Spagnola: If Not For Squandering Opportunities

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FRISCO, Texas – All is quiet. Such a unique feeling. Rarely is it quiet out here at The Star.

Bye week, of course. The new CBA mandates the players have four consecutive days off, two of those weekend required. No game this Sunday, though little comfort when you are 2-7, and even though just one win behind your NFC East-leading Eagles (3-4-1), still saddled in a last-place tie with the Giants heading into Sunday's Week 10 round of games.

Good thing, though, for the Cowboys scheduled idleness. Could have been much worse if they had been scheduled for a game on Sunday. Who knows, but projected starter Andy Dalton might still have been in concussion protocol and/or on reserve/COVID-19, unavailable to play. Who knows if the Cowboys would have been allowed to even practice this week after being subjected to intensive COVID-19 protocol after Pittsburgh's Vance McDonald tested positive for the once-again raging coronavirus the day after Sunday's game, causing the Cowboys to shut down operations early in the week, not to mention the consequences of teammate Tyrone Crawford landing on reserve/COVID-19 on Wednesday, reportedly for close-contact reasons.

Heck, might have been forced to move the game to Monday. Or Tuesday.

Crazy 2020 rearing it's ugly head. Once again.

Mike McCarthy must take a pounding headache to bed with him each night.

"This year is so different from any year I've been a part of," says McCarthy, especially since this is his first season as head coach of a team not named Green Bay since 2006. "There is just so much new and changed. I've just never been around so many situations where every week is different from the week before, whether it's your lineup on the offensive line, who your quarterback is. We've played, what, four quarterbacks in the last five weeks. So, it's just a different year. It's so different this year."

Yeah, different. The former Packers head coach is used to winter rolling in about this time each season, not 75-degree days. Certainly not used to 2-7. Can't imagine he's gone nine straight weeks without the same five guys starting on the offensive line in consecutive weeks. Bet he's never gone five consecutive games having to start four different quarterbacks, and in two of those five games his starting quarterback unable to even finish the game.

And certainly never having what amounts to an oversized Q-Tip swabbing up in his nose every morning he comes to work.

But as he hopefully takes time to take a deep breath this weekend, wonder if this eats at him, as maybe it eats at us, if you guys care to agonizingly think back to what could have been. How easily the Cowboys could have led the NFC East with a 4-5 record with seven games to go, and just one of those now going forward against a team currently with a winning record (Baltimore 6-2).

Crazy?

Maybe crazy like a fox, because in this NFL you had better win the games you should have won. Lose, and you pay the price. Sort of as the Cowboys did in 2019 in that inexcusable 24-22 loss to the Jets, ultimately costing them a chance to win the East at 9-7. Or that even more inexcusable 34-14 loss to the one-win Rams back in 2008, even if Brad Johnson was starting for the injured Tony Romo. That loss cost the 9-7 Cowboys a wild-card spot that season.

Well, these hard-to-forget 2020 losses should stick in your craw:

Rams 20, Cowboys 17.

Seahawks 38, Cowboys 31.

And before we go any further for those screaming, yeah, but the Cowboys didn't deserve to beat the Falcons in between those two games, well, I say, any time you figure out how to score 40 points you deserve to win. Or, how about this way? Any time you figure out how to _give up_ 40 points you sure don't deserve to win.

Let's continue.

That season-opening Rams game, three things:

· Greg Zuerlein misses a 53-yard field goal.

· Trailing 20-17 with 11:46 left in the game, facing a fourth-and-3 at the Rams' 11, McCarthy passed on a 29-yard field-goal attempt to tie the game, instead going for the first down, coming up a yard short on what turned out to be a 2-yard pass to rookie CeeDee Lamb.

· With 31 seconds left in the game, from his own 34, Dak Prescott drops a dime on Michael Gallup, coming down inside the Rams' 20-yard line, though wiped out by an Oscar-winning acting job by cornerback Jalen Ramsey, earning a bogus offensive pass interference call.

That close.

Now then, Game 3 at Seattle, after putting up 522 yards total offense against the now 6-2 Seahawks and playing without their three top offensive tackles (Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Cam Erving), along with two of their three top corners (Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown), recall some of this:

· Tony Pollard's fumble on a kickoff, recovering his muff at the 1-yard line, leading immediately to a two-point Seattle safety.

· Zuerlein's missed extra point and an ensuing one blocked, already four gifted points, two the Seahawks got and the two the Cowboys didn't.

· First play of the second half, Seattle blitzes, a missed block, sack-fumble of Prescott and Seahawks recover at the Cowboys' 5-yard line. Another gift, this time seven points in a game the Cowboys turned the ball over three times.

· And lastly, with 3:59 left in the game, the Cowboys still led, 31-30, only to allow Russell Wilson to drive down for the winning touchdown.

But also think about this: You know those four points the Cowboys just handed the Seahawks? Well, the Cowboys actually drove to the Seattle 22-yard line with 26 seconds remaining where a field goal would have sent the game into overtime if not for those four points. Instead, Dak's desperation throw into the end zone gets intercepted with six seconds left after that remarkable scramble out of a sack.

Who knows, but after the injuries mounted and the abominable performances against Arizona and Washington, the first without Dak and then with Andy Dalton getting knocked out early in the second quarter, leading to this 2-7 record, see what happens when squandering two viable opportunities to win games early in the season?

Can't get 'em back.

"I think if you ask any coach or player, I mean we're in unprecedented times, even if I was in my 10th year," McCarthy says of the first portion of the season heading into this weekend's pause. "This is an unprecedented situation. I think the experienced teams obviously have an edge going through this pandemic. I mean, there are just so many things that change constantly. (Monday) we had additional changes. We're in unprecedented times and the reality of this being our first year, it's not an excuse. We still have to line up and play like everybody else.

"Were getting better as a football team, but like anything in life, you don't really appreciate it as much (until) you don't have it, and not having an offseason program and things like, that's been a challenge. But I do like the progress we're making as a football team."

Would have liked it even better since 4-5 would have felt a helluva lot better than 2-7.

I mean, they were that close to being in, uh, first place in the NFC East.

And to borrow a Jerry Jones expression, I do smile when I say that.

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