IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys were picked by many prognosticators to finish no better than 8-8 in 2014, signaling an expected drop-off from the previous three 8-8 seasons.
In fact, there were many of the so-called experts calling for a losing record. Even owner Jerry Jones said before the season that he expected an "uphill battle" for his team whose "backs were up against the wall."
The Cowboys came out of the season opener with a 28-17 home loss to the 49ers in a game that sounded more like a San Francisco crowd with so many fans cheering for the visiting squad. The Cowboys turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions by Tony Romo, who was playing his first game since back surgery the previous January.
So how did Jason Garrett feel about his start to the season?
"I'm the only guy around that I know who felt good after the San Francisco game," Garrett admitted on Monday, a day after his team clinched the NFC East title with a dominating win over the Colts to improve to 11-4. "When I watched that (49ers) game in detail, that game told me what we were capable of doing. But it also told me what we had to do as a football team. If you remember in that game, we turned the ball over three times against a really good football team, and they took advantage of it. They beat us. They beat us handily. But, we also did some positive things."
And there were enough positive things that Garrett said his optimism for the 2014 season improved, even after the double-digit home loss to the 49ers.
"That game to me was encouraging because of the success and the kind of team that that team has been over the last three years, and we did something that really prevented us from winning that game," Garrett said. "But I felt like if we could take those plays away, there was a lot of good stuff in that game. That applies to Tony as well. Tony's a really, really good football player. He's been a good football player for a long, long time, and when he plays the right way in the right kind of environment, he can be among the best in this league. I think that's how he's played throughout this year."
More than anything, Garrett said he was confident Romo would indeed get healthier and play much better than the guy who threw three ill-advised picks in Week 1.
"I felt like he was making progress physically, almost day by day and week by week since the start of the offseason," Garrett recalled. "At different times he didn't look quite like himself physically because of the work he'd done in training camp or because of something that happened in a previous game. I think he's had some of those moments throughout the year. But that's every player. Some guys are banged up at different times. Tony's a tough guy. He's a physically tough guy. He's a mentally tough guy. I knew he was going to respond the right way. That's how he's responded throughout his career. I knew he was going to get better physically."
And because that has been the case, Romo has been statistically better as well.
Not only did he surpass Troy Aikman as the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards on Sunday, Romo also currently leads the entire NFL in quarterback rating with a 114.4 mark. Romo's career best for a season was 102.5, set in 2011.