Spagnola: Focusing On Here & Now Will Be Returning Cowboys Challenge

FRISCO, Texas – Focus.

         Man, if there ever was a time for the Dallas Cowboys to heed that five-letter word Jason Garrett had printed on those T-shirts, it is now. Right now.

         The Cowboys can't concern themselves coming off this bye on a two-game losing streak.

         There is nothing they can do now about those first five games, having emerged with a 2-3 record for fifth time in the past seven seasons.

         With 11 games still to play, not to worry about standing third in the four-team NFC East or that the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles not only lead the division and you by 2.5 games but also own the best record in the NFC and are tied for the best record in the NFL. The Cowboys have five division games remaining, two each against the Eagles and Redskins.

         Give no quarter that during your bye weekend the other three division members all won games.

         No sense becoming preoccupied with if Ezekiel Elliott will or will not be eligible to play this Sunday in San Francisco. There is nothing the players or coaching staff can do about those ongoing court battles that will give you tired head if reading all the legalese details.

         There is no sense in continuing to belabor this national anthem debate, to protest or not to protest, when their concentration this entire week needs to be on doing whatever they can do to prevent becoming the first team this season the 49ers (0-6) defeat. See what almost happened to the Redskins, and they only won by two points, and playing at home against those Niners at that.

         Can't do anything now about the final 1 minute, 13 seconds of that Green Bay game.

         Forget about all that. Has nothing to do with going forward, with climbing back over .500. Because you can't do that until reaching .500 in the first place.

         Just worry about this:

         Beat SF.

         Packed with 15 years of experience, veteran Jason Witten knows all this only too well. And here is what Ol' Man Witt would say to the team when all return from their four-day hiatus for Tuesday's noon-45 team meeting:

         "Certainly, we haven't played as good as we need to, being 2-3; that was not the expectation. But in a lot of ways you say, hey, there were two, 2-minute drives there in the Rams game and, of course, the Green Bay game that you could say we could be 4-1.

         "What I mean by that is that you got to provide perspective to your team. I think we can accomplish everything we want down the road with a lot of football still to be played, but certainly the margin is now smaller. We've put ourselves in a little bit of a hole, and not at a point to panic or get discouraged from that standpoint, but understanding where we're at with 11 games to play.

         "We have a lot of good things we can build on, but the margin is much smaller now. We need to execute. And our focus needs to be taking it that way as we move forward."

         Yes, like shoring up the run defense, and certainly the expected return of Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens helps. Like becoming more consistent on the offensive front, and a healthy and practicing Tyron Smith really would help. Tackling better. Catching the ball. And this might be asking for a lot, but, you know, a takeaway or two, not to be greedy, sure would help since the Cowboys haven't snatched one in the past 268 plays.

         There is that word again, focus. Maybe Garrett needs to make wearing those company issues under their jerseys mandatory all week for subliminal messaging.

         *

Not saying this was the Vikings' intent, but back in the day, say 30, 40, 50 years ago for sure, defenses pulled no punches about how to stifle an opposing offense: Knock the quarterback out of the game.

         Might be the elusive answer to solving the Rodgers Cube, the Vikings sending the Packers QB to the sideline with what was determined to be a broken collarbone now in need of surgery, and then going on to win the game, 23-10.

         Remember the infamous Cowboys 1974 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Washington Redskins when rookie Clint Longley took over for the injured Roger Staubach (concussion), trailing 16-3 with 9:57 left in the third quarter. The untested rookie cemented his nickname of "Mad Bomber" by completing 11-of-20 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, the final one, a game-winning 50-yarder to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds remaining for a 24-23 Cowboys victory.

         Well, prior to the game, and Staubach remembers this well, Redskins linebacker Diron Talbert said earlier in the week, "If you can knock Staubach out, you've got that rookie facing you. That's one of our goals. If we can do that, it's great. He is all they have."

         Longley was more than enough there, Diron.

         In 1963, the Chicago Bears won the NFL Championship Game, beating the New York Giants, 14-10, and remembering watching on closed-circuit TV that Bears defense battering Giants QB Y.A. Tittle, who passed away at 90-years-old this past week. Tittle was the Giants offense, and early in the game Bears linebacker Larry Morris first rendered Tittle immobile with a hit in the pocket and then knocked him out of the game for two possessions with another hit to the knee. Tittle would return in the second half, but could barely move, throwing off his back foot.

         Or how 'bout this one in 1986. The Cowboys and Giants were tied for first place in the NFC East at 6-2. The Cowboys offense, behind Danny White, was leading the league and White owned the NFC's highest QB rating. But late in the first quarter blitzing Giants linebacker Carl Banks came in untouched, not only sacking White but breaking his wrist, tearing a ligament and knocking him out of not only the game but for the season. The Cowboys, having to resort to Steve Pelluer, would lose, 17-14, impacting the seasons of both teams. The Cowboys would win only one more game, finishing 7-9. The Giants, they would never lose again, going 14-2 and winning Super Bowl XXI.

         Yep, quarterbacks do matter, and while many seem up in arms over the Rodgers injury, let's remember Tony Romo suffered three broken collarbones, costing him the 2010 season and most of 2015, his final as a fulltime starter in the NFL.

        

         A little this and that: Zeke's suspension is scheduled to begin Tuesday unless a favorable ruling comes down from the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, which could delay the start of his six-game suspension on Sunday against the Niners. Zeke will not be allowed at Ford Center. … Speaking of the Niners, Cowboys' interest in released linebacker NaVorro Bowman probably gave Raiders incentive to get that one-year, $3 million deal done across the Bay before he left the building. … Seen returning to the building out here is injured reserve tight end Rico Gathers, apparently finally recovering from his quite serious concussion. …

         Oh, and one last thing the Cowboys don't need to dwell on as they return this week: That emotional, last-second loss to Green Bay. Get over it. Done and gone, and we'll let Witten have the final word on that one.

         "You have to be honest and say, yes, it's difficult," the captain said of the Cowboys recovering emotionally from the loss in a game they seemingly had recovered in the nick of time to win. "But I also say that's the league we live in.

         "So, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable playing in those types of games."

         True that.

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