FRISCO, Texas – It's surreal to think back to Sept. 15, when reporters noticed that the scoreboard read "20-19" as the Cowboys went through their Thursday practice.
It wasn't a mystery. The Cowboys lost by that score to the New York Giants during Week 1, as they ran out of time during a last-gasp drive to win the game.
From then until now, Cowboys coach Jason Garret and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan acknowledged at the time the need to focus on situational football.
"Those come up every week. Every offense and defense is going to be in that situation," Linehan said. "It's about executing in those critical situations. You're going to have eight, nine or 10 drives a game, so you really don't have that many opportunities to go out and do what you got to do to win a football game."
It's fair to say the Cowboys have excelled in that area since Week 1. They scored late to go ahead of Washington and earn their first win in Week 2. They covered 97 yards in 33 seconds just before halftime in Green Bay. They were flawless in the game-winning overtime drive against Philadelphia, and they executed not one but two late-game scoring drives to defeat Pittsburgh.
"When you're in two-minute, you can steal a drive at the end of a half with a field goal or touchdown -- all of a sudden that changes the game," Linehan said. "Or if you've got the ball in the four-minute, at the end of the game, being able to possess the ball and not be able to give the opposing team a possession and be able to win the football game outright -- we talk about that all the time. I think our guys have a great mindset about it."
Every step of the way, Cowboys players have said their confidence goes back to preparation. That's largely been proven true. Given the focus on situational football, there hasn't been much this team wasn't prepared for. It has clearly paid dividends.
"I remember, a great coach told me one day that game day should be easy if you do it right during the week. And that's for coaches, as well," Linehan said. "If you're prepared, you should be confident and your blood pressure should be really good by the time you get to game day, because you feel confident in your preparation. I feel like our guys prepare very, very well, and I think it shows with how we play on Sundays."
It's funny to think: situational football sunk the Cowboys in Week 1. In the time since, it's helped define their success.