three consecutive 5-11s to start the century).

Needless to say, the Cowboys began that season 1-7, costing Wade Phillips his head coaching and defensive coordinator jobs. The defense was putrid - all season long - the club giving up 436 points, the most in franchise history. They finished 31st in scoring defense, and for good reason. The Cowboys surrendered 27 or more points in 10 of the 16 games. They allowed opponents to score at least 30 points eight times. Eight for goodness sakes! That included the 45 spot put on them by Green Bay and the 41 by the Giants.

They struggled on the offensive line, and that was with much higher-priced players, and really gave off little sense of hope.

So not sure what you expected this season, and I know darn sure if you were being honest with yourself, you didn't think the Cowboys would be playing for the right to go to the playoffs in the final regular-season game of the year.

Now look, I'm not saying what took place this season was acceptable. Nor am I saying it wasn't disappointing, because it was, especially since this club teased everyone, at times showing you what they could do, but certainly never were good enough to play consistently enough to win more of those games decided by six points or less than they lost (4-5). They were 4-7 in those types of games last year.

But look, what was so maddening should be somewhat encouraging: The Cowboys were what we thought they were back at the beginning of September, but nearly were what most probably never dreamed they could have been if not for some of the utterly ridiculous ways they lost games.

As slim a difference as two plays, and 8-8 could have been 10-6 and it would have been the Cowboys playing the Atlanta Falcons this weekend at Cowboys Stadium instead of the Falcons playing the Giants at MetLife. Take two, any two. What about maybe not having that blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the opener against the Jets? Without that, there is a real good chance the Cowboys hang on to beat what turned out to be a very beatable team (8-8).

Or this: While the defense gets blamed for squandering the 34-22 lead with 5:41 to play against the Giants the first time around, what if on that possession before the Giants scored the second of those consecutive touchdowns, Miles Austin doesn't lose that deep ball perfectly thrown by Tony Romo on third-and-five? If he catches the ball that practically lands on his front foot, he scores and that game would have been over, the Cowboys leading 41-29, with just about three minutes remaining.

That's all, and I could list a laundry list of others, too, like they would have won the Arizona game had head coach Jason Garrett not been convinced by his assistants to bang a timeout just before Dan Bailey hit what would appeared to have been the game-winning 49-yard field goal as time was expiring. That close.

Now in the end, this team just wasn't good enough to be more than 8-8, but certainly not as putrid as all these emotional outbursts would suggest. I mean, come on, throw the baby out with the bathwater? That's

certainly what it sounds like.

Take a deep breath, and look at the strides made. Tyron Smith will be a keeper at tackle for at least the next decade, if you remember he didn't turn 21 until Dec. 12. And he'll look real sweet at left tackle next year. Sean Lee will be a Pro Bowler next season. All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware finished a half-sack away from becoming the first player in NFL history since sacks became official in 1982 to record two 20-sack seasons in a career. Tony Romo had his best season.

Shall I continue? The Cowboys appear to have found a sturdy, workhorse running back in third-round draft choice DeMarco Murray. Unless this was the blue moon, and you never know with kickers, Dan Bailey certainly is a keeper at this point. Center Phil Costa got better as the season went along, and with a full offseason in the weight room should become much sturdier in the middle. Dez Bryant, in only his second NFL season, had 63 catches for 928 yards and nine touchdowns. Hall of Famer Michael Irvin didn't have more catches and yards until his fourth season and didn't have more touchdown receptions until his eighth year (10, his career high). Tony Fiammetta looks like a keeper at fullback.

That was Jason Garrett's first season as a head coach in his life, and remember, he did inherit a 6-10, and had no offseason to work with, nor did the Cowboys add any big-time free agents.

And Laurent Robinson? Please, and I'm guess that's what you're saying to the Cowboys when it comes to re-signing the fifth-year, unrestricted free-agent wide receiver.

To me, that's moving forward. That's putting some serious pieces together, and would give any reasonable person enough evidence to dismiss this silly notion of it's time to blow up this team, trade everyone off and start over. And while the defense fell short in too many clutch situations, the Cowboys gave up 99 fewer points this season.

Now I understand the frustration, and the emotion that comes with it being so, so close to advancing into the playoffs. But it's never a good idea to make lasting decisions when still in an emotional fit, when still reeling from a setback. My guess is, that's how you hope to run your own businesses, even lives. Heck, I can remember back being a kid, and in a fit of rage when mad as all get out at my parents, I'd scream, "That's it, I'm running away from home," and dear ol' dad would open the door and say, "Just remember, if you leave, you can't come back. Make sure you take enough money with you."

That will make a 10-year-old sober up in a hurry.

And take heart, the Cowboys understand their shortcomings. They know they must improve the back end of their defense. They know they need to find someone to help Ware put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. And they know they need help on the interior of their offensive line. Doing so will vault them forward even more.

But really, unless you had taken an unrealistic look at this season, with all the change that took place - head coach, defensive coordinator, defensive system, revamped offensive line, a quarterback who missed the final 10 games last year, just to name a few - not sure what you expected before this team sort of teased us along the way. Because frankly, in the end - realistically - with regards to Denny Green, the Cowboys were exactly who we thought they were, and but a couple of strange plays away from being far more than we ever should have imagined.

Let the offseason begin.

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