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Spagnola: Can't Let A Bunch Of Excuses Get In The Way of Business

LONDON – So, it's not supposed to matter if you're playing in the stadium, the parking lot or the moon, so says Jason Garrett.

         Well, here is the test.

         A nine-hour plane ride overseas.

         Six-hour time change.

         At least 30-minute bus rides each way to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

         Living out of a suitcase and hotel for five consecutive days.

         About to play on a grass field grown for 180-pound soccer players not 300-pound American football players.

         And to top it off, after operating out of a hotel mere walking distance to Wembley Stadium, located just across the street, the entire Cowboys organization had to pull up stakes Friday following practice to move to another hotel in more central London, probably another taxing bus ride. Not only did the home-team Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday's noon opponent, get first dibs on hotel and practice facility for the week, they also got to choose their hotel for the weekend.

         They chose to move into the one occupied by the Cowboys.

         Someone should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. At the very least illegal procedure.

         So, get my point?

         This one Sunday for the 6-3 Cowboys vs. the 1-8 Jaguars at Wembley Stadium, 6 p.m. here, noon back home, must be somewhere between that parking lot and the moon Garrett often refers to.

         Aaahoo … Werewolves of London?

         If nothing else, Garrett is stubborn because when asked of the extraneous factors surrounding this international game, he said, "It's been fine. A lot has to do with your attitude."

         But come on, having to pick up lock, stock and barrel on Friday to change hotels in the middle of the last days of game prep, isn't that a huge inconvenience?

         "Not really," Garrett said, his tone of voice discouraging any further advancement on this line of questioning.

         Or as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli adamantly maintained, "The environment can change, we don't."

         So the test to see if everyone is paying attention, to see if the Cowboys have resisted any feelings of America's Team Vacation in the UK. These are not the Griswolds. This is a team desperate for a victory, having lost the last two, and both home games at that.

         Maybe it's working, but you're going to catch my drift. When veteran Anthony Spencer was asked about the hassle of changing hotels following Friday's final practice of the week, "It is what it is," utilizing the athletic non-disclaimer. "I could complain, but what good would it do."

         The other troubling factor?

These are the 1-8 Jaguars. They lost six straight to start the season before beating Cleveland. Then the last two straight.

And don't fool yourself, and the Cowboys needn't not either, allowing complacency to cloud their thinking of these Jags. Jacksonville owns the 30th-ranked offense and the 26th-ranked defense. They are tied for 28th in turnover differential at minus-9 and 30th in scoring, with 15.6 a game.

Why worry, right? Should be a piece of cake.

Don't tell me about these pieces of cake, or maybe I should say scones considering this is being written just across the street from Wembley Stadium, where hopefully on game day I remember to look right before I cross the street.

Plus, the Cowboys haven't been any great shakes these past two weeks, either. They have lost both, and at home, ending their six-game winning streak and their stay not only in first place in the NFC East, but also their stay atop the NFL with the best record.

As Justin Durant reminded everyone after the sixth win, a 10-pointer over the Giants when the Cowboys were being lavished with "best team in the NFL" praise, "No one has ever gone to the Super Bowl with six wins."

Not even with seven.

So complacency should not be a part of their vocabulary or souls.

"We know what we came her for," said backup running back Lance Dunbar. "To play a football game. We're focused."

And the best part, somewhat healthier. Somewhat.

Judging from the work quarterback Tony Romo got in Thursday and Friday, he should be ready to go, and most in the organization thought even before practice began on Wednesday that Romo, after missing the past game with two transverse process fractures along his vertebrae, had a good chance of playing on Sunday.

As owner Jerry Jones said following the loss to Arizona, "We wouldn't be bringing him to London if he did have a chance of playing"

Then on Thursday out at Allianz Park during the Cowboys practice, Jones said, "I'm anticipating him playing. I have no reason to think he won't. My expectations are for him to play."

And of this misguided casual notion that has been circulating, of, oh heck, it's only Jacksonville, you ought to beat the Jags with Brandon Weeden at quarterback and give Romo another three weeks between games since the Cowboys have a bye next weekend.

"Any time he can play," Jones said of Romo, "we want him to play."

Plus as Jones said, "We need a win, also need a win for the psyche of the team. So it's very important for Romo to play in the game if he's able to play."

Also helping the cause will be the return of right tackle Doug Free and left guard Ron Leary. They have practiced all week, somewhat limited coming back from their injuries, but practiced enough nevertheless. Always good to play with the entire "best offensive line in football" than just three-fifths, as the Cowboys did this past game against Arizona.

Does make a difference when your starters are on the field.

But, I did say somewhat healthier. While defensive tackle Nick Hayden (shoulder) should play, despite missing the first two days of practice, fellow defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford likely will be out two to four weeks with a sprained MCL. That means Henry Melton should get more snaps, and that just might be a good thing since he seems to be closer to the 2012 Henry Melton the past two games.

Great, but there still is troubling waters at the linebacker position. We already know the Cowboys have lost Sean Lee (long time ago) and Justin Durant (two weeks ago) for the season. And now this week Rolando McClain (knee/groin) has not practiced one bit. There is a very good chance he won't be playing, either.

That means the Cowboys will likely line up at linebacker with rookie Anthony Hitchens in the middle, flanked by Bruce Carter and Kyle Wilber. That's a far cry from where they figured to be at that position. Not good. And certainly not very good when they go to their two-linebacker nickel defense. That could be a lot of inexperience in there.

Who knows, maybe more dime?

So here we go, despite the extraneous factors, despite whatever environment they might be in, it's time to win a ball game. Good teams do that. Don't win, and the Cowboys will be trending in the very wrong direction, and would be forced to stew over three consecutive losses, not only on what likely will be close to a 12-hour flight home on Monday, but then during the entire bye week.

Not good. Got to win.

No matter if this is the moon or just close.

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