CINCINNATI – We always hear about how football is just a game. Sunday it was a job.
This wasn't a time for any fun or any games. The Cowboys simply had a job to do, trying their very best to move forward in the most heartbreaking of times.
How can you really win in a time when you've already suffered the most tragic of losses?
This football team obviously has its share of shortcomings. One thing it absolutely won't do is quit. These players, these coaches and this entire organization stared the most tragic of situations squarely in the face, embraced it, fought through it, and came out of Sunday's emotional game with the Bengals with the most points.
Cowboys 20, Bengals 19.
They won the game. They've lost a teammate. And they'll probably be losing another one as well.
Say what you want about this team's offensive line. It's inside linebackers. The slow starts in the first half. You can go on and on about the problems of this football team. I'm sure some of you want to throw coaching in the mix, too.
But this coaching staff, led by Jason Garrett of course, should be applauded for how they handled the toughest of times here this weekend.
Where's that in the coaching handbook? Garrett said he's learned different things from many of the coaches he's been around, such as Jimmy Johnson, Wade Phillips, Norv Turner and Nick Saban. I doubt any of them, or any other coach has been able to prepare him for leading a group of heartbroken men into a battle.
Over the last few weeks, this team has clearly struggled in the first half. Personally, I've given my share of criticism toward Garrett, because as the head coach and offensive coordinator of a team struggling to score early in the game, the blame must go on him for these slow starts. You had to wonder about his preparation.
Well, this team was prepared to fight on Sunday. No, it wasn't always pretty. In fact, it wasn't really pretty at all. I'm not exactly sure the Cowboys were the better team on this day. We've seen several times this year that you don't always have to be to win. They were the better team in Baltimore and found a way to lose.
Cincinnati has to be kicking itself for letting this game slip away. The Bengals left the door open too many times and let the Cowboys hang around just long enough to win it.
Let's be honest, though. Both teams are 7-6 this season for a reason. How many games have we seen this year where the Cowboys didn't make enough plays? It appeared like the Bengals were a better football team, winners of four straight, playing at home, having a good, young quarterback-receiver combination in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. They have a solid defense with a better-than-good front four.
Yet, the Bengals were the Bengals on this day. There's a reason they always seem to struggle at some point in any given year. I'm not trying to knock them. I'm just trying to point out that, overall, Cincinnati might not be much better than the Cowboys, if at all.
This was probably a pretty evenly-matched game. And one team just wouldn't stop fighting.
What was impressive to me was the players who were somewhat quiet in the early going of this game, rose to the forefront at the end.
Guys like Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware, DeMarco Murray and even Tony Romo weren't having their best days, to say the least. It was difficult for the offense to move the ball and clearly Ware is not 100 percent. He was a non-factor for more than three quarters.
But with the game still in reach, the Cowboys only trailing by nine and still hanging around, the superstars led the way in this comeback.
Bryant continued his hot streak, catching his seventh touchdown in five games. Ware got a sack and forced a holding call on one series. Murray made some nice plays in the final drive of the game, including a key 6-yard run where he stiff-armed the ground to get the extra first-down yardage.
And Romo kept hanging in there, running for his life and engineering two scoring drives. Hey, let's not forget about Doug Free either. Free was rotating with Jermey Parnell all day, series by series, but on the last two drives, Free was the only right tackle out there and he held his own just enough.
All in all, this team just came together to win.
It started when Garrett fought through the tears Saturday afternoon on the team charter to tell his players what occurred only a few hours earlier with the tragic passing of Jerry Brown, with Josh Brent driving the vehicle and arrested. It continued when Garrett opened up the floor during Saturday night's team meeting and allowed players to speak their minds and express their emotions about the news.
It continued with emotional pregame speeches by the coaches and players. And it carried on throughout the day, especially with the game on the line.
This huge win came on the heels of a much, much bigger loss.
But give credit to this team for coming together. Something that occurred long before the fourth quarter comeback.