Spagnola: And Now On To A Brand New Year


FRISCO, Texas – Huge welcome, 2021.

Thank goodness.

Enough of 20-20, the only year of matching double numbers this century in most of our lifetimes, and there probably aren't too many still with us who remember the last time this happened in 1919.

What a year, huh? Normally, we get somewhat teary-eyed when humming along with _Auld Lang Syne_ at midnight on New Year's Eve, causing us to reminisce over the year gone by while "taking a cup of kindness" as the song suggests to those old acquaintances that "shouldn't be forgot."

But this year? For many? Probably want to raise the whole growler to celebrate the end of 20-frigin'-20, with hopes the new year is better than the old year.

"A season full of challenges," is how Cowboys COO Stephen Jones characterizes the football part of it, but certainly applicable to life in general during this pandemic ravaged year.

So we start anew today, Jan. 1, 2021, and the Dallas Cowboys certainly hope they start anew, too, aiming to move forward Sunday, the final day of the NFL's 2020 regular season, trying to salvage a year of more trials and tribulations than they probably care to remember.

To do so, the 6-9 Cowboys must beat the 5-10 Giants in Game 16 of the 2020 season. That's on them. Then they need for the 4-10-1 Philadelphia Eagles to beat the equally 6-9 Washingtons so the Cowboys can win the NFC East title for the fourth time in the past seven years. If both win, then the potentially 7-9 Cowboys would finish tied with the 7-9 Washingtons, but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker, knocking them back into second place and out of the playoffs.

For that, the Cowboys would only have themselves to blame, losing twice to Washington, 25-3, in a game backup quarterback Andy Dalton left with a concussion, and then on Thanksgiving, 41-16, after trailing just 20-16 in the third quarter.

Now then, we certainly could lament all the bad luck and transgressions of this past season, the effects of COVID-19 throughout the year, like losing Dak Prescott in Game 5 for the season, the injury decimation of one of the best offensive lines in football, having to play four quarterbacks during the course of the first nine games, all those 20 giveaways over the first nine of the 2-7 start and the general defensive disconnect.

Those "old acquaintances" need be forgotten.

Instead, how about this since we are in a NEW Year? How about focusing on this turnaround, putting the Cowboys at least in a meaningful game on Jan. 3, 2021? How about trying to extract some good from this upside down season?

Like looking forward? Right?

"It was time," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said of what has taken place in the month of December. "We had to get to where we were playing our best football, and I think clearly our team has responded. …

"I think it's all fallen into place with all the trials and tribulations that we've gone through as a team, and hopefully we can be stronger for that and hopefully finish off this game with the Giants with our best performance."

So the Cowboys head into the new year riding a three-game winning streak, albeit against the likes of Cincinnati (4-10-1), San Francisco (6-9) and Philadelphia (4-10-1). But consider this: Since losing to the Cowboys, the Bengals have beaten Pittsburgh and Houston. Since beating San Francisco, the 49ers thumped Arizona. And the Eagles lone win over the past seven games has been over the Saints.

As for the Cowboys, credit the turnaround to a combination of the offense scoring at least 30 points in all three wins and the defense coming up with 10 takeaways, while the offense has turned the ball over once during the three-game winning streak.

Plus, as we've seen, given a decent chance in the pocket, Dalton still has it and this receiving corps still is top notch. Especially with rookie CeeDee Lamb living up to No. 88 expectations.

The Cowboys have discovered the tight end position is not as bad as assumed would be after Blake Jarwin tore his ACL in the season opener. As McCarthy points out, "I'll tell you, they've been very consistent, the tight end group," consisting of Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell and Sean McKeon. And that includes the group's improved blocking and Schultz just four shy of a 60-catch season.

The Cowboys also are finding two young interior offensive linemen they can sink their teeth into: Rookie center Tyler Biadasz having future starter written all over him and second-year guard Connor McGovern, with his first NFL snaps and starts, a shining light.

While technically this might be just his third season because of multiple suspensions, 2015 second-round pick Randy Gregory in nine games has to be the Cowboys' Comeback Player of the Year. If not Aldon Smith, returning to the game for the first time since 2015 of a suspension-laced career.

Then there is the emerging safety Donovan Wilson and second-round rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs, also with star power tatted to their future. Same with defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. And gosh, if they can just keep linebacker Leighton Vander Esch healthy.

Heck, probably even need to keep an eye on Hunter "The Punter" Niswander, and while much was expected of running back Tony Pollard and received, kind of like this Rico Dowdle, too.

If nothing else in this darn 2020 season, there is some rising light shining on the future when also factoring in the injury return of Dak, Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Zack Martin, Vander Esch, Jarwin and maybe Antwaun Woods, too.

See there, maybe in an absurd way, 2020 has served a purpose, and certainly will not hurt that McCarthy and his coaching staff just might have their first real offseason with the team, instead of meet ing these guys face-to-face because of the COVID-infected year for the first time in late July.

So here we go, onto the third day of 2021 with still hope of salvaging what appeared to be an unsalvageable season as recent as December 8 when the Cowboys were sitting 3-9 after disheartening losses to Washington on Thanksgiving and Baltimore that night, having won just one of their past seven games following Dak's devastating injury.

If nothing else, this team didn't tank, didn't tuck tail or sulk in their own lack of success, now allowing themselves to play in a meaningful game with the morning dew still on a NEW year.

"I think that it reinforces why in our game you never, ever … _ever_ … say it's too late, or you never let up," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on his 105.3 The Fan radio segment of this late resurgence. "Sounds like cliché, but it really does happen.

"You can start clicking and actually be a better team."

And, who knows? There's still a chance to raise a cup of kindness but to future times.


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