Mick Shots: Trying To Be Somewhat Reasonable

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FRISCO, Texas – Looks like it's time for a few voices of reason.

But then, that's what happens any time the Cowboys lose a game, as they did Sunday night at AT&T Stadium, 28-24, to the now 7-3 Minnesota Vikings.

The loss drops the Cowboys to 5-4, having gone 2-4 since getting off to that season-opening three-game winning streak, panic permeating the air. As if all is lost.

Look, understand no one is happy out there. Well, there is no one inside these walls at The Star overly happy either, but at least they have not thrown in the towel, as if indeed all is lost.

They can't afford to think what could have been or what should have been. They have to deal in the now, meaning getting ready for this stretch of playing three of the next four games on the road, starting at Detroit on Sunday, then back-to-back games against teams with winning records, New England at 8-1 and Buffalo at 6-3, followed by a trip to Chi-Town.

The Cowboys' inconsistencies – win three, lose three, win two, lose one – is reducing their margin for error these final seven games. But then last year at this point, with a 4-5 record, they survived with no margin for error.

All is not lost. The Cowboys still are tied for first in the NFC East, and with a game in hand over the 5-4 Eagles. Also, there are only two teams currently in the NFC not leading a division with fewer losses than the Cowboys: Seattle (8-2) and the Vikings (7-3). No consolation. Just fact.

"I wouldn't say surprised. This is NFL football," Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott reasoned when asked about the 5-4 record. "I mean, every team is good, every team has great players, and if you don't go out there and handle your business, you're going to lose ball games. I think it's all on us in this locker room. It's all on us to turn it around. It's all on us to go out there and play better."

Truer words never spoken, setting the stage for even more _shots_.

  • Playoffs?: That's the goal, somehow, some way. Whether that's wining the NFC East for a second straight year, something that hasn't been done since the Eagles in 2003-04 or somehow getting in as a wild-card team. "Obviously we're upset we lost," center Travis Frederick says, "but you have to take everything we've done and put it behind you. You've just got to get in. … At the end of the day, you've got to get enough wins to get in the playoffs."
  • Line Dance: Never like seeing in your first practice of the week three-fifths of your offensive line not practicing. But that's what the Cowboys saw on Wednesday without right tackle La'el Collins (back/knee), right guard Zack Martin (back/ankle/now elbow) and Connor Williams, who had his left knee scoped on Tuesday, projected to miss at least a couple of weeks. That means backups such as Cameron Fleming, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Joe Looney are needed to jump into action. The Cowboys know Su'a-Filo will start for Williams, as he did last year when the Cowboys' second-round draft choice had his right knee scoped. They are hoping to get Martin and Collins back in time for the game. If there is anything encouraging up front, at least backup swing tackle Cameron Fleming for the first time practiced on a limited basis since missing the past two games with a strained calf.
  • Red Jersey: If the picture from Detroit's Wednesday practice is any indication, at this point quarterback Matt Stafford would seem to be a long shot returning for the game against the Cowboys. He was standing way behind the formation wearing the Lions' red Do-Not-Practice jersey and his ballcap backwards. Backup Jeff Driskill, last Sunday's starter, is preparing for his second start with the Lions if needed again.
  • Done With It: Think Tavon Austin must have said that four times when asked so many different ways about what he was told before fielding that punt with 17 seconds left in Sunday's game and immediately calling for a fair catch when, as it turned out, he probably had a chance to return the ball at least 20 yards. He said on Monday he was told to call for a fair catch. Head coach Jason Garrett has consistently said the coaching staff did not properly communicate what they wanted done on that play. What they wanted from Austin, if he had a chance to return the punt, was to not start darting here and there, eating up too much of the 17 seconds. And if he didn't have that chance, then just call for a fair catch. Garrett has taken responsibility for that message not being clearly communicated to Austin, saying, "We should have done a better job communicating." So when Austin was asked Wednesday afternoon, he said, "What day is it? Wednesday? I'm done talking about it." Garrett said he did express his bad to Austin on Monday, and Austin said of the conversation, "I definitely feel comfortable with it. That's between me and him. I'm done with it." Got it.
  • Seven Is Enough: That's how defensive end Robert Quinn must feel, after registering a sack against the Vikings, giving him 7.5 in seven games so far. That means he met the sack performance incentive in his contract, receiving $878,789 for at least seven sacks. But certainly not satisfied since he's on a one-year deal.
  • Snack Time: Damon "Snacks" Harrison might not be with the Giants anymore, but the 350-pound nose tackle is not out of the Cowboys hair. He will be anchoring that Lions defensive front on Sunday, meaning lining head up on Frederick. "That's a match, one, I don't look forward to, and two, I don't look forward to." Here's a suggestion: Run sideways, er away from the human space eater.
  • Twentysomething: Give ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer credit for asking the question Wednesday, looking for the reason in Dak Prescott's significant increase in passes of at least 20 yards this season. Dak, with an incredible nine on Sunday while throwing for 397 yards against the Vikings, already has 40 completions of at least 20 yards – 15 of those at least 30 yards. Last year he totaled 39. Well, first, protection has been better, suffering just 11 sacks in nine games as compared to 56 for the 2018 season. His receivers, all of them, having the ability to get open downfield and having great run-after-catch skills sure helps out. And he has a better understanding of the offense. Let's start there.
  • Baby Shots: The Cowboys have four games left against teams with a winning record – Patriots, Bills, Rams (5-4) and Eagles (5-4). Eagles have three – Patriots, Seahawks (8-2) and Cowboys, with the other four against Miami, Washington and the Giants twice … So Colin Kapernick is getting a workout for all 32 teams if they choose to attend on Saturday in Atlanta, but want to know if he is willing to play a backup role that comes with backup money. Remember this: For all that is said about Kapernick, his career completion percentage is 59.8. There are 29 quarterbacks after Week 10 this year with completion percentages of at least 60 percent and 15 of those above 65 percent – Dak one of them, currently at 68.1, ranking seventh in the NFL … Did the 7-1 Saints actually lose to the 1-7 Falcons? At home? Never know when some Jets-like team sneaks up on you, no matter how good you are. Guess that "any given Sunday" is real.

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