and the season has worn on. And say what you want, improving health of quarterback Tony Romo or coincidence of a softer schedule, but this Cowboys team is growing - getting better before our very eyes, having a chance Sunday against the Redskins to win a third consecutive game, something the Cowboys haven't accomplished since the final three games of the 2009 season.
Nothing stale anymore.
To me, it's predominantly about the juice. These young kids, these newcomers, have energized the veterans with their play. Face it, you see Murray rush for 601 yards in four games, you get excited and gain confidence. You see some rookie free agent make 22 consecutive field-goal attempts, and you're sitting there going, yeah, you go Dan Bailey, as likable a place kicker as you will ever find.
And Lee, who would have thunk it after an injury-riddle rookie season he'd be leading the team with 78 tackles in just eight games, the last of those eight played with a totally-encompassing cast on his left hand.
"I knew in February," said Ryan after first meeting Lee, the inside linebacker from Penn State, and then watching the little bit of film the Cowboys had on him from last season. "He loves football, he studies ... he's a natural-born leader. He steps in and everybody reacts to him."
He compares Lee's emergence to that of Wilber Marshall's in Chicago "when he come in for my dad," Ryan says of the former 1984 first-round pick who became a huge catalyst on Buddy Ryan's defense during the Bears' Super Bowl run the very next year. Health be willing, Ryan figures Lee is on his way to the Pro Bowl.
Then Robinson, his 27 receptions fourth on the team and his four touchdown receptions, as many as he had in his previous four NFL seasons combined, tying the Falcons' former fourth-round draft choice for second on the team. Why, when he got here, no one was even sure how to pronounce his name, was it Lore-rent, Lore-ent or La-Ron, let alone figuring he would be the long-desired third receiver capable of assuming the second spot in Miles Austin's injury absence.
Holland has helped solidify an offensive line far too young at season's start, and why the Cowboys were counting on him to replace Leonard Davis at guard. And guarantee you, after showing up overweight and out of shape, and then straining a hamstring and spraining a knee during camp, few would have given Holland a snowball's chance in hell of redeeming himself with this second chance.
But with Smith growing, first-time starter Phil Costa growing and Holland adding some bulk and versatility inside to the rebuilt line, this once overwhelmed bunch seems to be more than holding its own.
And who would have thought back on Sept. 7 when the Cowboys released Fiammetta before re-signing him so many would be fretting his absence this Sunday against the 'Skins, the Cowboys finding the trusted fullback they have been searching for since Moose retired.
Veterans feed off this kind of stuff. Then throw in the contributions of cornerback Frank Walker and safety Abram Elam and defensive end Kenyon Coleman, and the added boosts from Barry Church and Danny McCray and Jesse Holley, and you got a roster working for you.
Definitely not the same ol' Cowboys.
Unsolicited, Ryan, pointed out another source of energy, and maybe why this team can recover from losing three of the first five - all three quite disheartening losses - and then getting blown out on national television for the fourth.
"The energy for our team comes from Jason Garrett," Ryan offered. "The biggest juice for this team comes from Jason. He's smart, he knows how to lead.
"That's where I get my juice from."
And for a most welcomed change, what juice it really is.