IRVING, Texas – Here is the gospel truth of the matter.
How in the world do these Dallas Cowboys, heading to the Queen City of Cincinnati on Sunday to play the resurgent 7-5 Bengals riding a four-game winning streak, even have a 6-6 record in the first place?
Look, in 12 games they have trailed at halftime eight times, and managed to break even once.
In four of six road games they have failed to score first.
They are but 3-3 playing at home.
When it comes to that all-important turnover differential, the Cowboys are a minus-10, tied for 26th, a number synonymous in this NFL with the kiss of death.
Their five intercepted passes rank dead last. The 15 times they have been intercepted ranks them tied for 27th.
Their meager six rushing touchdowns leave them tied for the sixth fewest.
They have the 30th-ranked rushing offense, and currently still are on pace to rush for the fewest yards of a 16-game season in franchise history and the fewest average per game of any season.
Opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the past seven games, including a season-high 183 by Philadelphia this past Sunday night.
Over the last seven games, opponents have totaled 24 runs for at least 10 yards, with eight of those going for more than 20 yards, another sign of doomsday reasonably looming.
They have been outscored in these 12 games by 15 points, 295-280, the second worst point-differential of any NFL team with at least a .500 record. (Indianapolis somehow is 8-4 while being outscored by 41 points.)
The last two opponents have scored more than 30 points, making that four times for the season – one out of every three games – and there is another close call at 29.
DeMarcus Ware, their most dynamic defensive player, hasn't registered a full sack in any of the past four games, and has only totaled half-sacks in two of those contests.
Their 97 penalties tie St. Louis and Washington for most in the league.
They currently have 12 guys on injured reserve, six of those starters if you're counting punter Chris Jones. Heading into their next-to-last road game, they will be without six defensive starters, since nose tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) already has been ruled out of his third consecutive game and nickel back Orlando Scandrick (hand), who might as well be considered a starter since the Bengals, if they are smart, will do as Philadelphia did and line up in predominantly three-receiver sets to spread thin an already a thin defense, is still weeks away from returning.
Maybe we should also note they will be playing without two-thirds of their 3-4 defensive front, both starting inside linebackers, their starting safety and, of course, the nickel guy, weakening the inside walls of the defense beyond safe room standards.
Why, things have grown so bad that even opponent beat writers are dismissing the Cowboys as irrelevant. Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Inquirer, writing about the wild-card playoff chances of the Bengals, currently tied for the second AFC spot with the equally 7-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (the Cowboys next opponent) and scheduled to play each other on Dec. 23, flippantly claims, "If (Cincinnati and Pittsburgh) win the next two games, which is likely …" then they would basically be playing in a couple of weeks for that final wild-card spot in Game 15.
That bad, yes.
Yet again, the Cowboys somehow, despite all these acid reflux-causing factors, have managed to win six games, and three of the past four to boot. Four of the six losses are by no more than seven points.
And if my low-level math skills are accurate, their .500 record is just one game worse than the Bengals' record, and good enough right now to trail the New York Giants (7-5) in the NFC East by only one game and remain tied with the Washington Redskins (6-6), their season-ending opponent, with only four games remaining.
I kid you not, and against all reasonable odds.
"We obviously know we're in a position that we have to keep winning football games," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "We've been playing almost in a playoff-type feel for a while now. And this is a big one at Cincinnati. We just need to put our head down and go to work and try to get another win."
If we consider the gravity of the above factors, the Cowboys really should be sitting here at no more than 3-9, don't you think? That is some pretty bad stuff, yet somehow they have been able to overcome themselves half the time.
Yes, the Bengals do come into this game with a winning record, and the Cowboys, at 6-6, have beaten only one team so far with a winning record, that being the 7-5 Giants in the season opener. But guess what, the Bengals likewise have beaten only one team this season with a winning record, that being the New York Giants, too, so really the major difference between the two teams is Cincinnati has beaten the now 6-6 Redskins – winners of three straight – and the Cowboys did not.
So, you know what? There is something there about these Dallas Cowboys. Problem has been you just don't know when whatever that is will rear up. Sure, the defense is problematic, but the offense seems to be crawling out of its shell, maybe thanks to the return of DeMarco Murray, or maybe also once again having the majority of its starting offensive linemen back in the huddle.
Maybe it's been the recent four-game emergence of Dez Bryant, who has to be giving former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, now the same with the Bengals, as many sleepless nights as A.J. Green is giving Rob Ryan. And maybe it's been an on-fire Tony Romo, over his last five games having completed 69 percent of his passes (138 of 200) for 1,587 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions, totaling a 105.5 passer rating.
Don't look now, but despite having been picked off 15 times this season and sacked 28, and then trying to overcome all of those offensive penalties and an ineffective running game for most of the year – the Cowboys rushing for no more than 65 yards in seven of 12 games – Romo is one great game (340 yards) from his fourth 4,000-yard passing season, four more than any other Cowboys quarterback has produced, Danny White the previous single-season leader at 3,980 yards.
The point is: Don't summarily dismiss these Cowboys. It's not as if there isn't capability there. There definitely is. It's just not being exercised consistently enough … so far.
"You know, it's a four-game season," Romo said, "and it doesn't matter about the past, it's about right now. All we can control is right now – how we play against Cincinnati."
And darn if that's not the gospel truth.