Don't Waste The Magic

been 10-1. And this one won't be, nor will it accomplish what it wants in the playoffs, if it doesn't improve.

They play a New York Jets team with nothing to lose but another game and riding confidence after upsetting Pittsburgh, which might have been the second-best team in the game starting play last Sunday. They didn't finish that way.

There are two things the Cowboys must do better as the season progresses to prove they are the best team in the NFC, and (it says here) neither has to do with pass defense. Phillips accurately pointed out Monday that a team might well have 350 yards passing if it throws 50 times, and not many will.

But the Cowboys must improve in the kicking game, particularly in returning and covering kickoffs. Rookie kicker Nick Folk is having an excellent year, perhaps a Pro Bowl season. But he found out in New Jersey that the K-balls are like rocks in cold weather, and kicking off to the 10-yard line when you're giving up 23 per return gives the defense a shorter field to defend. The Cowboys are 20th of the 32 teams in opponents' drive start and 26th in where they average starting a drive after receiving a kickoff. The Jets' Leon Washington is second in the NFL in kickoff returns, having returned three kickoffs for touchdowns already, and in the top 15 in punt returns. Forewarned is forearmed.

Secondly, the Cowboys will have to run the ball more consistently than they have the last three games. The league has changed in 15 years, to be sure. Third-and-2 is now a passing down. But a team with the lead and the ball doesn't sweat the last minute of the game if it can make a couple of first downs without stopping the clock.

Picking nits? Absolutely. This is the pop stand where you'll be constantly implored to enjoy the journey. No one knows where this season will end, and to deny how exhilarating it has been is to make a choice to be unhappy and dissatisfied. Carpe diem, y'all!

On the other hand . . . it is not inconsistent to point out that the bar has been raised. It could be heard in some quarters before the season that the Cowboys' objective should be to win a playoff game, since that had not been accomplished in more than 10 years.

Horse hockey. Winning a playoff game is like a berserk end zone celebration. It's the goal of someone unaccustomed to what they've done. This is not a franchise unaccustomed to winning. It just hasn't happened in a while.

Now is the time. They're good enough.

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