Spagnola: Let's Not Get Too Carried Away With All This Gap Talk

*        FRISCO, Texas –*The Gap.

         No, not the clothing store.

         The space. That which is between here and there.

         This has become the subject of much offseason discussion, and the guess is this popular topic will stretch into the summer, over the start of training camp and likely until the Cowboys first play the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018. We should find out when soon.

         Yep, The Gap, that perceived but unmeasurable distance between the Cowboys and the Super Bowl champion Eagles, the first time in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl those three words have preceded the name of Ben Franklin's beloved city.

         See, the Eagles are over here, finishing the 2017 season with a record of 13-3. They won two playoff games, the first by the hair on their chinny-chin-chin. Then they went on to knock off defending Super Bowl champion New England, 41-33, behind the unimaginable performance of their backup quarterback in the Super Bowl.

         Can't get any higher in a single season than that.

         And the Cowboys, they are over there. They finished the 2017 season with a 9-7 record. Not horrible, but below the expectations manifested in an equally unimaginable 2016 season when they, without their franchise quarterback Tony Romo, went 13-3 to win the NFC East behind a rookie quarterback, a mere fourth-round draft choice at that.

         That all has sprouted this predictable narrative that there must be this Grand Canyon-sized gap between the Eagles and the Cowboys, suggesting Philly is so, so much superior to Dallas.

         You'd have thought the Cowboys should be posting out front at Ford Center one of those curious little warning signs the Brits have above their underground railcar doors:

Mind The Gap.

Meaning beware of that quite negotiable space between the railcar and station platform when stepping off. My, they do have a unique way with words.

For sure, Jason Garrett has been asked about The Gap. *COO Stephen Jones has been confronted with *The Gap. Heck, even we are asked to estimate this space.

And if that's the case, then you know darn well, the keeper of the keys, Jerry Jones, repeatedly has been asked to size up that space between the Eagles and Cowboys, as if he will need some sort of GPS to calculate the distance.

Stephen and Jason politely parry the question, giving the Eagles their due, and generally pointing out the Cowboys can't be worrying about others, that they're concentrating on trying to make sure their team continues to improve.

"For me, teams get in trouble when they are so focused on somebody else," Garrett says. "Focus on yourself and the kind of team you want to build. … We want to build the kind of team we want to build. We want them thinking about us."

But Jerry, oh no, he has not been quite as diplomatic. And maybe the suggested idea of this gaping distance now existing between the two rivals creates indignation, or maybe just maybe he's old enough to reveal his inner feelings more bluntly.

  Because when first faced with the question, he danced around the subject, but eventually came to this:

"I think that if the gap is defined as them winning the Super Bowl and [us] not even getting in the playoffs, then we've got to close the gap.  (But) I think that we should've been in the playoffs. We weren't. But I don't believe that us not being in the playoffs this past year is the size of the gap."

Glad he said it. Am so tired of being out there on that counter-thinking island all by myself.

Look, you understand what he's saying.

Like if this was the Cowboys circa 2010 or 2011, then I'm right there with you. Why, you'd be able to entice Evel Knievel into a motorcycle jump between the Eagles and Cowboys.

But it's not.

If you tag on the first eight games of the 2017 season to the 2016 season, the Cowboys went 18-6. And Jerry knows, but won't say it, what happened that second half of the 2017 season. No Ezekiel Elliott for six games. Missing Tyron Smith with what turned out to be inadequate swing tackles.

Yet still, the Cowboys were basically a win over Atlanta away from qualifying as a wild-card team. Now this is not to say they were close to beating Atlanta. No way. They weren't. But he understands the mitigating circumstances.

Plus, he understands the fickle ways of the NFL. The Cowboys go 12-4 in 2014, and everyone thought they were on their way. Then they don't have a near adequate replacement for the oft-injured Romo in 2015 and reversed gears to 4-12. Everyone then was burying the Cowboys for 2016, and what happens? Dak Prescott and Elliott happen, and the Cowboys carved out that moonbeam 2016 season, winning the NFC East for the second time in three years and having beaten the Eagles three of the previous four times before losing the season-finale to them in a game they punted away with nothing to gain.

Even more was expected in 2017, and certainly not even the third winning season in four years cut it. All were sorely disappointed, none more than them.

And when looking at all that, Jones hit the nail right on the head again.

"I'd like to think that Philly closed the deal where we had an opportunity to do it the year before," he says, knowing they didn't, losing that first playoff game to Green Bay in the final seconds.

Exactly.

Now, I understand 2018 has nothing to do with what has taken place in the NFC East since 2005. But no team, not the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants from 2011, not the two-time 13-3 Cowboys from 2007 and 2016 and not the Eagles of 2004, who had won their fourth consecutive NFC East title and advanced all the way to Super Bowl XXXIX that they lost, have repeated as NFC East champs. No one.

Not suggesting anything. Just sayin'.

Plus, remember from 2005 through 2017, 13 seasons, the Cowboys and Eagles each have won the East four times, the Giants three times and the Redskins twice. But no one has gone back to back. No one has built the dynasty everyone thought the Giants had after winning the Super Bowl those 2007 and 2011 seasons, or the Cowboys might have by winning the East two of three seasons twice, 2007 and 2009, then 2014 and 2016. And look, they were the only ones to even do that since the Eagles dominated the division by winning titles from 2001-04.

There indeed has been turn-taking parity in the NFC East.

So in the infamously sarcastic word of Bill Parcells, let's not start anointing the Eagles after their first winning season – and a great one at that – in three years, and just their third in the past seven.

This NFL stuff is year to year. And how well the Cowboys know, since they have not authored back-to-back playoff seasons since 2006-07 and not won a playoff game in consecutive seasons since 1995-96. And though just 9-7 in 2017, this is the first time they have strung together consecutive winning seasons since the five straight from 2005-09, albeit three of those back then just 9-7.

Let's also point out that since Denver won consecutive Super Bowls during the 1997-98 seasons, only New England has done so over the past 19 seasons. And only once.

 So if I were you, I wouldn't get too carried away with all of this gap talk.

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