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Spagnola: This Is Life Under The Blue Star 


FRISCO, Texas – Welcome to the chaotic life with the Dallas Cowboys.

        One minute they are trying to survive with one of their very best pass rushers serving a four-game suspension.

        The next minute they are patiently waiting for their very best inside pass rusher to solve his complicated family problems, and those behavioral issues that kept him out of the offseason and training camp workouts. This so he can play his first game since Nov. 30 of last year, bookending his 2017 season that began with a four-game suspension with missing the final four games due to concussion-like symptoms.

        Then there is placing their No. 2 receiver from the past several years on injured reserve, whose offseason mishap just down the street has the NFL contemplating if the one-car crash into a light pole merits punishment.

        Now, seemingly everyone outside of The Star is howling mad over a team many thought would have a losing record this year getting off to a 2-3 start, winning every game at home (2) and losing every game on the road (3), two of those losses by eight points and three points in overtime. Not as if they were steamrolled.

        But man, disgruntled folks out there want heads to roll.

        The head coach.

        The offensive coordinator.

        The quarterback.

        Far be it for most to take into consideration the once best offensive line in the NFL is not the same without Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick. Or that their leading receiver and tight end from last year, the guys combining for 132 catches, totaling 1,398 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns – half the team's total of 22 – are no longer here, essentially meaning there are nine receivers/tight ends who did not play on this team last year or were not part of the 90-man training camp roster this summer. Or that the club decided to make over the coaching staff, either bringing in new or promoting 10 assistant coaches.

        "We're a different team in a lot of ways than we were (in 2016)," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan pointed out.

        Ah, don't worry about that. Come on, these are the presumed Teflon Cowboys.

        The Cowboys are never supposed to be 2-3 after five games, although were at this time last year, and in 2015, 2013, 2012 and 2011.

        And what the heck, even though they went to Houston this past Sunday 3½-point underdogs, with most picking them to lose, they had the audacity to fall, 19-16, in overtime, which got the blood boiling, especially over Jason Garrett's decision in overtime on fourth-and-1 to punt instead of going for the first down at the Houston 42-yard line.

        See, the Cowboys can't simply lose a game, and certainly not because the opponent might be more talented. There has to be a reason. Someone's fault. Someone to blame. Been that way for as long as I can remember, although 1989's 1-15 season might be the exception, since after those eight consecutive losses to start the season and endless bashing of new owner Jerry Jones and new head coach Jimmy Johnson there became widespread acceptance that this was just a gosh-awful team.

        Of course, the very next week in Game 9 on a Sunday night in D.C., the Cowboys beat the Redskins, and of course at RFK, for their only win of the season.

        So on Thursday, while doing a live TV segment, knowing the 2-3 Cowboys were fixing to play the 3-2 Jacksonville Jaguars at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium, I was asked this very question:

        "Who do you blame?" since 2-3 is far from acceptable.

        Not sure What were you expecting? would have gone over too well, even though these were my thoughts the Friday before the season opener at Carolina:

        This team has a chance to grow, and right before your very eyes if you are willing to keep them wide open. Now, if you want the Cowboys to march off to a 5-0 start, probably not going to happen. Think also about this: The Cowboys will have 11 new starters, although some returning starters but in different locations.

_       So, if you want instant gratification, you just might be highly disappointed._


        Every one of them. String 'em all up, right?

        That Blue Star on the helmet or logo shirt on the sideline comes with a heavy burden. A huge responsibility. There was a time in this franchise's history, after the Cowboys turned the corner in 1966 for their first winning season in the seventh overall, that the fan base thought it was their inalienable right for their team to advance to the playoffs, as if it was included in the Bill of Rights.

        Which, by golly, they did from 1966 through 1973 and then from 1975 through 1983 while they were in the midst of the record 20 consecutive winning seasons, netting 18 playoff years, five Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles.

        That set the resounding tone forever more, including to this very day, something the franchise encourages but realizes comes with a heavy price.

        Look, no one out here is happy with 2-3. But towels have not been thrown in – not as some out there already are suggesting, almost seemingly hoping for them to do so, if that makes sense – even though playing in a division led at this point by the 3-3 Eagles after defeating the seemingly hapless Giants (1-5) Thursday night, with the Redskins checking in at 2-2.

        Memories are very short for the instant gratification crowd. Linehan pointed out the quarterback that is taking much heat has won 24 of the first 38 games (playoff included) he's started in his career. But lose three of your first five games, average just 16.6 points a game, post only 172 yards passing a game and 307.8 total yards and suddenly Dak Prescott can't shoot straight anymore nor can he anticipate receivers breaking open, meaning then it's high time to draft another quarterback.

        Good thing Prescott has thick skin.

        "This is why you can't let outside of here creep into your play," he said.

        Nor has he allowed "outside of here" cause him to creep into a shell, answering all questions asked Thursday afternoon and even doing like three walk-offs with media members while trying to make his way into the shower room. Priceless insight by the way.

        Now then, with all this talk of a splintered team, no one, Dak included, was miffed by Allen Hurns answering a question the other day about the offense, saying on Dak's second interception that the Cowboys ran a bad play into the defensive formation Houston called. Talk about a firestorm. By Thursday the main principles basically said cool it, the play called against two-man cover, while not ideal, has previously worked just fine.

        Look, when you run 60 plays in a game, chances are every once in a while the defensive coordinator is going to call a better alignment than the play called. It happens – both ways. Or vice-versa. Known as gotchas.

        See, what most don't see is Linehan's call that had tight end Blake Jarwin running wide open down the right sideline late in the fourth quarter, that if not for J.J. Watt's sack, Prescott would have hit what might have been the game-winning touchdown with two minutes remaining.

        Or the play the Cowboys ran with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter from their own 47-yard line following Xavier Woods' interception, and with one timeout remaining, Cole Beasley was just breaking out around the Houston 40. Dak had zeroed in on Beasley, ready to throw, only to have pressure from his right side cause him to pull the ball down and reload. By then, Beasley was covered up. Incomplete.

If the protection doesn't leak, why the Cowboys would have been attempting like a 57-yard field goal with maybe three seconds left instead of headed to OT.

Amazing, huh?

        But then don't let the facts get in the way of your favorite narratives if that's the way you roll.

        Now comes the harder part.

Jacksonville is really good. The Jaguars have the NFL's top-ranked defense and top-ranked pass defense. Their defensive personnel is loaded with those Blue-rated players. Guys like Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Telvin Smith Sr., Dante Fowler Jr., Malik Jackson and let's not forget Barry Church.

        That bunch is giving up just 17.2 points a game, although Kansas City nicked them for 23 points this past Sunday, along with one of the Chiefs' four interceptions being returned for a touchdown in the 30-14 defeat. In the Jaguars other loss, they struggled offensively, losing 9-6 to Tennessee.

        So as monumental a task as this might seem, there are ways to win these games. Play well defensively for sure, absolutely do not turn the ball over and at least score 23 points, your average in the previous two home games. And win the game.

        Do so provides a sure muffler for all that outside noise.

        At least for a week.

        Hey, it's the Cowboys, and some things never change.