IRVING, Texas– As Tony Romo was walking toward the buses this past Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, right past me standing next to a hallway table banging out a column in need of transmission before wheels up on the charter flight home, likely sensing my haste, he says with that impish grin:
"Go easy, Mick. We're just getting started."
Er, maybe restarted.
For the Cowboys, after eight long, frustrating weeks wandering through this National Football League landscape, going 62 days without their franchise quarterback, his left collarbone fracturing on Sept. 20 in Philadelphia, subsequent wins becoming more scarce than water in the desert, the team finally … finally … has Romo back.
The erstwhile 2-0 Cowboys, the NFC East leaders at the time, already having beaten the Giants and the Eagles, in fact two games up on both that 20th day of September, now but 2-7 heading into Sunday's matchup against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. This seven-game losing streak has left these one-time favorites to win 10 to 12 games this 2015 season thirsting for a victory.
Actually, desperate. The seven straight losses matched the third-longest losing streak in franchise history, the 10 straight at the 1960 start to franchise history, the 10 straight in head coach Tom Landry's 29th and final season of 1988 and the eight straight to start off Jimmy Johnson's first year as head coach in 1989 the only ones longer. (The Cowboys, after securing their only win in 1989 to prevent becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16, beat the Redskins, then lost the final seven games of that season.)
Those were really bad teams. This one isn't. Just not good enough offensively to prevail after losing Dez Bryant in the first game (broken bone in his foot), Romo in the second game and Lance Dunbar (knee) in the fourth game.
So Romo, not acting as if he is some kind of savior, but knowing with Dez back, coupled with his return, the Cowboys are now closer to that team beginning the season 2-0 and with so much promise, is waving the *charge *flag in defiance of the second-worst record in the NFL after 10 weeks.
"I think it's just letting everyone know, we're not done yet," Romo says of his bold quote from *Major League *posted to his Twitter account this week.
He could have very well pulled out the infamous speech by John Belushi's character Bluto in Animal House:
"What? Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans (sic) bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
You get the point. While there are many out there promoting the waving of a white flag, or trying to be the first ones on their block to pronounce this Cowboys' season dead and gone, there sure doesn't seem to be an epidemic of give-up permeating The Ranch. Not the way they act (i.e. practice) and not even the way they have been playing, the last four games coming down to the wire and two of the past seven past the wire.
"I don't think anyone in this locker room thinks by any means that this season is over," Romo says.
First, the NFC East is dawdling around mediocrity. The first-place 5-5 Giants are only two up on the Cowboys in the loss column. The Eagles and Redskins are only two up, period, on the Cowboys. There are seven games to go. Chances are, none of those teams is going to win out. The three of them are playing right at .500, and they've had their starting quarterbacks all along. They are who they are.
Then there's Dez, he's back, although valiantly battling through a sprained knee and ankle, not himself by any means, but giving whatever he's got. And that's meaningful to an offense averaging 17 points over the past seven games and three times failing to score even one touchdown – the most in a single season since failing in four games to do so in 2001.[embeddedad0]
The defense has played consistently, though not spectacularly during crunch time. Still, the defense has yielded 19 touchdowns in nine games, so 2.1 a game. Eight of those touchdowns came in two games, Atlanta (5) and New England (3). Two others came in overtime. The defense has held opponents to no more than 20 points seven times over four quarters in nine games – six of the team total of 23 touchdowns against scored on kick, fumble or interception returns or in overtime.
And, of course, Romo is back.
"I don't think my job is to convince you or anybody else that we can do it," says tight end Jason Witten, poised on Sunday to break Bob Lilly's long-standing franchise record of having played in 196 consecutive games (1961-74). "It's to go take it one game at a time. We think we're a good team. We've been in these games. We haven't closed them. We have to be accountable for that, too.
"Our mindset has really been just take it one game at a time. The reason being, we can make plays that allow us to win."
See there, no talk of winning seven straight. Do that, and the goal becomes overwhelming. Got to win one straight before you can win seven straight.
And look, Romo has only once won seven straight games with the Cowboys, during the 13-3 season of 2007. In fact, in club history the longest winning streak is eight games, that to open up the 1977 Super Bowl-winning season. The longest season-ending winning streak is seven, the Super Bowl-winning 1971 season. And the six straight in 1978 is the 16-game record to close a season.
Possible, sure. Probable, not great odds.
But do you remember the 1993 season, the Cowboys defending Super Bowl champs losing two straight to open the season and then two straight the Sunday before and on Thanksgiving? They stood an unlikely 7-4 when head coach Jimmy Johnson basically told anyone who would listen they would have to run the table to clinch home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Win five straight.
"If you think about it from the perspective of a fan or someone in the media, it's not going to happen – meaning I've got to win all of them," says former Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston, who lived through that tenuous 1993 season. "No, I've got to win the first one. Then I've got to win the second one. And we've got to win the third one. And then we've got to win the fourth one.
"We are a seven-day cycle of football, and that's all it is. And if you get outside of that, bad things happen when you're a player and a big picture guy, bad things are going to happen."
With that approach, the Cowboys did. Won five straight, the final one, 16-13, in overtime against the Giants simply to clinch the NFC East title. They would then stretch the streak to eight, winning Super Bowl XXVIII.
Why, in 1991, a 6-5 Cowboys team, coming off two consecutive losses, beat the undefeated Redskins to go on a season-ending five-game winning streak, qualifying for the playoffs as a wild-card team, the first playoff appearance since 1985.
"It's hard. It is hard to win a game every Sunday in the NFL," Johnston said.
So don't think of it as having to win seven straight. Heck, who knows, the way the East is going, might only need six wins to get into a tiebreaker for the division title at 8-8, maybe even less than that. Crazier things have happened.
Think like a placekicker. All those guys want to do – their mindset – is go 1-for-1 on each attempt, not man, I got to go 21-for-21.
These 2015 Cowboys must put their heads down and play, just grind away.
"I understand what it's like when you have a losing streak like we've had," Romo says. "It's tough, but I think the guys understand where we're at, and I think they also understand that this season's not over. It's far from it.
"Now we just need to understand that we're getting started, and we need to go do our job and do it to the best of our ability and get this thing on a roll."
One game at a time, restarting Sunday in Miami.