Sullivan: Given Highs & Lows, Cowboys Season Could be Unmatched in History

The author of *America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.*

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • It's amazing what a win does for the fan base. One moment, it's time to rebuild, play for the high draft pick, find a new head coach, trade every player on the roster. But then after beating Miami, it's, oh wait, you mean we can still win this division? Go Cowboys. Let's do this.
  • The highs and lows, the ebbs and flows of an NFL season have always been extreme. A lot can change over the course of four months. Still, this year has been on another level. If the Cowboys start winning some games, like, say, all of them, their season would be unmatched in the 96-year history of the league. No team has ever suffered a seven-game losing streak and made the playoffs. It's always fun to try and make some history.
  • However, it's worth noting that one team came pretty darn close to what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish. That's the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals, a third-year expansion team led by Paul Brown, the legendary, innovative Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach. After winning their opener, the Bengals dropped six straight. But following that 1-6 start, with two backup quarterbacks taking the snaps, Cincinnati won its last seven games and captured the AFC Central Division at 8-6. So what happened? How'd they do what the Cowboys are hoping to accomplish?
  • Well, a young offensive coordinator named Bill Walsh invented the West Coast offense, they were able to run the ball, and as the case usually is, there was some luck involved. Since that Giants opener, the Cowboys haven't seen many bounces go their way this season. A break here or there and they win two of the seven games when Tony Romo was sidelined.
  • A little background on that Bengals team. Their starting quarterback, Greg Cook, tried to overcome a shoulder injury from the previous season during training camp, but medical science being quite different, he was eventually forced to the trainer's room with what ended up being a career-ending injury.
  • As a 23-year-old rookie in 1969, Cook wowed one and all, with Walsh often referring to him as the most talented quarterback he'd ever coached. Yes, Bill Walsh, the guy who coached Joe Montana and Steve Young. The backup quarterback, Virgil Carter, (future NFL head coach Sam Wyche also started three games) was an accurate passer without much of a deep ball, so Walsh tweaked his offense to suit his quarterback's strengths. He would bring the offense with him to San Francisco, where Montana's scouting report was much the same as Carter.
  • So while no one is inventing a revolutionary offense at Valley Ranch as we write, the path has been traveled before, albeit 45 years ago. The Bengals, as we expect, were helped like the Cowboys by a weak four-team division. The other three clubs finished a combined 15-26-1.
  • After not starting the first six games, and having been written off by most – especially those infatuated with Christine Michael, who must have set some kind of record in terms of Twitter questions/comments compared with touches before exiting stage unemployment – Darren McFadden now ranks 12th on the league's rushing list and should easily crack 1,000 yards. Also, he's the only player in the NFL with at least 185 touches this season without a fumble.
  • Everyone needs to stop calling him injury-prone also. He's now played in 28 straight games. Not saying he's Jason Witten; just that he's played in 77 percent of his team's games over his eight-year career. Heck, since the start of 2010, Tony Romo has played in 79 percent of the Cowboys' games, and no one is calling him injury-prone. Sean Lee, for comparison, has played in 61 percent of the team's games since being drafted.
  • After watching the coaches' film, Byron Jones didn't play as poorly as it looked, but he certainly seems more comfortable at safety than cornerback. Hopefully he's able to play on Thursday. So far this season, Lee is probably the defensive MVP with Jones a close second. And Jones is still playing every down of special teams. The first-round pick has been fantastic, and if he keeps playing at this level, he should be in the mix for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Philadelphia linebacker Jordan Hicks was the clear front-runner, but his season ended against Dallas a few weeks ago. The current favorite is probably Buffalo corner Ronald Darby.[embeddedad0]
  • There are 43 players currently with at least 500 receiving yards and none of them play for the Cowboys. Jason Witten is the team's leading receiver with 472 yards followed by Terrence Williams with 452. The last time the Cowboys didn't have a player with at least 900 receiving yards for the season was in 2003 when Terry Glenn led with 754. Have to think Dez Bryant is going to be the leading receiver over the final six games, but he's only at 254 right now, so there's a real chance no one reaches 900.
  • Speaking of Dez, I owe him an apology. In my magazine column last week, I wrote that the final play against Tampa bay wasn't pass interference and that Dez needs to go up and fight for the ball, try and make a play. At the time, I hadn't seen the play from other angles, and it's obvious there was a sneaky push in the back that clearly got Dez off balance and altered his momentum. So that was my bad. Dez still didn't play his best that game, and he was the first to admit as much afterward.
  • I'll save the fans begging for the Cowboys to draft a quarterback early next year the suspense. It's not happening. Until Romo is within a season of hanging them up, the Cowboys want to use the draft to find players who can help him win a Super Bowl as soon as possible, like immediately. See Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Byron Jones. They aren't using an early pick, say first through third rounds, on a quarterback for three or four years down the road. It's just not happening. Romo expects to play through at least 2018, and that's the draft they will consider taking one early. Not before.
  • Has a 3-7 team ever been favored over an undefeated one? College or pro? I'm guessing not, but at the moment, the Dallas-Carolina game is a pick 'em, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys end up being favored by a point or two. For the second time in seven seasons (New Orleans in 2009), I think the Cowboys end the dream for perfection. And if that's the case, with a mini-bye week or sorts, 10 days off before the Monday night game in Washington, this becomes a dangerous football team.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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