ARLINGTON, Texas – Away from the football field, if someone hands you a present this time of year, it's OK to wait until Christmas morning before opening.
In the NFL, if a present lands in your lap, you don't wait around. You tear into that package like a 3-year-old.
The Cowboys not only received a major gift on Saturday night when the Redskins knocked off the Eagles, but then another small present came along when the Colts decided not to play their most dynamic offensive weapon.
Two gifts. Two opportunities. Too good to be true.
The Cowboys took advantage in a major way, proving to us all once again just how different this season is. In years past, the Cowboys have been prone to maybe step off the gas when things were looking good. We've seen this team fail to seize the moment, and I'll be honest, when it was sitting on the table for them this time around, I wondered just how the Cowboys would respond.
Umm, did we get the answer?
They responded like this:
- The Cowboys offense had its best game of the season. They scored touchdowns on their first four drives and put up a season-high 42 points.
- The defense had its best performance of the season and did so against one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Aside from a fourth-quarter touchdown against the backups, the Cowboys defense posted a shutout when it was starters vs. starters.
- With the NFC East title on the line, Tony Romo delivered with his best game of the season. That's what you want from your quarterback and leader. This game couldn't have been bigger and Romo couldn't have played better. If that's not an example of taking the bull by the horns then I guess I don't know what is.
The Cowboys absolutely ripped the Colts, 42-7, to earn their first playoff berth in five years. Some teams next week might back into the playoffs. The Cowboys absolutely dove into this dance head-first, and did so with a week to spare.
Really? I mean, we're way past the "*Back in training camp if you would've told me …" *jargon. Yeah, we all understand that this team has shocked the world.
But clinching the East with a game to play is not something we've seen around here in many years – seven to be exact. Not since 2007 have things been wrapped up for the Cowboys in terms of the playoffs. Of course, you can count 2010 when the Cowboys had long been eliminated.
This just hasn't been a team that wraps it up with a week to go. But for the 267th time, this isn't the team we're used to.
These Cowboys are different and they prove it each week.
These Cowboys make their opponents pay when they extend a drive with a senseless taunting penalty by turning it into a touchdown.
These Cowboys say "thank you" when their opponent drops a surefire first-down on a fake punt attempt by scoring a touchdown on the next play.
These Cowboys make sure that little crack in the doorway just before halftime gets slammed shut by an interception from J.J. Wilcox that keeps the 28-point lead at the break.
And before we go too far in congratulating the Cowboys in taking advantage of the Colts' mistakes, let's point out that this team is also forcing some of these miscues.
Yes, they caught a major break when the Colts threw a fake punt that was dropped – a play that changed the entire landscape of the game. But technically, they still forced the issue. They still blitzed the corners off the edge and made Indy react. Would you rather have Luck throwing to Reggie Wayne or the punter throwing to a safety? Yeah, me too.
But even on the Cowboys' legitimate stops they were flying around to the ball. I know we've joked about the lack of a pass rush, but if you look back here in recent weeks, it's gotten appreciably better. Tyrone Crawford, who set the tone for the whole game by stuffing the run on the Colts' first offensive play, is making a difference each week. Jeremy Mincey had another strong game rushing the passer, and without a doubt, this was Anthony Spencer's best game.
And let me say this – Brandon Carr is playing good football. And he has been playing good football for several weeks now. Great football? No, not great. And when you pay him $50 million you expect better than great. So, that's not happening. But he's been a good player these last few weeks. Sure, he's been on the wrong end of at least one play in each game, but that's really about it.
Now, does that mean you'll be stoked to see guys like Calvin Johnson or the Packers' receiving duo come in here in a couple of weeks? Not exactly, but he deserves more credit than he receives.
Flipping to offense, Romo is simply playing out of his mind. That's really all you can say. I said it last week that he deserved MVP consideration, especially if he played great against Indianapolis without a healthy Murray, and that's exactly what happened. No, he's probably not going to win, but he needs to be in the conversation.
Plain and simple, when Romo is healthy – practices all week and finishes the game – the Cowboys haven't lost all year. That is the definition of an MVP, and hopefully the voters will recognize that.
For years we've said that Romo needs a little help to show just how good he can be. Without a doubt, Romo has received the help, and he's showing he can be better than good.
On this day, Romo was pretty great. His entire team was as well. And that's why the Cowboys are going to the playoffs once again.
These Cowboys have put the past in their rearview mirror, and with the holidays upon us, seem focused on one thing – the present.