MIAMI – Smiles to go 'round. Jerry. Jason. Witten. Dez. Rolando. Tony. Mrs. Tony.
Maybe you smiled, too. Maybe no complaints. No off-the-field nonsense focus.
Cowboys 24, Dolphins 14, hallelujah. Cowboys win. Finally.
Been a while, hasn't it? Since Sept. 20. Man. There seemed no end to that seven-game losing streak. But here it is, driving those Monday morning blues away.
Great, now wipe those smiles right off your 3-7 faces this morning. Not trying to be a kill-joy, but there is this little matter of the next game nearly upon the Cowboys, that annual Thanksgiving Day affair just three days away. And this will sober you up:
The Carolina Panthers come calling. That would be the 10-0 Carolina Panthers, the only remaining undefeated NFC team, probably making those prideful 1972 Miami Dolphins a tad squeamish. The same Panthers clobbering the Redskins, 44-16, on Sunday. The same Panthers beating the Eagles, 27-16, already. The same Panthers having won 14 straight regular-season games, owning a four-game lead over second-place Atlanta with six games to go, two of those, though, against the Falcons.
Yep, the Panthers, those poster boys for digging yourself out of a hole, sitting there last year at 3-8-1 before winning four straight to claim the South title, a playoff invite and an ensuing victory over the unsuspecting Arizona Cardinals.
Yeah, the Panthers. Talk about a No Fun League.
But that's how those cookies crumble when you had gone three of the previous five games without scoring a touchdown – specifically 104 minutes, 40 seconds without scoring an offensive touchdown until Terrance Williams catches that 31-yard strike from Tony Romo late in the second quarter at what started off a rain-soaked Sun Life Stadium, but finished up sun-drenched.
That's what happens when not since Game 3 versus Atlanta have you held as much as a 14-point lead, as they had with that Williams touchdown catch following Rolando McClain's first NFL career pick-6 five seconds into the second quarter (14-0), though not even lasting a minute.
That's what happens when Jack Crawford's sack of Ryan Tannehill becomes the team's first fourth-quarter sack … wait for this now … of the season. And to think they actually got two more this fourth quarter to help close out the game.
Ultimately, that's what happens when Sunday marks the first time Tony Romo and Dez Bryant played a game together since the season opener, their 16-yard scoring connection five seconds into the fourth quarter reminding everyone of just how good they are together, that being their 50th touchdown hookup over the past six seasons. That broke the franchise's previous high held by, uh, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, who played together for more than 11 years.
So let's caution that this victory is not exactly a cathartic one, washing away all the sins of the previous eight weeks. Getting at last to 3-7 simply is the first shovel of dirt off the coffin so many have been wanting to place this season in.
But it sure was encouraging to see that proverbial shovel in the hands of Romo, who wasn't perfect by any means in his return, getting picked off twice when trying to make chicken salad out of chicken gizzards. But he also threw those two killer touchdown passes, piling up 227 yards passing even though he was knocked around pretty good (two sacks and six QB hits) by a quite physical Dolphins defensive line and blitzers.
Best of all, he took many a lickin' but came up tickin'.
Romo also spread the ball around, eight different guys catching passes. And because of his threat with the ball in his hands, the Dolphins could not crowd the line of scrimmage against the run, and if they did, he made them pay for it down the field.
Why, after rushing for no more than 64 yards in two of the last three games, Darren McFadden punished the Dolphins with 129 yards rushing and three catches for 20 more yards. Even newcomer Robert Turbin chipped in 35 yards on seven carries, causing long-gone Christine Michael's 51 yards on 15 carries to pale by comparison. Maybe he needs to be R-Turbo or something.
"I've said it all week, we're excited to have him back," said Romo's tight end buddy Jason Witten, who played in his franchise record-setting 197th consecutive game to break Bo Lilly's record. "He brings great energy. He's the leader of our team. He gets us into great looks. He's a competitor. He makes a lot of plays. I thought you saw him do that today at his best. Big pressure throws to Terrance and Dez that changed the game for us."
He said game. Now the change must affect the season. But that can only happen one game at a time – one shovel's worth of dirt at a time.
But just think, without Romo on Thursday there isn't a person around giving the Cowboys a chance of bringing down Cam Newton and the undefeated Panthers. But with him, with Dez, with Sean Lee back on the field, with McClain now playing like McClain, I'm thinking the Cowboys at least have a puncher's chance against the undefeated Panthers. After all, the Cowboys are undefeated in Romo's three starts this season, 7-0 in his last seven regular-season starts and 15-3 over his last 18 regular-season starts. So, we'll see.
At least, though, the Cowboys, with Romo, should come into the game with a little swag in their step.
"I think winning, after the game you are going to find a little more pep in everyone's step," Romo said. "I told the guys (Saturday), that it was really inspirational watching them. Even though we didn't win over the last seven weeks, and I know that's ultimately what we are all defined by, how you perform and play on Sundays is really a direct reflection of who you are. I told them that the wins and losses are what people talk about, but the way that they played was inspiring.
"The fact that they have committed to this and just getting better, and then let the results happen later, has just been a great thing to see."
And, he smiled. They all smiled for a change.