ARLINGTON, Texas – Forgive me if a case of déjà vu occurs.
One of the biggest challenges for any journalist is finding unique ways to explain a situation, regardless if it's not only expected, but witnessed in recent weeks.
Because yes, last week I wrote the Cowboys should not worry about style points after rallying past the Eagles and getting a much-needed win. The week before in Atlanta, I spoke about the Cowboys' biggest problems starting and ending on the offensive line.
So here we go again. The Cowboys escape the Browns with a 23-20 overtime win at Cowboys Stadium. It was ugly, it was tough, it was a wild rollercoaster ride. And better yet, it's a win. And it's one that puts the Cowboys back at .500 heading into Thursday's game with the Redskins on Thanksgiving.
That's the good part. The bad part is we found out that, yes, things can indeed get worse for this offensive line. The last thing the Cowboys needed was an injury to left tackle Tyron Smith, whose ankle injury not only forced him to the sidelines in the second quarter, but could lead to him missing a few games down the stretch if he indeed has the feared high-ankle sprain.
At one point in the game, a colleague next to me in the press box pointed out the only offensive lineman on the field playing in the actual spot he played last year, was none other than Derrick Dockery at right guard. It was Dockery's first game this season, forced to play because center Mackenzy Bernadeau had to start in the middle. Doug Free was last year's left tackle, now on the right side. And it's safe to say the 2-3 week period in which Free was quietly playing well, ended with a loud boom Sunday as he struggled all day off the edge.
It's just everywhere you go, the offensive line is causing problems for this team.
This definitely was not Tony Romo's best game, but how could it be? The quarterback jokingly (but not really) said after the game: "of all weeks for a short week." Romo was definitely in some pain after having run for his life for four and a half quarters that included seven sacks and a few more knockdowns.
There's no doubt Cleveland came to play on this day. All week long, I heard how "personal" this game was for guys like defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – and likely his defensive assistants Jerome Henderson, Matt Eberflus and Ben Bloom, who all came over from the Browns. And it was definitely personal for fullback Lawrence Vickers, who played five years in Cleveland.
But it seemed rather personal for the Browns, too.
And they're a hard team to figure out. On paper, they look absolutely awful. They're 2-8 now, haven't won on the road and rank near the bottom of most defensive categories.
Yet, in eight losses, the largest margin of defeat has been just 14 points. The other seven are all under 10, including this one here Sunday.
I'm not calling them a good team by any means. I'm not saying the Cowboys should feel great about beating them. But I think anyone can see how scrappy the Browns were, and how hungry they seemed to be for a win.
That's always a dangerous team, which calls for a dangerous situation. Throw in the fact that you can't just talk about this game by itself.
It was never, "The Cowboys are facing the Browns on Sunday." It was always something like, "The Cowboys are playing two games in five days," or "The Cowboys have three straight home games." It was never just the Browns by themselves and the Cowboys sort of looked like they played that way.
It was like they had one eye on Cleveland, and the other eye thinking about a short week and how to prepare for the Redskins.
Again, this is just one man's opinion, but I think most people could see how lethargic the Cowboys were in the first half. So you have to put that on the head coach. Jason Garrett's job is to get the team prepared to fight from the start and jump out on a team that isn't used to winning and has little confidence.
What did they Cowboys do? They spotted them 13 points and told this hapless team that it might just have a chance here in Cowboys Stadium.
But you have to bring it back to my initial point. The Cowboys have no business worrying about how they win. This team just isn't good enough to win a certain way. They're barely good enough to win when they do – and that is now exactly half of the time, as they improved to 5-5 after 10 games.
To steal a point from last week, although it must be reiterated as much as possible: Don't worry about the Cowboys barely beating these below average teams. Focus on the fact that the Cowboys have simply found a way to defeat the Eagles and the Browns.
Are those two teams headed for the postseason? Absolutely not, but neither are the Bengals, Eagles again or Redskins, who play this team twice. And, the Saints have a lot of work to do to overcome their slow start.
This win over the Browns Sunday won't win any awards for Game of the Year, but it doesn't have to.
Garrett always says the goal is to stack good days of practice together with the overall goal to get better. At this point, the weekly goal is to stack these wins together. Regardless who you play and how you look.
It's like March Madness for this Cowboys team. Survive and advance to the next week. Or in this case, survive and advance to later in the week.