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.
IRVING, Texas – Wow.
I mean, let's just start with that. Personally, covering the Cowboys for so many years is a treat in itself. But this week, we get to go to Lambeau Field to watch the Cowboys and Packers duel it out for the first time since the Ice Bowl.
Man, if you don't stop and enjoy the moment a little bit, you'll never appreciate the good stuff.
So before I get into this latest random point, I just wanted to share that. And it's not just for guys like me who get to be there Sunday. Any Cowboys fan should relish this season, especially because you probably didn't see it coming.
This has been more than a pleasant surprise for all us. So before the blood gets boiling, the heart starts thumping uncontrollably and all fingernails are long gone on Sunday, let's just remember how good this is – the Cowboys are among the final eight teams still playing and get to shock the world in Green Bay.
To me, no number keeps resurfacing in my head more than the No. 9.
Nine. Nine. Nine.
After last week's game, some might say the Cowboys have nine lives this year.
Maybe, they'll need Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams to run a few 9 routes.
Or maybe, the focus is getting that ninth road win after starting out with a perfect 8-0 record. Actually, one of these teams is going to be 9-0 as the Packers are unbeaten at home.
But for the Cowboys, if your number ends with a 9, your teams needs you to step up in a major way. Oh, and if by chance your number is just 9, yeah it goes without saying how big this one is for you.
Yeah, I know the Cowboys are going to need every player that suits up Sunday to play their best game to beat the Packers. There's really not one guy out there who can afford to play average. To win a playoff game at Green Bay, it's going to take all 46.
But these 9's … they just keep popping out to me.
Let's start with 59. Anthony Hitchens isn't even practicing yet, and he might not do much all week. But if last week was any indication, I don't think there's any way the rookie linebacker doesn't play. And I think he'll play well. Depending on Rolando McClain's status, which will be iffy considering he was dealing with concussion symptoms last week, Hitchens might get an increased role on Sunday.
We know what Hitchens can do when he starts, and the Cowboys will need a physical, active player in a game like this. When Green Bay isn't pounding Eddie Lacy through the line, they've got James Starks. Both of them are heavy-hitting backs and Hitchens and the rest of the linebackers will need to be as physical as ever.
Let's go to No. 39. Yeah, Brandon Carr has played much better here down the stretch. But to win, the Cowboys need Carr's best performance yet. He'll face Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb. Either way, Carr will have his hands full. And that actually might be the problem. Carr can't get his hands full of jersey or the Packers will move it up and down the field on pass interference and defensive holding penalties.
Something tells me the Cowboys are going to get a fair share of calls go against them this week. Some of that could be the natural course of redemption that stems from last week. It also could be a tribute to how good Nelson and Cobb are at getting open. Regardless, Carr needs to have a great game.
What about No. 29? DeMarco Murray is one of the main reasons the Cowboys are at this point. He's had the greatest statistical season of any Cowboys running back in franchise history, and his team needs him to be at his best once again. To beat the Packers, you have to slow down Aaron Rodgers. To do that, keeping him off the field is a must. And to do that, keeping the ball also has to happen. And doing that means Murray has to pick up first downs and those chains have to keep moving.
Murray and this offense is built for games like this. It'll be nasty, it'll be dirty and that's when those big horses up front have to be paving holes for Murray. To win, I think the Cowboys need Murray to have at least 130 yards with no fumbles.
And now the given … No. 9 himself. We all know Tony Romo has to play like the player he's been all year. To me, he's the real MVP of this team, if not the league.
Last week, his patience allowed the Cowboys to chip away and get back in the game. He didn't force the ball to Dez even though the Lions took him out of the game. He worked the middle and picked his spots to Cole Beasley, Jason Witten and Williams. He got Bryant open on a crossing route that turned out to be a big play. And even though Romo held onto the ball too long at times, it was his ability to stand in there at the very end that led to his touchdown strike to Williams.
Romo and Aaron Rodgers are two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Regardless of what happens, it's unlikely people will view Romo as the better QB overall. But, he needs to be better on Sunday.
Let's not forget George Selvie (99) and Gavin Escobar (89). Both players have big roles as well and could find themselves in a game-changing play. Selvie's job is to get the Packers to third down, so his ability to stop the run will be key.
And you know the Packers have been studying the Cowboys for two weeks. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has probably figured out a way to contain Dez and Witten and Williams and Beasley and the running game – at least for a few plays. But when that happens, it always opens the door for a guy like Escobar.
From Romo to Murray to Carr to Hitchens to Escobar and Selvie, these guys need to be at their best, for the Cowboys to have any chance of returning home on … cloud nine.