FRISCO, Texas – Seems appropriate this week to take a shot at answering this esoteric question that likely will have a different meaning to different people.
What's the meaning of _meaningless?_
As we are well aware of, the Cowboys, despite winning the NFC East title for the second time in three years and third time in five, must play the New York Football Giants this Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Winning or losing will have absolutely no effect on their playoff standing. They are locked into the fourth seed, no matter what, and will play the fifth seed, or the wild-card team with the best record.
As for that part, it's one of those TBD.
So for the Cowboys they face that juggling act of _rest vs. rust_. Is it better to pull as many starters as possible, ensuring health going into the first-round playoff game either Saturday, Jan. 5, or Sunday, Jan. 6? Or do they want to ensure mounting momentum heading into the playoffs and play their healthy starters for like a half and not risk being rusty if guys go like two weeks without playing a game?
· To Jason Garrett: This week does have meaning to the head coach. He gets three more meaningful days of practice by taking his approach that the Cowboys are preparing as usual to play this game because it's one of the 16 you get to play. Think about it. Because if he starts the week off saying, yeah, we're going to rest this guy and that guy, he basically is telling everyone he doesn't value anything they are doing this week, much less the game on Sunday. This 9-6 team is not so established that he can take his foot off the pedal. Let 'em know Sunday around noon who's playing and who isn't.
· To Tyrone Crawford: This week means the Cowboys veteran defensive lineman can rest after suffering what doctors were calling a "big boy stinger" early in Sunday's 27-20 win over Tampa Bay. Good to see him on his feet back here at The Star with no more than what they are calling a neck strain, because had Sunday's game against the Giants meant something, he probably would be pushing to play. So that the game means nothing tangibly is quite meaningful to Crawford.
· Same For Zack: For more than a month, Zack Martin has been nursing a sprained left knee, playing with a brace. He finally backed off against the Colts, sitting out, but coming back this past Sunday for the meaningful, NFC East-clinching game. Job accomplished, now he can go two weeks before playing another game. That will do wonders for his knee, able to spend this week and early next week simply rehabbing.
· To Zeke: The guy has touched the ball 381 times in 15 games. Fresh legs certainly would be meaningful heading into the playoffs, but winning the NFL rushing title certainly is meaningful, too. Now, he might be able to claim the title without gaining a yard on Sunday, since his 1,434 yards are 183 ahead of his closest competitor, Todd Gurley, who has 1,251 rushing yards. And there is a good chance Gurley doesn't even play on Sunday since he's been nursing a sprained knee. Winning the title would be extra special for Zeke, since this would be his second in three years. Elliott already is in select Cowboys company, since he's just their third back to win the rushing title in the team's 58-year history. If he should win again in Cowboys 59th season, he would become only the second to win multiple titles. Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith won three straight (1991-93) and a fourth in five years in 1995. Zeke says that would be cool to win a second NFL rushing title, but that he's not preoccupied with the accomplishment. Again, bigger fish to fry.
· To DeMarcus Lawrence: Getting a half-a-sack on Sunday, and 10 for the season, would mean he would become the first Cowboys player to record back-to-back double-digit sack seasons since DeMarcus Ware hit double-digits seven straight years (2006-2012). He'd also become just the third Cowboys player to lead the team with double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons since sacks became an official NFL statistic, joining Ware and Randy White (1983-84). Pretty unique company, and not a bad negotiating chip heading into free agency next year.
· Dak-To-Dak-To-Dak: If Dak Prescott starts Sunday's game, he will become the first Cowboys quarterback to start his first 48 games in the league. Also, with 31 wins going into this game, Dak is tied with Drew Brees for the second-most wins over the last three years (2016-18). Tom Brady leads that category with 34 wins heading into this year's season finale.
· 55 To 55: Talking with Cowboys Ring of Honor linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, he's certainly a big fan of rookie Leighton Vander Esch and thinks he's quite worthy of wearing 55, his number with the Cowboys for 14 years. "Now when I sign autographs," Jordan said, "I sign my name with the 'old 55.'" That's quite a compliment for LVE, who has a chance to extend his record for most tackles by a rookie from the current 164, 28 more than the previous record holder, Dexter Coakley's 136 in 1997, with one game to go.
· To Darius Jackson: Assuming Zeke even plays a quarter, first-year running back Darius Jackson, signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster last week, figures to get the bulk of the carries following Rod Smith. He was signed to a deal through 2020, but what a chance to prove to this coaching staff that he's worthy of 53-man status next year.
· To The Last Word: This goes to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who understands the importance of health along with good mojo going into this final game of the season. He also values how his team has been able to recover from that 3-5 start, digging itself out of the hole causing most everyone outside these halls to give up on the season:
"I think that there's so much about sports or so much about certainly football that wants to prove to your own mirror and secondarily, or maybe just as important, to everybody else that you can do it when the odds are stacked against you. I think football has a lot of that. I think that's why you're arduously trying to get your numbers, get through a two-on-one or a three-on-two as opposed to the other way. So going against the grain, going upstream. I think that's a lot of the appeal of football.
"A lot of football is not fun. It's work, but it's rewarding, and in my mind it's building. Having dug that hole, it reminds me of the analogy of when I first got involved with the Cowboys. We were accused of tearing the franchise up, tearing the tradition of the Dallas Cowboys up. We didn't win but one game our first year, but then we were able to come back, add key players and really make a run of it. There's no question it was much more rewarding to have the world say they've just torn the franchise up, don't know what they're doing. And I still, of course, 30 years later, hear that, but the bottom line is it's fun.
"I don't recommend it, but it makes a better story when you dig a hole and come out of that hole."
And there is my shot at defining the meaning of meaningless.