Sullivan: Thursday's Game Comes Down To Defining Moment of This Season

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

  • There is a defining game to almost every football season, be it Pop Warner through the NFL. Even with, say, the 2010 Cowboys. Their season was finished three weeks before when Tony Romo broke his collarbone at home against the Giants, but to win Jason Garrett's first game on the road in the Meadowlands, that was a defining moment, a 1-7 team with nothing to play for showing they were going to play hard for the new head coach.
  • Anyway, that's my long-winded way of saying that Thanksgiving, 3:30 local time, against the visiting Chargers, one of the hottest teams in the league, is the defining game for this Cowboys squad. When we're sitting around in mid-January reviewing this season, the tipping point will be this game. I can't fathom anyone guessing that one back in Oxnard. Honestly, back then, this might have been the least sexy game of the season. Now, it couldn't be more important.
  • This outcome is either going to be a momentum builder or a momentum crusher. Win this one, beat Washington next Thursday, have that mini-bye week to hopefully get Sean Lee healthy enough to return for the Giants, then win that one, and all of a sudden we're sitting here 8-5 with just one more week minus Ezekiel Elliott. Also, Philadelphia more than likely won't be playing for anything in the finale, kind of the reverse of last season's Week 17, and we saw how that went. I know it sounds ridiculous with what we've witnessed the last two Sundays, but double-digit wins are still there for the taking.
  • On the flip side, this house of cards could just as easily come crashing down. The Chargers (sorry, can't call them Los Angeles) have won four of their last six and could easily be on a seven-game winning streak. They have Cleveland at home next week and could win what is suddenly looking like a train wreck of a division. Joey Bosa is a beast and not just as a pass rusher, either. Much like DeMarcus Lawrence, he's a complete player.
  • Then there's Philip Rivers, who in a lot of ways is having a Tony Romo-like career. Six Pro Bowls, top 10 in passer rating, touchdown passes and yards in league history, solid career mark of 101-85, but in the end he's going to be judged more for his 4-5 postseason record. In every way imaginable, Rivers and Romo are more deserving of the Pro Football Hall of Fame than Eli Manning, but the latter is going to be a first ballot pick because of his two Super Bowl wins. Rivers has a legitimate chance, but I'm not optimistic. Romo has zero chance.
  • For all the talk about halftime adjustments, or lack thereof, it's really been just the last two games. Before that, the Cowboys were actually outscoring their opponents in the second half this season. They have also outscored their opponents after halftime in five of Jason Garrett's previous seven campaigns including the eight games in 2010. The reality is, Dallas played two really strong football teams, the defending conference champion and this season's likely No. 1 seed, and were simply outplayed and overmatched.
  • Lot of wasted chatter on Garrett and the coaching staff the last week or so. The only way Jerry and Stephen Jones even have a conversation about firing Garrett is if the Cowboys lose out and lose a couple of those games by 20 points. Dallas has already lost three games by at least 20 points, the first time that has happened in the Garrett Era. I can't imagine them losing the final eight games. And again, even if that happens, that would warrant just the conversation. In the end, I still think Garrett would return. There have been a lot of distractions, a lot of unforeseen this season, not to mention some key injuries. I know every team suffers injuries, but I'm not sure any team has missed 15-18 combined games from three players who were named First Team All-Pro the previous season. And that could be the case with Ezekiel Elliott, Sean Lee and Tyron Smith. And Dan Bailey was a Pro Bowl pick in 2015.
  • Here's one thing that is kind of baffling for me: Doesn't it seem like the Cowboys depend more on their elite players than most other teams? The Romo injury in 2015 is a little more understandable; we're seeing it right now with Green Bay and Indianapolis. Other teams lose left tackles, like Philly with Jason Peters, and top-tier running backs. I remember back in the day, seemed like Marshall Faulk missed a few games every year with the Rams and Trung Canidate would step in and run for 100-plus yards. Looking at it right now, over a three-game stretch in 2001, he averaged 168 yards from scrimmage.
  • I know Zeke does a lot more than just run the ball. Among starting tailbacks in the NFL, he's a top-3 pass catcher and in picking up the blitz. He's arguably the most complete back in the game. That said, beginning Oct. 1, Alfred Morris has rushed for 259 yards on 38 carries, which is nearly seven yards per try. For the season, among non-quarterbacks with at least 40 attempts, Morris is second in the league in yards per carry, trailing only Alvin Kamara of the Saints. So yes, I get that losing Zeke has been a big deal, but I think it's been overstated. Feel like the Smith and Lee injuries have been more instrumental.
  • Watching the game for a second time, David Irving played better than I realized first go-around. Had him with three QB pressures and a batted pass. I was talking with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli the week before last about Lawrence and Irving came up. I said that it was amazing the level he was playing considering he really doesn't have a clue what he's doing yet in terms of technique. Marinelli smiled, shook his head and said, "no clue." It's just brute force, bull-run, ridiculous athletic ability. I mean, there's a reason one team called him after the 2015 NFL Draft. That's what is so scary about Irving's ceiling. He's a young 24, his birthday is Aug. 18, and he's on pace for 40 tackles, 12 sacks and 10 deflected passes. And that's missing the first four games.
  • Was beyond excited to see Everson Walls make the list of Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalists for the first time. It's absurd he hasn't done so previously, considering he last played in 1993. He's tied for 13th on the NFL career interceptions list, and of those eligible ahead of him, all but two are in Canton. Yet Walls, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and a First Team All-Pro, can't have his case heard. Ridiculous. Seems like Jimmy Johnson is gaining a little momentum, too. With Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley going in last year, the case could be made – quite easily, really ­– that Johnson made the same kind of impact those two did in a short period.
  • It's been more than a calendar year since Dez Bryant has produced a 100-yard game. And he's played in every one of those games. Think that run ends against the Chargers, give me seven catches, 112 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-22 Cowboys win.

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

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