](/star)The author of "America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys," Jeff also writes a new column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
Still can't fathom the reaction of the fan base following the Baltimore loss. Maybe it's the time and place we now exist in, the immediate-reaction society, the 24-hour news cycle, the absolute obsession with assessing blame. This is certainly not a blanket statement, but there is a portion of fans who, quite frankly, are spoiled. More so, they're uninformed about what they are watching and about the National Football League itself. There were so many positives to take away from the Ravens defeat. And no, we're not proclaiming it a moral victory. Those don't exist at the professional sports level.
The negativity the last four days has been shocking, stunning beyond words. Baltimore, when it took the field against the Cowboys, was a top-3 team in the league. Losing Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis for the season obviously changes that, although likely not much. This team is still headed for the playoffs. Also, at home, there hasn't been a tougher opponent in the NFL the last five years, with the Ravens 32-5 under John Harbaugh, winners of 20 of their last 21 and 15 straight, including the postseason.
And the Cowboys dominated them offensively and defensively. Yes, can hear the words of Bill Parcells as these words are written, "You are what your record says you are." That's correct. But to watch that game and start talking about how the season is finished and how coaches should be fired is so far-fetched and utterly ridiculous. Dallas is 2-3, has beaten the defending Super Bowl champs – who are 4-1, otherwise – on the road, and lost in the two toughest venues in the NFL, Seattle and Baltimore.
The combined record of the Cowboys' five opponents this year is 19-9. This in a league where just nine teams currently have winning records. Yes, nine. According to Football Outsiders, no NFL team has come anywhere close to playing a tougher slate thus far. The Cowboys check in at 21.6 percent (above the league average) and no other team is higher than 13.0. Coincidentally, the No. 2 toughest schedule thus far is Carolina at 12.7, while Green Bay, no surprise, is third.
Moving forward over the rest of the season, the Cowboys have the 19th most difficult schedule, or 13th easiest, depending on the preference, at minus-3.1 percent.
How could the fan base not be optimistic? Many felt Baltimore was the toughest game on the schedule this year, and last week no one thought the Cowboys had a chance. Instead, the offensive line played easily its best game of the season, they rushed for 200-plus yards, Tony Romo was hardly touched, the defense was solid, and yeah, the ending wasn't ideal, special teams are a concern, but the schedule is much easier henceforth.
Only two of the remaining 11 opponents currently have a winning record. And of the six teams with just one win, the Cowboys play three: Carolina, Cleveland and New Orleans.
Have to find a way to create defensive turnovers. One interception in five games, none by the secondary, is unacceptable. Pretty sure Rob Ryan would be the first to concur. Even if it means taking a few more chances, trying to read passes a split second before they're thrown, that's worth the risk.
Count me among the many who wrote about second-year center Phil Costa's supposed ceiling. He was superb against the Ravens, his 6.3 grading was the highest given to a center this year by ProFootballFocus.com. As in no NFL center has played a better game through six weeks of the regular season. Have to hope he stays healthy for the remainder of the schedule.
Jason Hatcher is playing at an even higher level than during his breakout campaign of 2011. Has eight QB hurries and with Jay Ratliff out was seeing a bunch of double teams. That front will definitely miss Sean Lissemore, who is likely to be sidelined around a month with a high ankle sprain.
Dez Bryant catches a career-high 13 balls, has two touchdowns, plays a personal-best 74 offensive snaps and breaks five tackles on a crucial 17-yard gain on third-and-27 late in the fourth. But after the game, all the talk in regard to him is the dropped two-point conversion.
Was the ball catchable? Absolutely, 100 percent, should have hauled it in, but come on. Have we really reached that point of perfection or nothing? Guess what, folks. Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman threw interceptions, Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson lost a bunch of football games and Lee Roy Jordan even missed the occasional tackle.
This is a good football team. Trust me on this. Going to win a lot of football games this year and going forward. Garrett is going to succeed here, going to win playoff games. Have faith. There are a lot of reasons to be excited and optimistic right now.
The offensive line is coming along, we haven't seen Anthony Spencer and Ratliff on the field together for a single snap, the defense should only improve going forward, and at some point, the calls, the bounces, the bizarreness at the end of the games have to tilt in the Cowboys' favor.
No one is saying to book hotel rooms in New Orleans for the first Sunday in February, but the team isn't rebuilding and/or restructuring. The nucleus is in place for the next two, maybe three seasons. Players will be added and subtracted, and the coaching staff is superb. Stop with wanting this guy fired or this player released. Not even sure how that's enjoyable in any way, shape or form. My team lost, let's rip them to shreds and fire everyone.
Growing up outside of Boston in the 1980s and early 1990s, we had some pretty rotten football teams. Am guessing everyone knows about the 86 years the Red Sox went without winning a title. Yet, never recall anything like the negativity surrounding the Cowboys the last three or four seasons.
Attended every home game of the 1990 New England Patriots (1-15), quite possibly the worst football team the league has ever witnessed. Were outscored by 265 points, scored 181, then a record-low for a 16-game season. Never booed, though. The Pats were my team, they were trying, at least in theory. A buddy and me went to the stadium tunnel after a 13-10 loss to the Giants in the regular-season finale and while the rest of the "fans" were ripping the players and coaches to shreds, we tried to offer encouragement, as much as 14-year-olds can anyway.
Rod Rust, the soon-to-be one-and-done head coach who was a fine defensive coordinator for many years, including the stunning Super Bowl XX run five years earlier, was among the last through the tunnel. He was ignoring the insults as best he could, definitely walking as quickly as possible, and I yelled, "Thanks for the AFC Championship, Coach." Sure enough, he slowed, looked up with a smile and said, "Thank you."
Now, that might be a ridiculously sappy story that no one cares to hear, but there's nothing wrong with being positive. When the Cowboys finished Jimmy Johnson's first season at 1-15, Jerry Jones met him as he was walking off the field and told him point-blank, "We're going to be fine. Know how I know that? Because we have the best football coach in the world."
When the Baltimore game ended, my thought process was, stunk to lose that one, but this is going to be a fun season, this is a heck of a football team the Cowboys have. No one wins in Baltimore. No one. And Dallas should have, and more importantly, never stopped believing it could. That's what made Johnson's teams so dangerous his final three seasons here. They never, not for a second, thought they were going to lose. And this team is developing that attitude. It's not in place yet, but it's close.
Still have the Cowboys winning 10 games. Still having them making the playoffs. Lot of football left to be played.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.