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Spagnola: Don't Panic Over Life In The NFL


FRISCO, Texas – Let this 2021 Cowboys season be a cautionary tale for the future.

Just don't get ahead of yourself. Don't make assumptions from past performances. Don't let winning streaks or losing streaks bleed into the next game. Make sure there are those yellow street signs in your locker room, warning of the upcoming dangerous curve ahead.

We're all the most guilty of that.

See a six-game winning streak and start counting them chickens, as I was criticized for warning about waiting for the hatches a few weeks ago, everyone already figuring just because the Cowboys would likely be favored to win every game from here to Christmas that this team isn't fallible.

And you know what? I sort of bought into it after the victory over Minnesota when the Dallas defense held the Vikings to just 16 points and the Cowboys were able to win a game with a backup quarterback.

Oh, how the narrative changed one game later, the Broncos bringing everyone back down to reality with a 30-16 drubbing of the Cowboys this past Sunday. Suddenly this week there has been no more talking about Super Bowls. No more talking about Offensive Players of the Year, Defensive Players of the Year. The Cowboys to lose both coordinators after this season.

Like the emperor had been stripped of all his fancy clothes.

So, we are reminded that this is the NFL. And Bill Parcells was right all those times someone would ask about his Cowboys team, especially back in 2003 when he might have produced the best coaching job of his career, taking a squad with Quincy Carter at quarterback, Troy Hambrick at running back and fullback Richie Anderson leading the team in receptions to a 10-6 record and the Cowboys first playoff appearance since 1999.

He would always say when asked about how good or bad his team is, "Check with me after Thanksgiving," figuring by then, with like 12 games under your belt, "you are who you are."

Golden rule to analyze by.

As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likes to say, using this old western analogy, "Anybody that thought we weren't going to have to burn some of these wagons as we go West with the old wagon train and use some of them for firewood and lose some folks on the way or birth some … doesn't understand an NFL season," he said on Friday's 105.3 The Fan radio segment.

"A long journey to get to California."

That brings us to these Cowboys, trying to recover from that loss to the Broncos heading into Sunday's noon start at AT&T against the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys are 6-2, owning a three-game lead in the NFC East with Arizona at 8-1 the only team in the NFL with fewer losses.

Suddenly, seems most everyone is on edge about these Cowboys. As if will they ever win another game? Have they been exposed?

Well, we will soon find out since Parcell's "After Thanksgiving" is only three games away: Atlanta, Kansas City, Los Angeles Raiders.

And here is exactly why you don't start making Super Bowl plans on Halloween.

The Cowboys will go into Sunday's game without their best, most effective pass-rushing defensive end, Randy Gregory, placed on injured reserve with a serious-enough calf strain. They will go into the game without their Pro Bowl-quality left tackle Tyron Smith, head coach Mike McCarthy saying if Tyron doesn't practice on Saturday, as he hasn't all week so far, he won't be playing a second consecutive game on Sunday, and as of Friday projected on the injury report to be out.

They will go into the game without kicker Greg Zuerlein, placed on Reserve/COVID-19 and his replacement Lirim Hajrullahu, a CFL veteran, has yet to attempt a field goal, an extra point or execute a kickoff in the NFL.

So how is this for an MIA list:

Tyron Smith.

Randy Gregory.

DeMarcus Lawrence.

Blake Jarwin.

Neville Gallimore.

Greg Zuerlein.

Brent Urban.

Maurice Canady.

Jabril Cox.

And availability yet to be determined on Cedrick Wilson, listed as questionable but with a chance to play, and Trysten Hill eligible to come off PUP.

Although, the Cowboys are receiving a shot in the arm with receiver Michael Gallup certain to be removed from IR-Return in time to play on Sunday after missing the past seven games with a calf strain.

See, this NFL is a fickle game. Did you watch Thursday night, the previously 2-7 Miami Dolphins taking apart the previously 6-2 Baltimore Ravens, 22-10? The Dolphins, with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who gets injured and replaced by injured starter Tua Tagovailoa (fractured middle finger on his left throwing hand)?

And get this: The Ravens, who some have thought to be the best team in the AFC, had beaten the Dolphins in eight of the last nine meetings and had outscored them in the previous three meetings 146-16. Yet Miami holds the Ravens to just 304 yards and only 10 points, the fewest Baltimore has scored in the past 52 games.

Go figure.

See, here is why McCarthy – while not happy with the loss and crushing anyone who might suggest losing to Denver is "a good loss" – has remained neutral this week, seemingly unruffled preparing for the Falcons, no fingerprints on the panic button.

He just isn't into that B.S. about wakeup calls or good losses.

"I do not," McCarthy said when asked during his Friday segment on 105.3 The Fan if he subscribes to the cliché of _good losses_. "I think you can win and not play as good and get the same thing out of it. It's about winning. You've got to make sure everything you do is about winning. And at the end of the day, you have to find a way of winning on Sunday.

"You're going to have trials and tribulations, injuries, ups and downs, the ball doesn't bounce your way, all those things. That's the beauty of this game. … Win and play bad is my preference."

That right there about sums up the Cowboys this past Sunday, scoring their fewest points of the season and scoring fewer than those 16 only six times in the past 42 games. And the 30 points given up, the most since the season-opening 31-29 loss to Tampa Bay, though reminiscent of the 2020 season when giving up at least 30 points eight times.

"We don't want to change the personality or the energy level of what we've got going here," McCarthy said. "We talk about culture and character. This is when culture is reflected during adversity. It's nice to go through stretches when everything is positive. So it's just the way they respond. A big part of our team is the energy and enthusiasm that they bring to the table every day.

"We definitely don't want to lose that."

To make sure, it was "Brotherhood" Friday during the team meeting, McCarthy bringing in a Bingo machine to spin the balls with players numbers and names on them, the four chosen ones Friday morning "given the privilege to come up to the room and speak on a few things, so that's what we did this morning."

In other words, keep it light. Don't let it get uptight.

After all, it's the NFL, and as we know, uh, stuff happens.

Just don't burn up all the wagons along the way.

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