FRISCO, Texas – Some smart guy once said that you never stop to smell your roses while you're alive, or whatever.
I think I got the basic gist of that right. We often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that we don't stop and think about the nice stuff until it's too late.
It's been an interesting season for the Dallas Cowboys. The 8-6 record doesn't come close to telling the story of the ups and downs of the last four months, and with two weeks to play it's still anybody's guess where this thing ends up.
That's never been more clearly underscored than last week. You couldn't pick a more regrettable way to snap a five-game win streak, as all the good will of the last six weeks got thrown out the window in a shutout loss.
We've discussed that plenty, and we'll continue to discuss the problems that ail this team as we go. But in the meantime, the Cowboys placed a whopping five guys into the Pro Bowl on Tuesday night.
Before we add another chapter to this crazy story on Sunday afternoon, I wanted to stop and hand out some proverbial roses to the Cowboys' Pro Bowlers.
1. We probably aren't talking enough about the year Ezekiel Elliott is having – and by that I mean the full calendar year, not the 2018 NFL season.
It was this exact week one year ago that Elliott returned to the Cowboys after a six-game suspension. He had been banned by the NFL for six weeks after a messy and muddled domestic violence investigation, and obviously the investigation was followed by a confusing and contentious legal battle to keep Elliott on the field.
The suspension likely cost Elliott a spot in the Pro Bowl, it stained his reputation and it sunk the Cowboys' season. They were 5-3 when he departed and 8-6 when he came back, with the season boiling down to a do-or-die Christmas Eve game which they ultimately lost to Seattle.
The record is same this year for the Cowboys, but the circumstances have done a complete 180-degree turn.
Elliott's nomination to the Pro Bowl is the culmination of what has been a career-reviving year for him to this point. From the time he arrived at training camp in July he has seemed determined, and it's paying off to the tune of 1,349 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He's seen his role grow even larger in this offense, too, as he also established career highs with 72 receptions for an additional 543 yards and three scores.
More important than his All-Pro ability on the field has been the total lack of bad news away from it. From the time he returned from suspension, Elliott hasn't been wrapped up in any controversies or sordid storylines.
In fact, we've seen an impressive amount of growth from the 23-year-old. As a rookie, he was a fun-loving sidekick to Dak Prescott – a kid who was content to let veterans like Jason Witten and Dez Bryant be the face of the Cowboys' locker room. In 2017, he was surly and preoccupied – which was understandable, given the circumstances around him.
This 2018 season has been a revelation, though. Year 3 Elliott has grabbed the reigns of this Cowboys team, and he has set the tone. From the depths of a 3-5 record, it was Elliott who initially put the Cowboys' backs against the wall. Going all the way back to September, it's been Elliott taking Jason Witten's place in the pregame huddle.
This past Sunday following an embarrassing loss, it was Elliott who said as much, acknowledging that the way the Cowboys played in a 23-0 loss was "unacceptable."
"I just think we came out there and played piss-poor," he said.
These gestures are all small and obvious enough. Elliott is one of this team's best players, so it makes sense that he would step into the leadership role.
But considering where Elliott has come from in the last 18 months, it's still impressive to see – and it's just as important to the Cowboys as his Pro Bowl stats.
2. Speaking of a lot changing in a year, step on up Byron Jones.
I wrote about this earlier this week, so I don't need to completely rehash it again. But again, think back a year and remember that Byron Jones was a rotational safety in that brutal loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve.
Can you think of a single, more drastic turnaround than rotational player to Pro Bowler in just 12 months? It's unreal.
It's also a gigantic endorsement of Kris Richard's abilities. The whispers that Byron might be moving to corner started as soon as Richard joined the staff in January, and they manifested when the Cowboys took the field for OTAs.
The move made sense. At 6-1 with freakish athletic ability, Jones absolutely possessed the physical traits to be a boundary corner in Richard's Cover 3 looks. Given nine months of technique teaching from Richard, to say he has taken it to the field would be an understatement.
I also can't get over what it means for the sport that Jones would be selected to the Pro Bowl. I'll never forget a conversation I had with a Cowboys cornerback several years ago, when he essentially said it didn't matter how well a defensive back played if he didn't get interceptions. The goal of the profession is to erase the wide receiver, and that leaves interceptions as one of the only meaningful stats that a cornerback can collect.
It's not the case in 2018. Jones has yet to manage a single pick this season, but he's been recognized as one of the eight best corners in football. That's got to mean that coaches and players are paying attention to the film – and hopefully it means fans are following suit, too.
No, Jones doesn't have an interception, but that's probably because he's completely erasing the right half of the Dallas defense. He's allowing completions on just 49 percent of the throws in his direction, and opposing quarterbacks are managing a passer rating of just 65.3 when they try him. His 13 pass breakups are top 10 in the league.
Good for Byron Jones. It's a well-deserved honor. But also good for voters, who appear to be watching football a bit more closely than in years past.
3. Tyron Smith's good is still better than a lot of people's great.
That's my main takeaway from the big guy's sixth-straight Pro Bowl selection, as he continues to solidify his case as one of this generation's best offensive tackles.
It's fair to say that 2018 hasn't been the best campaign of Smith's outstanding career. It's true that, depending on how you're charting plays, he hasn't allowed a sack this season. At the very most that number is one or two. But he has missed two games due to injury, and he has been flagged eight times on the year – six times for holding, once for false start and once for an illegal block above the waist.
It hasn't been his cleanest season, but I think that speaks more to Smith's sterling reputation than anything else. Smith was one of three offensive tackles named to the Pro Bowl roster, along side Terron Armstead from New Orleans and Trent Williams from Washington. The Rams' Andrew Whitworth may have reason to complain, but other than that, I challenge you to find a more deserving tackle than Smith this season.
Which, again, what a testament to the Cowboys' tackle. A season that we wouldn't consider his best is still better than almost anyone else. Not too shabby.
4. Across our various platforms on DallasCowboys.com, I think I've made my opinion of DeMarcus Lawrence pretty clear.
Pay that dude.
As Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said on Thursday, there are a lot of guys in the NFL with more sacks than Lawrence this year. But simply looking at Lawrence's 8.5 sacks doesn't tell the full story of the season he's having.
Don't take my word for it, here's Marinelli:
"He had eight and a half sacks and other guys had more – but it's how he played. How he plays. That's the most important thing to me," he said. "From the run, to the hustle – you never see him take a down off of the rush. If you just put a reel of all his really good rushes, he might lead the league in good rushes. The ball is out, we can't do anything with that. But how many times has he beaten a guy? And his quickness, his effort, his second effort? I think he's one of the best guys I've ever been around with the franchise tag – how he's come out and worked."
Lawrence is a complete defensive end. He gets after quarterback, he's great against the run and he plays with relentless effort. On top of that, he's a hell of a locker room guy. He's created a hell of a culture around this defense, highlighted by this Hot Boyz phenomenon that has overtaken the team in 2018.
A second-consecutive Pro Bowl nod is another feather in his cap for his upcoming contract negotiations. If the Cowboys are smart, they'll have an open mind when they sit down at the table.
5. It's not fair that I've got Zack Martin slotted all the way down here, because he's the best of the bunch.
I hope people realize how absurd Martin is from a variety of different standpoints. This Pro Bowl bid marks the fifth time he's been named an all-star. If I had to guess a fifth All-Pro designation will be coming in the next few weeks. Keep in mind: this is only his fifth year in the league. The guy has been elite since the day he stepped onto an NFL field, which is something that only the true freakazoids can say.
It's still early in his career, but the guy is absolutely putting together a Hall of Fame resume.
On top of that, he's put this Pro Bowl season together despite being handicapped by knee injuries. He first hyperextended his knee all the way back during an August preseason game, and that was compounded when he sprained his MCL in October against Washington.
It hasn't stopped him from playing like the best guard in football, and I'm going to go ahead and bet that it won't keep him out of Sunday's game against the Buccaneers.
Don't take Zack Martin for granted. Players like this don't come around often.
6. I won't lie: earlier this season, I definitely thought Leighton Vander Esch was making a Pro Bowl push.
Looking at it after the fact, though, it's hard to get upset that both he and Jaylon Smith were left off the roster. Linebackers a tough spot to crack for the Pro Bowl – especially if you weren't a known name when the season started.
The NFL has got to do something about its linebacker designation. As it stands right now, half the outside linebackers in the Pro Bowl are pass rushers. How is Vander Esch, who plays on the weak side, supposed to compete with Khalil Mack and Ryan Kerrigan – who have a combined 23.5 sacks?
The inside linebacker spot isn't a lot better. The league only makes two spots available for that position, and it's hard to argue with the inclusion of Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner. Both of those guys have had fantastic seasons, and even more importantly, they're household names in the NFL.
Not to worry, though. Both of the Cowboys' young linebackers have a shot to make the Pro Bowl as alternates. And if LVE and Jaylon keep this up in 2019 and beyond, they shouldn't have to worry about many more snubs.
7. I took a couple of weeks off, but not to worry: I still suck at this.
Still gonna make picks, though.
TITANS (-10) over Redskins
CHARGERS (-4) over Ravens
Bengals (+9) over BROWNS
Vikings (-6) over LIONS
COLTS (-9) over Giants
DOLPHINS (-4) over Jaguars
PATRIOTS (-13.5) over Bills
Packers (-2.5) over JETS
Texans (+2) over EAGLES
Falcons (-3) over PANTHERS
Rams over CARDINALS
Bears (-4) over 49ERS
Steelers (+6) over SAINTS
Chiefs (-2.5) over SEAHAWKS
RAIDERS (+3) over Broncos
LAST WEEK: Whatever
THIS SEASON: Who Cares