These Hard Knocks Are Really Paying Off

animation. " For this one play, I just need you to do this and we'll be just fine.  "And I think everybody has taken that approach, like look, the only play that matters is that one play, and you see that now when we play, and guys are so hungry, and playing with so much energy and passion, that hey, I'm going to make this one play - that's the play."

That's exactly what I'm talking about, and why the Cowboys have been able to turn 4-3 into 9-5 with two games to play, winning five of their next seven games, which includes four of the past five to vault themselves into actual playoff-clinching scenarios this weekend, as long odds as they may be, but starting with their ability to beat an equally 9-5 and desperate Baltimore team this Saturday night in the final game to be played in the 38-season history of Texas Stadium.

And to me, a funny thing happened on the way to this historic game: The Cowboys needed 14 games, 15 weeks of an NFL season, to become a team, one with a sense of purpose and desperation. They needed all those potholes, distractions, injuries and the reported bickering, if indeed that took place, to toughen their skin and pull together.

Some hard knocks can go a long way.

"I think we're also starting to find out a little bit about ourselves," Romo said.

That they are capable of grinding; that they are capable of winning with defensive stands, see 13-9 over Tampa Bay without Romo, 14-10 over Washington with Romo and the splint. See 20-8 over Giants. And you know what? Even though it was a loss, go look hard at Pittsburgh, 20-13, in the bitter wind and cold of Heinz Field at what almost was.

The Cowboys have been reminded, in case 13-3 of last year, the notoriety of "Hard Knocks" and being labeled "favorites" had caused them to forget, that winning indeed is not a piece of cake in this NFL.

Mostly that no matter what happens off the field, they are capable of winning on the field if only they stick together with a singular purpose.

"In the midst of everything that is going on, injuries, just not playing very well on defense, what's been going on the past week - the last week with all the rumors and stuff that was happing - that in itself I think has brought the team closer," Davis said. "It's like we know we're in this thing together and I think as long as we stick together and continue doing what we've been doing, I think the sky still is the limit for this team and that we have a great opportunity to do some special things this year and that we just have to keep that same intensity we've been playing with for the past five or six weeks.  "We do that, and I think we'll be just fine."

Maybe this bunch has needed this pressure of having to win after bowing under the early-season pressure of being expected to win to complete the journey.

And maybe, too, these Cowboys fans, who had been hootin' and hollerin' during the early-season travails, have undergone an attitude adjustment as well, realizing now more than ever it's not how you win but if you win - just as it's always been. Why, if you didn't think this team thought the playoffs began last Sunday night with that game against the Giants, then you should have seen the fans, and especially the ones in the lower bowl of Texas Stadium, standing for nearly the entire game, reminding me of those electric playoff days gone by.

Eerily, when Troy Aikman was doing his weekly segment Thursday on The Ticket (1310-AM) and asked about his Texas Stadium memories, more so than particular games or plays or victories, what Aikman said he will always remember is how the fans at Texas Stadium would ratchet it up for a playoff game.

Well, to tell you the truth, that is why I can't wait to absorb the atmosphere Saturday night, not only because it's most likely the absolute final game to be played in Texas Stadium, but will be as close to a playoff game as a regular-season game can be, and why you can bet your final dollar Romo, no matter how hurting his back might be - and it still is - will be playing.

"We're playing tough football," Romo said. "The way to win late in the

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Advertising