Nick Eatman is the author of the recently published ****If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys***, a collection of stories from the Cowboys' locker room, sideline and press box, with a foreword written by Darren Woodson.*
CHICAGO – Other than a few trips to Kansas City and Joplin, I don't know a lot about the state of Missouri. But I know this, I'm a big fan of the state motto: The Show-Me State.
Because all week, I just couldn't pick these Cowboys to beat the Bears. They needed to show me something.
Show me they could bounce back from a spanking by the Eagles a week ago.
Show me they could have an answer for the Bears' big receivers and tight ends – something they couldn't do a year ago.
Show me they could win a game in the cold, and although it wasn't a single-digit temp at kickoff, it was still pretty chilly out there.
More than anything, just show me this team is different.
Well, they did. The Cowboys are a different team. Look no further than their record, which now has them at nine victories, assuring a winning record for the first time in five years.
Now, let's also point out that the Cowboys aren't completely different. They still aren't blowing out anyone. Up 35-7 in the third quarter and only win it 41-28 suggests this team still can't step on the throat like it should. But, we've seen the Cowboys lose leads like that and not have the ability to slam the door. At least Orlando Scandrick was able to do that with his pick in the end zone.
Whether or not this was a must-win in your book, it certainly was a need-win. The Cowboys just needed to win this game for many reasons, but most of them psychological.
We've talked about the 8-8 hump all offseason. And guess what, the Cowboys have finally climbed that mountain. Remember when Bill Parcells said with teary eyes back in 2003, 'You can't call them losers anymore" when his team got that eighth win? This one somewhat reminded me of that just because the Cowboys have finally surpassed that goal.
Obviously, when they won six straight games to get to 6-1, no one was even thinking about the 8-8 mark. The goals were set much higher, but still, you've got to get there. Maybe this is exactly what the Cowboys needed. It's one thing for it to look like a different team. It's another for them to go out and prove it.
So while it's just the ninth win of the season, there's certainly not nine guys in this locker room who have experienced that in Dallas.
And that's probably a good thing. It's a little harder to have the "here we go again" mentality if only a handful of these guys have experienced it.
I give a lot of credit to Jason Garrett for being able to change the culture and the mindset. It hasn't been an overnight thing by any means. But this one-game-at-a-time philosophy clearly isn't a new concept. All coaches say it. But I do think Garrett lives by it more than your average coach.
Speaking of Garrett, I thought he set the tone in the second quarter, whether he admitted it being intentional or not. But he had two chances on fourth down to get some points on the board and settle for a field goal and he went for the first down.
Was it a message? Was it a tone?
"No, I just think he wants to win," Romo said of Garrett's two fourth-down calls.
Garrett stressed the importance of being aggressive, which is true. But we've seen him also value early points. Both times, he trusted his offensive line and DeMarco Murray to get the necessary yard to extend the drive.
Whether it was a planned message or not, a message was sent – to his team, to the Bears, and who knows, the rest of the league perhaps.
It's December and no one is going to give you anything. You have to go out and claim your prize. Yes, it might be sitting there on the table, but you still have to grab it.
To me, Garrett showed early on he was playing to win. That was a big moment in the game, as was the second touchdown drive, just before the half.
For some reason, the difference between taking a 10-7 lead and a 14-7 lead at the half seemed enormous. Once again, the Cowboys have often played it safe and gone for a field goal, but not this time. Romo kept the pressure on the Bears and found Cole Beasley for a touchdown before the half.
Beasley, Gavin Escobar and Joseph Randle combined for four of the Cowboys' five touchdowns, but make no mistake, the studs came to play on this night.
Dez Bryant made clutch grabs in the first half to extend drives. Jason Witten had a huge third-and-15 conversion. Romo showed how good he can be with a full week to rest, and then DeMarco Murray … what a beast. He gets 41 touches and torched the Bears in the process.
This game was the definition of "pick your poison" because once the Bears figured out how to contain Murray or Bryant on a particular drive, Romo finished them off with the role players.
Defensively, there will be some talk of the fourth-quarter letdown. Concerning? Yeah, to an extent, but the goal of a prevent defense is to chew up the clock and prevent a quick score. They were bending, but never broke. If Scandrick doesn't get that late interception, then surely it would've been really interesting.
But, this isn't college football. Style points don't matter. There isn't a committee that might view this 13-point loss as a negative.
The Cowboys came to Chicago on a business trip, looking to get their swagger back after a bad loss on Thanksgiving. And that's exactly what they did.
Who knows how this season will end up, but with three games to play, these Cowboys showed Thursday night that 2014 is different.
The Cowboys found their own show-me state Thursday night. And it's a good thing because if they hadn't, it might have been much closer to misery than Missouri.