FRISCO, Texas – Well, hang on tight. Here we go.
The 60th season for the Dallas Cowboys.
The 31st season for the Jones Family ownership.
The 9th for Jason Garrett as head coach.
The franchise-record 16th for Jason Witten.
The 15th for L.P. Ladouceur.
The 10th for Sean Lee.
The fourth for that stellar draft class of 2016, the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Dak Prescott, Anthony Brown and Kavon Frazier.
Heck, the 36th season for me.
And don’t know about you guys, but sure feels like there is something brewing with these Cowboys, sort of as if there is water gurgling below the surface, just waiting for a geyser to explode.
Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ enthusiasm for the start of the 2019 season seems unbridled, starting off his Friday radio segment with, “Boy, here we go.”
You bet, 3:25 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium, with the nosey New York Giants the first to inspect these Cowboys credentials on the Fox broadcast to the majority of the nation.
You know, back in in mid-June when writing my training camp preview piece for Cowboys Star Magazine, way before Zeke’s 40-day holdout, before those injuries cropped up during training camp to the likes of Zack Martin, Amari Cooper and Tyron Smith, before we knew the outcome of Jason Witten’s return and Travis Frederick’s comeback, before we knew the actual depth of Tony Pollard’s talent and really anything about how Kellen Moore would handle his first-time OC duties at the tender age of 31 . . . .
Here is how we started:
Shhhhh, don’t go spreading this around.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to be pretty darn good this 2019 season.
Well, now just two days away from the season opener, seems that cat is out of the bag.
This team now is expected to be really good.
The perfunctory question about teams at this stage always becomes, “What worries you about this team?”
The answer at this point pertaining to the Cowboys is not much, unless you point out the in-game unknown of backup quarterback Cooper Rush or can kicker Brett Maher convert 90 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Because you are talking a defense finishing seventh last year in the NFL, highest since a No. 1 ranking in 2003 returning 10 of 11 starters, with a healthy Sean Lee now the starting strongside linebacker.
Because you are talking an offense that came on strong the second half of last season, after Cooper was inserted into the starting lineup, scoring at least 27 points in five of those last eight games, led by Zeke, the NFL’s rushing champion, Dak, putting up at 103 QB rating over those final eight games, and Coop, in his nine games with the Cowboys racking 53 catches for 725 yards and his six touchdowns tying for the team lead.
And now that Zeke is back in the fold in the nick of time, Smith, Martin and Frederick appear ready to go, Witten seemingly having found the Fountain of Youth at age 37 after his year layoff, Michael Gallup no longer a rookie receiver, the addition of the crafty veteran Cobb, Leighton Vander Esch no longer a rookie, Jaylon Smith making folks forget he ever had a knee problem, with DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Byron Jones back in the fold after spending all of training camp recovering from surgeries or ailments, all of that should make you smile.
As Dak pointed out on Thursday, after Zeke signing a six-year extension brought him back to practice for the first time since the final, mid-June minicamp practice, “When he first got into the huddle, I said, ‘The band’s back together.’”
Now, of course, the Cowboys will not be grandfathered back into the playoffs, and as we know defending their NFC East crown is no automatic since no NFC East team has won back-to-back division titles since the Eagles won four straight from 2001-04 – and this will be the Cowboys’ sixth shot at that. And certainly the Eagles might have something to say about this. So might having to play the likes of last year’s playoff teams New Orleans, Minnesota, Chicago, Super Bowl champion New England, NFC champion LA Rams and wild-card entry Philly twice.
“Got to go show it now,” Lawrence says. “You might feel good, look good, but you got to go play.”
Yeah, go ask the Packers and Bears after that NFL 100th Anniversary kickoff game Thursday night.
Good attitude to have, since, while coming off that 10-6 season last year, including a playoff victory over Seattle for an 11th win, nine of those victories were by no more than a touchdown, with five by no more than three points and one needing overtime.
But this team should be better than last year’s version, with the Cowboys trying to string three consecutive winning seasons together for the first time since those five straight from 2005-09. Returning are eight Pro Bowlers, and health willing, boy, keep an eye on the likes of Lee, Maliek Collins, Xavier Woods, Gallup, Chidobe Awuzie, La’el Collins, Cobb, Witten and Blake Jarwin to name just a few likely not on everyone’s radar.
Indeed there is a lot to like about this team.
Even Garrett, not one ever dabbling in hyperbole, had this to say about his 2019 team before even going to training camp, yet basically holds true to this day nearly three months later:
“If you look at how we played the second half of the season, we won seven out of the eight down the stretch, and they were all close games, and they went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and we were able to do some of the things we didn’t do early on in the year, and to me that’s a sign of maturity and growth.”
And to me, that’s the sign of a budding 12-4 team with oodles of talent, and some depth to boot.
Maybe unsuspecting a few months back? Well, might not be anymore.
But Jerry is right.
Boy, let’s go play.