FRISCO, Texas – All the Cowboys want for Christmas is …
• Zack Martin healthy enough to play on Sunday.
• Take the opening kickoff noon at AT&T Stadium and score … a touchdown.
• To beat the Bucs.
Pretty simple. Not a very long list. Nothing exotic, or without reason.
And there ain't no secret Santa to deliver these goods. This is on them. Just get out there and play as hard and efficiently as they did during the five-game winning streak that put themselves on the precipice of winning their second NFC East title in three years.
Just one more win. Sunday.
Because if they don't, the last thing this team wants to face on the final Sunday of the regular season at MetLife Stadium is the New York Football Giants with something to play for. Right? Look, the Giants head into this weekend with a 5-9 record. They know they likely are going to finish dead last in the NFC East, that is unless they win their final two games and either Washington or Philadelphia lose their final two games.
And how jacked up do you think the Giants will be if the Cowboys come into that final game in a win-or-else NFC East title situation? Why, they would like nothing more than to play some Christmas Grinch to spoil the Cowboys entire season. And under no circumstances don't be hoping for someone else to do your dirty work, like Tennessee to beat Washington on Saturday and Houston to beat Philly on Sunday to hand you the title.
And I'll say it again and again, the NFL helps those who help themselves.
OK, let's go, nothing better than some _shots_ for the holidays.
· Let's Get Physical: Oliva Newton-John has nothing to do with this, but the Cowboys' 13-game M.O. had been playing physical. Well, they basically allowed the Colts to hand it to them this past Sunday. That can't happen again. One reason why Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett decided to spend their last allowed padded practice for the regular season on Wednesday. Maybe why the defensive line's five-man blocking sled was in operation during that practice. The linebackers were knocking the daylights out of their one-man blocking sled. As I overheard one player saying the other day, "That ain't happening again," in reference to the defense getting pushed around.
· What Happened?: That's the $64,000 question surrounding Colts 23, Cowboys nothin'. There've been a lot of theories being bounced around. But how 'bout this one: Sure took a lot of energy to win five straight, especially with two of those on the road, three of those within a 12-day span, a rock 'em, sock 'em effort to beat the Saints and then having to work overtime to beat the Eagles for the fifth straight. Might have taken a physical toll. Anyone with me?
· Trading Places: Now this one doesn't make sense, unless of course it's because he's a rookie. Or because he was listed as a middle/inside linebacker. But Leighton Vander Esch, with his team-leading 148 tackles and tied for the lead with two interceptions, didn't make the Pro Bowl cut. I understand Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner selected as the inside backers. But LVE, a weakside linebacker, should have won a spot among the outside dudes over Minnesota's Anthony Barr, third behind Khalil Mack and Ryan Kerrigan. But look, Barr had all of 49 tackles and three sacks basically playing the same weakside spot as Vander Esch in Minnesota's 4-3 alignment. Seriously. Should have been some backroom adjustments made there. NFL offices needed to be located in my hometown of Chicago.
· Bowl Priority: Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott became the first Cowboys running back to get named to two Pro Bowls since Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith went six consecutive years (1990-95) and eight times overall. Not sure Zeke understood the historical perspective of his accomplishment. When asked about the meaning, the NFL's leading rusher said, "It's nice but we're chasing goals far loftier than that. … We're definitely chasing a Super Bowl, not a Pro Bowl." Well said, young man.
· Blues Brother: To cover his nasty looking back eye, guard Xavier Su'a-Filo is wearing dark sunglasses indoors in the locker room. Sort of reminded me of the long-ago Blues Brothers. Even though he was listed as "limited" in practice Wednesday, basically doing some of the non-contact work then working on his conditioning, he says he's planning on playing Sunday against the Bucs. But he understands the severity of the eye contusion he's suffered, saying, "It's not something you want to mess with. You only have two eyes," giving new meaning to clear-eye view.
· Pro Bowl II: That Tyrone Smith is selected to his sixth Pro Bowl ties him with Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright for most selections at the tackle position in franchise history. He also ties Wright, Nate Newton and John Niland for the second-most Pro Bowl selections by a Cowboys offensive lineman behind just Larry Allen (10) … And Bryon Jones becomes the first Cowboys cornerback selected to the Pro Bowl since Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman in 2009, and just has to be the first Pro Bowl corner selected without at least one interception so far.
· Extra Shots: LVE has already shattered the long-standing rookie record for tackles in a single season, set in 1997 by Dexter Coakley with 136. LVE with two games to go already has totaled 148 … The Bucs might lead the league in passing, averaging 318.9 yards a game, but they also lead the NFL with 24 passes intercepted, leading to a league-high 31 giveaways, for a minus-17 net differential. The Cowboys have a zero differential, giving it away 15 times and taking it away 15 times … Chances are Cowboys tight end Geoff Swaim will miss the final two games of the regular season and might not be back if indeed there are playoffs. Swaim said the screws in his wrist won't come out for another two weeks, and he can't even think of playing until they are removed. Then after that, he has to regain strength and flexibility. Doubly tough break there.
And what else do the Cowboys for sure want for Christmas? These shots for next Wednesday talking about a meaningless season finale against the Giants.