IRVING, Texas – This NFC East, what a hoot.
Look at this once proud NFL division. Not a soul above .500. Really not even a team within a game of .500. Three of them two games under at 5-7, the Redskins, Eagles and Giants, and heck, they've had their quarterbacks all season long.
Then there are the Cowboys, four games under at 4-8, no Tony Romo for but four of those 12 starts, two of which he did not even finish. They've gone through a seven-game losing streak. They have gone through a stretch of losing eight of nine games. Throw the bye week in the middle of all that, and at one point they had won one game over 10 weeks.
But hark the herald, the Cowboys beat the Redskins this past Monday night by a hair, Dan "Money" Bailey coming through once again in the final seconds, and this no ordinary chip shot, taking out his 3-wood of a leg to connect from 54 yards out with only nine seconds remaining for the 19-16 road victory.
That meant the Cowboys had won two of their last three games, making them the hottest team in the NFC East. No foolin'. The Giants have lost three straight going into this Monday night's game in Miami. The Eagles, thanks to upsetting the Patriots, are 1-2 over their past three games and taking on Buffalo Sunday. The Redskins, too, are 1-2, and they are headed to Chicago.
So check this out:
If somehow, someway, the Cowboys can come out with a win in Green Bay on Sunday, somewhere they have won only once in the last six meetings – the last of those five losses probably still stuck in their throats, 26-21, this past Jan. 11 in an NFC Divisional Playoff game when the catch that could have vaulted the Cowboys into the NFC title game was reviewed into a no catch – then *… *
If the Cowboys can do what few, if any are expecting them to do, by beating an 8-4 Packers team having gone 2-4 over their past six games after a 6-0 start and are but a combined *Hail Mary & Glory Be *from being 1-5 in those last six games, then …
And if their other three NFC East brethren lose in Week 14 – that probability higher than the Cowboys beating the Packers in Green Bay these days – then …
They will answer the phone out here at The Ranch on Tuesday morning, First Place Dallas Cowboys!
I kid you not.
Look it up. All four teams would be 5-8, as implausible as that might seem. And rules state, when breaking a tie between three or more teams, the team with the best winning percentage in games played against the other teams wins the tiebreaker.
In this case, with the Cowboys' sparkling 3-2 record against the Redskins, Eagles and Giants so far, with only the Redskins left to play within the division, and none of the other East teams so far with better than a 2-2 record thanks to the Cowboys having beaten each at least once, the Cowboys' .667 winning percentage beats .500 all day long, so yep, first place.
Get out of here.
That's why heading into this next round of games, Washington currently is considered the first place team in the NFC East. The Redskins are 2-1 so far against the Giants and Eagles, finishing the season against Philly and Dallas. The Eagles are 1-1 against the other two, with division games left against Washington and the Giants. And the Giants, they are 1-2 so far against the other two, still having to play the Eagles.
Hey, who knows, maybe sugar plums do dance in the night.
That is why you don't ever give up on a season. These Cowboys have a chance, and heck, even if they should lose to the Packers at what's being predicted to be the* Soggy Tundra* at Lambeau Field come Sunday. Hey, who knows, maybe Aaron Rodgers does better with a frozen ball than a wet one. Air gauges need to be handy. Also, wouldn't it be nice if the visitors sideline tablets work during the first half this time, but of course we would never dream up some conspiracy theory for something like that taking place in our nation's capital this past Monday.
OK, but back to that chance.
Here are two things we know for sure with four games remaining:
One, no matter what, the Cowboys will play hard. They could, though, start off a little sluggish at first Sunday, seeing as how they are playing on a really short week, considering no one probably got to bed Tuesday morning before 6 a.m. and probably few fell asleep before 6:30 in the a.m. after the Monday night game in Landover, Md. And now they have to travel to play a team that last played 10 days ago. Way to go NFL. What happened to your socialized philosophy promoting league equity?
But these Cowboys, they will play hard.
Two, if there is to be that chance then the Cowboys have to D-up. Yep, while last year's stretch run rode on the shoulders of the offense, the Cowboys finishing the season by winning four straight, averaging 41 points a game during that stretch, this year the defense must reign supreme.
Not sure anyone can count on the Cowboys averaging like even half as many points as last year in these final four games. Look, this will be Matt Cassel's sixth start with Dallas. They have averaged 16.8 points in his previous five starts. They have scored just seven offensive touchdowns in those starts, a very modest 1.4 TDs a game.
Again, not sure that will change drastically.
So to me, this time around the defense must shoulder the burden of success down the stretch. After all, the Cowboys are tied for fifth in total defense, a dramatic difference from two years ago when they were 32nd, giving up the most total yards in franchise history, and then 19th last year.
And the toughest task down the stretch will come this Sunday against the Packers. And to think Rodgers will have two good legs this time around, not rocking his best *Chester *imitation as he did last year while completing 24-of-35 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns, with a 125.4 passer rating, having been sacked only twice in that playoff game.
The Cowboys know it, too.
"We feel elite defenses, they're great on yardage, they're great across all areas, but if you look at those teams they cause turnovers," Cowboys defensive co-captain Sean Lee says. "If we want to be in that class, we have to cause some."
And goodness knows, the Cowboys have barely caused any, dead last in the NFL with only eight takeaways, highlighted by only San Francisco owning fewer than the Cowboys' two fumble recoveries.
So here we go, four games to play. Up first the Packers, the all-time thorn in the Cowboys side, going all the way back to those back-to-back NFL Championship Game losses to them in the 1960s.
Come on, the rest of the NFC East has done its part to keep the Romo-less Cowboys from burying themselves. Now it's time for the Cowboys to fend for themselves, if they can, in a division absent of any team having given the slightest indication of being capable of playing better than .500 ball down the stretch.
So yep, it's now up to the Cowboys, they hold the cards in their own hands.
And seriously, if they play 'em right …
Wow, that'd really be a hoot.