deeper, or maybe increase the hope for next year a level higher, those Denver Broncos, all they do is end New England's dream of becoming the first team to three-peat in the NFL with a 27-13 beating of the two-time defending Super Bowl champs.
Geez, the Broncos needed overtime to beat the Cowboys, 24-21. They also needed Billy Cundiff to miss a 34-yard field goal with 7:42 remaining to help the game along into overtime. What if the Cowboys had won the overtime toss? That close.
Those are three of the four teams playing this Sunday in the conference championship games. And the fourth, Pittsburgh, well, you remember what happened here in 2004, the Cowboys having the Steelers beat until Vinny Testaverde's freakish fumble became the impetus for a Steelers touchdown with :25 remaining to complete a 24-20 come-from-behind victory. OK, maybe that's a tad of a stretch. Yet, there the Steelers went, beating what was thought to be the invincible Indianapolis Colts on the road, 21-18, a season later to move into the AFC title game.
You get the point. The 9-7 Cowboys were not that far away from being one of these teams. They were a victory over the Redskins away from being in the playoffs. And, as we've seen, getting in is maybe the hard part. Because hasn't Carolina now gone to New York and Chicago in consecutive weeks to win? Hasn't Pittsburgh gone to Cincinnati and Indianapolis in consecutive weeks to win?
Anyone want to bet their paycheck Carolina can't go to Seattle and win? Pittsburgh can't go to Denver and win?
The NFL is that tight these days, and certainly Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Bill Parcells have to be beating themselves up for having come so close to being in this year's tournament.
Now they just must get busy, and really, needing to do nothing radical. Just shore up that offensive line. Add a couple of pieces to the defense. Find a reliable kicker, and preferably one who can make a pressure kick in the playoffs when the game is on the line. Then draft well again, and hope to get significant contributions out of your first- and second-round picks, at least.
Do a minimum of that, and you can go for it in 2006. Because after watching this weekend, "it" ain't that far away.