Let's begin here: From a Cowboys perspective, the game in Denver was a disaster. It is true that when you look at the tape of any game, things were seldom as good or as bad as they seemed. But that was a stinker, with a capital stink. A perfect template for how this team's season could go horribly wrong.
But for that to happen, they'd have to play like this over and over. And there is nothing in the DNA of this team to suggest that's about to happen.
There were no games like this one last year. There were a couple, especially against New England and Green Bay, in 2015, but with all of the injuries on that team, especially at quarterback, that year gets thrown out. The only real stinker in '14 was the Thanksgiving game after a Sunday night road game in New Jersey. That was an anomaly. There have been one or two every year since most of this coaching staff has been together, and they have always identified the problems and bounced back. That's their history.
What is either amusing or incredibly frustrating, though, is the way the public and some of the media react after every game, especially early in the season. Thank goodness the stock market isn't tied to folks who sit on their couches, watch one game on television and immediately know everything going on inside and out. We'd all be broke.
Former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells had a term for reporters, fans, even people in his own office who jumped to conclusions: Instant Evaluators. What they spread is highly contagious, and it can be toxic.
Had a delightful chat on a Phoenix radio station this week with a couple of fellows previewing the Monday night game with the Cardinals. One of them begged to know who the Cowboys were? The team that played the Giants or the one that went toes up in Denver? He actually said this: "As a gambler, how am I supposed to know which team is coming to town?" My answer: "Why would I care anything about what you do or think as a gambler?"
Maybe this is part of the problem, though, in 21st century America. A lot of folks are gambling on games. Their money is on the line. Even more folks – I'm looking right at you – are playing fantasy football. In fact, sometimes it seems more people care about their fantasy teams than are paying attention to putting a football team together, keeping it together, and improving it over the course of the season.
Fans – and this is not a Dallas or Cowboys phenomenon, this is everywhere – believe their team owes it to them to play perfectly every time out. When that doesn't happen, and it can't, folks want to know who's at fault. It can't be that the other team was good.
Jerry Jones recalled to an audience this week that after one of those 1989 beatings, as the young owner sat head in hands in the locker room, veteran assistant coach Dick Nolan stopped, patted the young boss on the shoulder, and told him, "I've been doing this a long time. Remember, the guys in the other locker room get paid, too."
But this is not what the public wants to hear after a poor game, which after all MUST HAVE BEEN AN ACT PERPETRATED SPECIFICALLY ON ME. THOSE SONOFAGUNS ARE DOING THIS JUST TO HURT ME. It's why former Cowboys pro bowl guard Blaine Nye once said, "It's not whether you win or lose. It's who gets the blame."
Another factor that plays into Instant Evaluating is the personal pride of reporters. We're frequently asked to pick a team's record. If we misjudge the team, they've made us look bad, and a pound of flesh must be extracted.
In the days before the Cowboys hosted the Giants to open the season – remember, way back when the Cowboys were still good – several New York writers penned pieces about how the Giants had their best chance this year to make one more Super Bowl run with this team. Several predicted it. Imagine how they feel after the Giants' 0-2 start. There will be blood.
The problem, of course, is that a season unfolds at its pace, not ours. The fellow in Phoenix who demanded I tell him who the Cowboys are? Had to tell him, I don't know. They've only played two games. Ever hear of a team going 4-0 and missing the playoffs? Happens a lot. Ever hear of a team starting maybe 1-4 and making the playoffs? Happens all the time. It's not easy. But easy isn't the point.
This corner has long held the opinion that every football season is like a little lifetime. What a team is at the beginning is rarely what it is at the end. It changes, grows. Some don't go well. Some run smoothly from start to finish, but not many. Most evolve. This Cowboys team could be a great example.
You want the offense to function just like before? Guess what? Forty percent of the line has changed. That doesn't jell overnight. The running back has distractions that didn't exist before, and it's not likely they'll exist in the same way all year. The defense may take until midseason to identify itself. Damontre Moore is coming back now, David Irving in two weeks. Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods just got introduced to the NFL, and believe it or not, they did some things to build on in Denver. Just not enough to help that day.
It's admittedly troubling that a team that's viewed as a good team can get shoved around like that on both sides of the ball. That's a red flag. But there are no conclusions yet which to jump. We're just starting. Nothing is as it seems. Don't be an instant evaluator. That's a losing proposition.