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Spagnola: Time To Quash The Panic Attack


FRISCO, Texas – This is the world we live in.

Go out after a false start, sitting there 3-5, and win five consecutive games.

Vault yourself from out of nowhere into first place in the NFC East within a five-week span.

Defeat the defending Super Bowl champs twice during that five-week span.

Sit there with the fourth best record in the NFC.

Have your wide receiver named NFC Offensive Player of the Week twice in a season for the first time in franchise history.

Have your rookie linebacker named NFC Defensive Player of the Week, the same guy who has just set the franchise record for most tackles by a rookie in a single season.

Beat the almighty Saints, the Saints now, sitting there after 14 games with the best record in the NFL at 12-2 and having already clinched their division title.

Your defense has been playing at a top-five level nearly all season long, and as high as second in scoring defense.

But oh my gosh, lose one game, end that five-game winning streak, get shut out for the first time since the 2003 season, don't register a sack in a game for the first time all year, give up a 100-yard rusher for the first time in 11 games and that loss is your worst in the past 57 games, and . . . .

The sky is falling all over your world.

Why, you think that team will ever win another game?

More what ifs than sugar plums start floating around this holiday season.

Suddenly every wart that's been exposed all season long is highlighted in three-inch letters, as if this all is something new after Colts 23, Cowboys 0.

Talk about high anxiety.

Will the Cowboys ever score another touchdown from the red zone?

Like what do you have to do more to score touchdowns when in goal-to-go situations, run the ball more or pass the ball more?

Why isn't Dak running more?

Why are you 31st in sacks against, now with 51?

What's wrong with that offensive line?

Is DeMarcus Lawrence now running out of gas?

On and on and on, the hand wringing reaching epic proportions. But then this is the NFL right, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.

So here the Cowboys sit, 8-6, two games left, starting noon Sunday at AT&T Stadium against the 5-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on a two-game losing streak and losers of six of their past eight games. Cowboys need only win one more game and the NFC East is theirs. Or they can clinch their second division title in three years if Washington and Philadelphia each to lose one of their last two games, and one of them must lose at least one since they play each other in the season finale.

Plain but not so simple, right. Again, this is the NFL, and no matter how good you think you are or how poorly your opponent is playing, on any given Sunday . . . OK, enough, blah, blah, blah.

Just go win, and that five-game winning streak says the Cowboys are good enough to do so.

Now time out for an encouraging word.

No matter that the Cowboys list Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin, who missed the Colts game, trying to give his sprained left knee some rest, "questionable" for Sunday's game, to me, he's going to play. Even Martin says he's "hopeful" to play against the Bucs. Let's make that very hopeful.

And left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, who left that Colts game with a serious eye contusion after the fourth play of the second quarter, is more than "hopeful" to play, even though his eye gouging actually sent him immediately to the hospital there in Indianapolis to get checked out. He's ready to go. No longer listed on the injury report, though likely to play with a shield on his helmet.

That means Connor Williams becomes the swing guard again and Adam Redmond the backup center. That also means some semblance of continuity returns to this offensive line that's been playing musical chairs ever since the start of the season when Joe Looney took over, and looks like permanently for this season, at center.

So, if you need to worry about something, continue to worry about this: Sacks. Too many. Dak has been sacked 51 times with two games to go. The franchise record for most single-season sacks suffered by one quarterback is the 58 of Don Meredith in 1964, and that was a 14-game season. As for 16 games, this one has already fallen, Drew Bledsoe sacked 49 times in 2005.

Funny how we have all these narratives singling out why Prescott has been sacked so many times, many insisting he holds the ball too long. First of all, ask yourself, how come, because I see in 2016, his rookie season, he was sacked just 28 times, and last year 32 times. Hmmm. Smoke that one in your chimney.

Also, funny how these Cowboys have been struggling inside the red zone all season long. This is not something new. But lose a game, and oh, look, scoring touchdowns in the red zone is a deficiency. Kind of slow to the party, right.

It's not just red zone, though, that's been a problem. The real problem occurs in goal-to-go situations. So far this season the Cowboys have scored 10 touchdowns in 21 trips from the 10 in. But maybe worse, over these past six games, again, having gone 5-1, they have scored just four touchdowns in 11 of those possessions. Have ended up kicking seven field goals.

Plus, how about this? Now granted there are few yards to gain once hitting the 10 on first down. But in 29 plays in these six-game goal-to-go situations, the Cowboys have gained all of 12 yards. Granted, like when you are first-and-goal from the 1, all you can do is gain one yard, period. But still, seven of those 29 plays have netted no more than one yard and seven more incompletions.

Not a whole lot of positivity. And for those who insist the Cowboys need to run Zeke more? Well, on his 17 goal-to-go carries in the past six games, he's gained 17 yards and an un-Zeke-like three touchdowns.

So look, one loss in six games does not make the sky fall, and should not cause throats to constrict. Just go play football. Go worry about the next down and the next down, and don't be thinking about the consequences of each play or how that play will impact the result of the game.

As Dak said the other day, "You'll find in this locker room a hungry team, a humble team."

A team better than the one causing the red alert to be sounded after just one loss in six games.

Now, the Cowboys need just do it, taking the dooms out of the day.