FRISCO, Texas – It's always fun when the line between football and the philosophical blurs a bit, and what better time than now?
This matchup against the Arizona Cardinals presents a rare opportunity for the Cowboys – a chance to prove themselves against a playoff contender, without risking their own status as the NFC East champion or a playoff team.
Focused as they might be on the present, it's the type of circumstance that prompts one to wonder about the future, and just how hard it is to be the last team standing in the NFL.
"I know how special of a team we have and I know how special of a moment this is. I've been in the league long enough to know how fleeting it is, as well," said Amari Cooper. "So I think that's just me wanting to make sure we take full advantage of this moment and I feel like I'm a huge part of that."
Cooper's quote was in response to the news cycle surrounding him over the last week. Prior to the Dec. 26 win against Washington, Cooper acknowledged that he was less than thrilled with his role in the offense, as he caught just two passes for eight yards in the previous week's win at New York.
"It's frustrating, but it's not something I can control," Cooper said at the time. "I do think there's a benefit in me getting the ball in those important situations like red zone and third down. …Like I said, I'm just going to stay ready for when that time comes."
Dak Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore clearly heard their star wide out, as Cooper was targeted 11 times on the night and caught seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
"Amari did a great job of, especially earlier in the game, being available, being open, doing a great job of getting his depth on particular routes," Moore said on Monday.
It's funny, though, that this is less a story about upping a receiver's production as it is making the most of an opportunity. Cooper noted on Thursday that he's never bluntly demanded the ball from coaches or teammates, it's more for him a matter of living up to this group's capabilities.
"I've never been on a team like this, and I've been in the league, this is my seventh year, so I know how rare it is," he said. "That's why I felt the need to say this. like I said I don't want it to come and go without us reaching our full potential."
This isn't the first time this season Cooper has opened up about the big picture. All the way back in October, following a dominant but sloppy outing against the Giants, he noted that he was starting to have a different feeling about this team and its potential.
"When you're on a roll like this, you start thinking about a Super Bowl. That's just the reality of it," he said. "You start to want it more and more the closer you get, and you start to worry about the little things more."
Even here at the end of December, that feels like a long way off – but it certainly feels much more tangible than it did in October. The Cowboys have already secured their best record since 2016, and they still have a chance to climb as high as No. 1 overall in the NFC playoffs.
Speaking of 2016, it's easy to draw some comparisons between that team and this one. Obviously, Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are some of the older, experienced veterans of this roster, rather than the rookies who carried that team. But this group does feature some youthful exuberance from guys who have never reached this stage – whether that's Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb or others.
With that in mind, Prescott said he's keenly aware of Cooper's point.
"I think it's important for the guys that have had some ups and downs, who have been through it all in this NFL to make sure that these young guys who may not be aware of how tough it is in this league to get to these moments," he said.
Win or lose on Sunday, the stakes won't be quite the same as they are in the playoffs. But it's one more reminder: the time for a margin of error is coming to a close.
"You want everybody to understand how rare it is, and that way you don't take the moment for granted, you don't take a play for granted," Prescott said.