ARLINGTON, Texas – At times, this team has been great. At times, they've been below average. The biggest thing most critics of this team have harped on over the years is a lack of consistency.
Right here and right now, you can't say that about the Cowboys.
No, their record doesn't look too far over .500, but I'm talking about right now. Here in the big bad month of December, a month in which they haven't had a winning record since 2001. But that has changed now after this rollercoaster, emotional win that saw the Cowboys fight back and claim a win on the roa … err, I mean at home at Cowboys Stadium.
It felt like a road game at times with the abundance of expected Steelers fans. But it didn't really matter.
This team plays well on the road. This team plays well against good offenses. This team proved it can play well against great defenses – as the Steelers entered the game No. 1 in the NFL.
More importantly, this team is just playing well … period.
You can say 8-6 is 8-6 and doesn't assure the Cowboys a darn thing. But make no mistake: Right now, this Cowboys team is playing as well as any team in the league.
Blowing anyone out? Nope. It's not what they do. But they certainly aren't getting blown out by anyone. These games are coming down to the end, and the Cowboys are simply finding a way.
Remember when the Cowboys had their chances to beat the Falcons, who were undefeated at the time, back in early November? They let one slip away defensively and right there in the Georgia Dome, we were staring at a 3-5 team that just lost their second middle linebacker for the season.
Did you see winning five out of six on the horizon? Not me. And not ashamed to admit I didn't see that kind of consistency.
And that's always been the ultimate C-word for this team. Consistency. We kept getting asked what it would take for this team to make a run to the playoffs. At 3-5, we thought the Cowboys would have to go 7-1 or maybe 6-2. But to do that, that takes consistency.
This team hasn't been able to string four good quarters together … but they're going to make it happen for eight games? Didn't see it. It's OK. I didn't have to see it. The Cowboys are doing it.
This 27-24 overtime win over the Steelers was like a win we haven't seen around here in a while. Or have we? It wasn't that different from the emotional victory over the Bengals just seven days ago.
Think of the similarities:
- Dan Bailey boots the game-winning kick. This one was even more of a chip shot, but last week the 40-yarder was like a "gimme" to him. They didn't have to kick it this week, but it just shows how much faith they have in Bailey and the entire operation.
- Brandon Carr with a HUGE pick. OK, so this one was more memorable because it occurred in overtime and set up the game-winning field goal. But last week, the Cowboys trailed 10-3 early and the Bengals were on the move for yet another score. Carr stepped in front once again to make a game-changing pick. I said it last week, Carr's interception might have saved the season. This one was just as big.
- The Cowboys' defense came up with two huge stops last week against the Bengals in the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Ware came up with a sack, followed by Anthony Spencer on the next possession. Here in Sunday's fourth quarter against the Steelers, Ware and Spencer shared a sack, then on Pittsburgh's next possession, Sean Lissemore got a sack and then Spencer did again to push the Steelers back into a third-and-long, where they eventually punted. Ware and Spencer didn't have huge games all day, but they're becoming clutch here of late.
- Here's some consistency … ummm, Dez Bryant? Even with little practice time and a fractured left index finger that clearly affected him somewhat, he still made plays. And he still found the end zone for the sixth straight game.
- The running game wasn't dominant, but definitely effective. Last week, they struggled to run, but in the fourth quarter, needing to drive for a field goal and shave some of the clock, DeMarco Murray came up with big plays. This week, Murray found some running room, especially down in the red zone for a big 3-yard touchdown. Against this team, getting 81 yards on 14 attempts is a nice game for any offense, especially this one.
There are probably a few more consistencies to last week and the last few weeks, but those just stick out to me first.
The point is, this team is doing the things necessary to win. They did it last week when it appeared they were going to come up short.
There were several times when it just looked bleak for the Cowboys. Maybe because we've just seen them find ways to lose, not only here lately, but this season. Go back to earlier in the year, it seemed like the Cowboys would be creative in finding ways to get themselves beat.
Right now, they're finding ways to win, and creative at that. Victor Butler? He's a good pass-rusher, but a special teams ace he is not. He made the play of the game with a strip and force fumble in a crucial moment of the fourth quarter.
Dwayne Harris with a huge punt return that didn't lead to points, but it flipped the field position.
Then Carr makes a play on the ball and gets a pick to win the game.
Making plays in the fourth quarter. Forgive me, if I'm a little shocked that we're seeing that happen on a consistent basis. But that's what we're seeing.
I know there is some work to do. That's what happens when you go 3-5. They dug themselves in a major hole and it was going to take some mighty fine work to get out of it.
This team – right now – is mighty fine.
Will it stay that way, who knows? But if they stick with the consistency trend they're on here of late, what signs do we see that they won't.