FRISCO, Texas – There is a sign above the digital clock over the huge opening to the equipment room here in the Cowboys locker room that reads in big, bold, letters:
Good thing is, no one in this locker room is making any for this 6-6 record, even though owning a one-game lead in the NFC East over the 5-7, equally struggling Philadelphia Eagles, they losers of three consecutive games and the Cowboys losers in three of the last four.
First one to nine wins the East?
Heck, at this rate, maybe eight.
"No one is happy where we are sitting right now," says Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin.
"Angry because we are not where we expected to be," says defending NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott. "We got to go out there and play better."
And then there is Dak Prescott, the very proud leader of this team with expectations significantly higher for himself and this team than sitting here at .500 with four games to go, where emotional speeches dissolve into mid-air.
"When it's times like this, it's more to me to lead by example," he said Monday after the second day a preparation for Thursday night's game in Chicago. "Talk is cheap, right. We've talked a lot, we've talked a bunch and got ourselves right to where we are. So in a moment like this I say, hell with the talkin'. I'm going to do more, I'm going to work harder, and if you're a young guy looking to somebody to figure it out how to do it, look at me and some of these other guys, because that's exactly how we're doing it, putting our heads down, focusing and doubling down on ourselves."
But Dak, do you think fiery speeches can help sometime?
"They have their times, but if you need to be fired up at 6-6, uh, this isn't the locker room for you."
That's the shot you're looking for, with a few more on the way.
- No Excuses II: This is not an excuse whatsoever for the 26-15 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. The Bills were better. Just something to think about. I had thought this, but our colleague Brad Sham pointed it out in question, wondering if the Cowboys were just worn out that second half against the Bills, remember tailing just 13-7 at halftime, and that after the partial deflection of Brett Maher's half-ending, 35-yard field goal attempt. Think about this: The Cowboys played at New England late Sunday afternoon. Played in that gosh-awful rain, wind and cold, which takes something out of your body in the first place. The charter flight did not land in Dallas until just before 1:30 a.m. By time you get home, it's 2-2:30 and get to sleep 3 or 4. Then it's back to work on Monday, a walk-through, short practice on Tuesday and lighter practice on Wednesday. Play on Thursday. Not sure what was left in the tank. And Brad reminded of a similar situation in 2014. The Cowboys played a Sunday night game at the Giants before Philly on Thanksgiving. Beat the Giants, 31-28, and didn't get back until like 4:30- 5 a.m. Monday, so basically a wash for practicing. They got beat by Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, 31-10, by far the worst loss of the 12-4 season. Maybe only so much a body can take.
- · December In Chi-Town: Shocking, it's going to be cold in Chicago in December for Thursday night's game. But hey, growing up there, this will be like a great late fall evening, the temperature predicted to be a low of 31 Thursday night, but with the wind coming off Lake Michigan across Lake Shore Drive, probably feel like low-20s. Ha, nothing like the Cowboys' last visit to Soldier Field. Remember that one, Dec. 9, 2013? Kickoff was coldest in Cowboys regular-season history, 8-degrees. Wind-chill minus-9. How cold was it Jason Garrett? "Yeah, it was really cold," he said. Let me vogue for "brutally cold."
- Kicking Tires: That's basically what the Cowboys were doing Sunday, working out those three kickers, Nick Rose, Tristan Vizcaino and Austin MacGinnis. Rose of Highland Park High School and University of Texas was the only one with NFL regular-season experience, making 11 of 14 kicks in 2017 playing for Washington and the Chargers. Word was, the kickers struggled in the wind. As Cowboys COO Stephen Jones pointed out Monday, "We're good with Brett, but as with anything, you want to see what's out there." No matter Maher's recent struggles, no way the Cowboys were going to change gears, giving a new guy with little to no NFL experience two days of practice and then say, OK big boy, have at it Thursday night in freezing cold with that wind coming off Lake Michigan. Keep in mind, though, the Cowboys will have nine days after this one to prepare for the Rams on Dec. 15.
- 1,000-Yarder: This might surprise you, but with four games to go Zeke needs only 10 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the third time in his four-year career, the only sub-1,000 coming in 2017, with 983 yards while missing those six suspended games. NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith owns the Cowboys franchise record with 11 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, missing his rookie season by 63 yards, and his last two with the Cowboys by 25 and 28.
- Not Looking Good: For the second straight day Leighton Vander Esch (neck), Jeff Heath (shoulders, and that's plural) and Antwaun Woods (knee) did not practice, and think that's not a good sign for availability on Thursday night. Sounding like LVE will need some more time for that neck injury to calm down enough to play again this season.
- Early Shots: For the league's top-ranked offense, averaging 432.8 yards a game, this is not a good sign – scoring just nine touchdowns on the past 42 possessions over four games, with nearly half of those (4) scored against Detroit . . . Other scary stat, no takeaways in the past four games while turning the ball over five times, and six if you want to count that Patriots blocked punt . . . This will be the first time the Cowboys will play on a grass field since Game 2 at Washington on Sept. 15, so no wonder Garrett had them practicing the past two days on the outdoor grass field. Yep, all about the grass, not for cold, but the purpose of getting your cleats right for Soldier Field.
And this final thought goes to rookie receiver Ventell Bryant, whose first NFL reception/TD was totally lost in the shuffle of that Thanksgiving Day loss to the Bills. Too bad for the kid from Temple the Cowboys picked up for special teams purposes, scoring on his only offensive snap in the game and just his ninth of the season. Dak, paying homage to Bryant's 15-yard TD catch with 4:01 left in the game, saying, "Hate (for it) to be in that situation, and can't be more excited for him."