one game remaining in the 16-game regular season, no team not named the Giants has scored more than 21 points against the Cowboys this year. Also, four times this season the Cowboys have not given up more than seven points in a game.
I mean, look what they have done, holding New Orleans to just 17 points, Green Bay to 17 points, the Eagles to 16 points, Denver to just 17 points and San Diego to a highly respectable 20 points. Not easy.
The Cowboys are giving up just 16.7 points a game, ranking them first still in the NFC and third in the NFL, only the Jets (236 points) and Baltimore (248) having given up fewer. That means with the one game to play, when compared to last year, the Cowboys have given up 115 fewer points. That's significant. And unless they hold the Eagles to no more than nine points on Sunday, this will be the second-fewest points the Cowboys have given up since 1996.
Playing defense like this gives a team the chance to win every time out. Playing defense like this allows you to play less desperately on offense, knowing sometimes punting is not a bad thing, thus reducing the risks a quarterback might take on third down if always pressured to put up twentysomething a game just to have a chance at winning.
"As the game goes on, it does," Romo said of how the defense does indeed affect some of the decisions he might make along the way. "When the defense is giving up zero points you've got to make sure - field position matters, turnovers matter."
Maybe, too, that has something to do with Romo Sunday night getting intercepted for the first time in 167 throws, and at that on a ball bouncing high off the suddenly unsure hands of Roy Williams - and just the eighth time all year he's been intercepted, compared to 24 touchdown passes, giving up an impressive 3-1 ratio.
Wonder what all the reactionaries think now?
Because after two games, when the Cowboys gave up 450 yards beating Tampa Bay in the opener, then the season-high 33 points and another 400 to the Giants (427), the Captain Hook's were in full force. When the Cowboys began the season 2-2, and barely edged their way to 3-2 with that overtime win in Kansas City, the big shots were calling for Wade's head. Too soft. Not enough emotion. Too player-friendly. Gotta go. The usual rhetoric, nothing real original.
Hmmm. So there is a reason you play a 16-game season evidently, and why it's so important to just put your head down and plow ahead, one game at a time, never letting one win or one loss bleed into the following game. See, in the NFL, you don't have to be a proven product by Game 3. There is an opportunity to improve as the season goes along.
What a novel concept, getting better.
And this Cowboys team - defense for sure - has. Anthony Spencer now is considered a "playmaker," drawing some double-teams. Mike Jenkins now is considered the team's "shutdown" corner. Keith Brooking is the team's "heart and soul." Igor Olshansky has made most everyone think "Chris Canty who?" And Gerald Sensabaugh has turned Roy Williams into this long-ago nightmare.
Plus, don't forget Bobby Carpenter. That's right, everyone's whipping boy. Have you caught yourself yearning for Kevin Burnett any of these days?
"There is something to be said for playing time," Spears said of this marked-improvement. "Guys just knowing what they're doing."
Now this certainly is not over with, and that was evident in the locker room after the game. Phillips said it best, pointing out there was a lot of "celebrating in the locker room" over clinching at least a wild-card berth, and deservedly so, "but not elation."
"This game is over," nose tackle Jay Ratliff said, rather stoically. "On to Philly."
Yes, Philly, the Ghost of 44-6 Past.
But this time the game is at Cowboys Stadium.
This time the Eagles won't get all revved just 15 minutes before kickoff when granted an NFL second life.
This time the Cowboys will know going into the game they didn't give up 37 points to the Eagles the first time around.
Yep, you wanted to know back five months ago why you should feel any differently about this team.
Well, the defense has spoken.