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Writer's Blocks: Tying Up Loose Ends Ahead Of The Season's Last Weekend

FRISCO, Texas – The wait for this season to mercifully end has felt longer than the wait for the Green Bay game.

The entire month of January felt like so much clock watching. First, we were waiting for the Cowboys to get finished with a meaningless Philadelphia game. That led to a two-week wait for their playoff debut.

We all know how that went.

That 34-31 loss to the Packers wasn't even three weeks ago, but it feels like a godawful eternity – an un-ending wait for the season to finish so we can turn our attention to the next step.

Well, that wish is about to be granted. Somebody's going to win the Super Bowl on Sunday night. After the Cowboys and their fans finish lamenting the fact that it wasn't them to claim the trophy, we can really get into the process of dissecting free agency and the ever-important NFL draft.

It's crazy to think that, at this time last year, we were a full month into the offseason. We had already spent a week scouting quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, and all thoughts were focused on how the Cowboys might improve their future.

The future might be here now, but it doesn't make this three-week purgatory any better. Let's hurry up and name a champion already, so we can get on with the offseason.

Here's a handful of other thoughts I've got, especially as it pertains to the Cowboys' role in this final weekend of the season.

1.Let's jump right into the biggest storyline of the weekend, at least as far as the Cowboys are concerned. I think it's almost a certainty that Jerry Jones will be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, and it's an honor he unquestionably deserves.

Now, I can feel plenty of people bristle at the thought. He fired Tom Landry, and there was also the acrimonious split with Jimmy Johnson. There have been countless questionable personnel decisions over the years, not to mention a 21-year wait since the team's last Super Bowl appearance.

That's all worth being discussed. But look at the bigger picture, and look at the impact Jones has had on both the NFL and this franchise since he acquired it in 1989.

The $5 billion industry that is the NFL's TV deal? A product of Jones playing hardball with the networks back in the 90s. The modern sponsorship model, which allows each NFL club to sign its own endorsement deals, thereby increasing their own value? The result of Jones' risky decision to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL.

The Cowboys were already "America's Team" when Jerry Jones showed up, but it's inarguable that their value and their visibility has grown exponentially since he arrived.

The same can be said for the NFL itself, which can thank Jones' influence for many of its most important developments over the past 25 years – from TV rights, to marketing, to the oh-so-successful stadium model that has swept the league, headlined by the unmitigated success of AT&T Stadium.

Whatever qualms you might have with the team itself, or how it's run, the fact still remains: the Cowboys have claimed three Lombardi Trophies during Jones' tenure as owner and general manager. Even with 21-year title draught, only one NFL club – the New England Patriots – has won more championships in that time span. Only two other clubs – the Denver Broncos and New York Giants – have matched it.

So, yes. You can't imagine the modern NFL without Jerry Jones. On-field disappointments also can't erase the litany of his team's on-field accomplishments.

I'm very confident he's going to get voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, and I'm even more confident he deserves it.

2.Speaking of deserving recognition. Come on down, Jason Garrett.

Again, I can feel you bristling. Why the hell did the Cowboys spike the ball with 48 seconds to play against Green Bay? Why did Ezekiel Elliott manage a mere 23 touches in the biggest game of the season? Jason Garrett makes mistakes on every single Cowboys game day, and he'll tell you as much.

But consider the full body of work from August until January, and I don't even know how it's a debate. Garrett lost his backup quarterback in training camp. He lost his starting quarterback in late August, two weeks before the start of the regular season.

Maybe he's not the sole reason Dak Prescott was a readymade star, but he still deserves plenty of credit for keeping this train on the track. The Cowboys went through this nightmare in 2015, and they plummeted to a 4-12 record.

Behind Garrett's mantra of "one day at a time," the Cowboys didn't get discouraged when they lost their season opener. It was quite the opposite, in fact. They reeled off 11-straight wins behind a rookie quarterback and a phenom rookie running back – a running back that Garrett advocated for drafting, by the way.

It extends to the defense, as well. Garrett's top two pass rushers, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, were suspended to start the season. One of his most talented players, linebacker Rolando McClain, opted to no-show for the season. Injuries in the secondary pressed rookies like Anthony Brown into service.

On paper, it's laughable to think the Cowboys would reach the playoffs. Back in August, I said I thought Prescott was good enough to keep them competitive, but that seven wins was the ceiling. Instead, they ran to a 13-3 record.

There are other candidates, to be sure – but their arguments pale in comparison.

Jack Del Rio coached the Raiders to their first playoff appearance since 2002. But he did it with the help of a Pro Bowl quarterback, who the Raiders drafted No. 36 overall, not to mention a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Khalil Mack.

Bill Belichick and Dan Quinn could make arguments. Belichick weathered Tom Brady's four-game suspension and led New England to the Super Bowl – but at the end of the day, he still had one of the best quarterbacks to ever play for 14 of 18 possible games. Quinn had the likely NFL MVP leading his team all year.

Obviously the Cowboys have talent of their own in the form of an All-Pro offensive line, a Hall of Fame tight end, a sensational running back and a Pro Bowl wide receiver.

But to keep everything together with a fourth-round rookie draft pick playing quarterback? Whatever complaints you might have about his game day decisions, that's still an accomplishment worthy of an award.

3.Common sense seems to dictate that Zeke should win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

The Cowboys drafted him No. 4 overall to boost their offense and revitalize their roster. He did just that, toting the rock 344 total times for 1,756 yards and 15 touchdowns. After a bit of a slow start in September, he was everything the Cowboys wanted him to be, going over 100 yards nine times in 16 outings.

As I've said before, I think it's a grave injustice that he received a mere 23 touches in the playoff loss – but that's water under the bridge.

The point I'm trying to make here is that Zeke Elliott delivered on damn near every promise the Cowboys made for him, going above and beyond what you'd expect from a rookie. On top of sheer production, he was the engine and the identity of the Dallas offense. He never went down early, he fell forward for extra yardage, he nearly always required extra tacklers.

And when he got his opportunities – Cincinnati, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Detroit – he made highlight reel plays that made the defense pay.

Nobody embodied what the Cowboys did in 2016 more than Zeke. And no team was more fascinating or pivotal to the NFL storyline in 2016 than the Cowboys.

For that reason, I'm completely onboard with giving Ezekiel Elliott the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award. He was every bit as effective as DeMarco Murray in 2014, which was an effort that earned Murray the same award.

4.With that taken care of, why not claim another award for the Cowboys.

Dak Prescott was not the best quarterback in the NFL this year. He honestly wasn't close – not in a league dominated by guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and now Matt Ryan. He's all the potential in the world, but he's got a ways to go to reach that level of play.

But was there a better rookie in the NFL this season than Dak?

Both of the league's top two rushers were rookies this year. Michael Thomas was unreal for the New Orleans Saints, catching 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. Considering the lack of talent around him, Carson Wentz was solid for Philadelphia as the No. 2 overall pick.

Great as they all were, they pale in comparison to Prescott's accomplishments. The guy didn't even know he'd be starting until late August. He was drafted after six other quarterbacks, including two that the Cowboys actively tried to trade for.

And yet, you know the story. He completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns as a rookie. More importantly, he threw a mere four interceptions – not throwing his first of the four until Halloween.

You can criticize him if you want for falling into a 21-3 hole against Green Bay. But I saw dogged determination for leading the Cowboys back into the game, posting a passer rating of 103.2 and throwing for 302 yards in the process.

The guy had an impressive season by any standard, and he did it as a rookie. Give him the trophy, already.

5.I've got a lot of respect for Matt Ryan, and Julio Jones is one of my favorite players to watch in the league. Deion Jones is one of the most impressive rookie defenders in the NFL and he went to my high school, so shouts out to him.

That said, I'm not betting against Touchdown Tom and Bill Belichick. Obviously, they've been beaten in the Super Bowl before, but I'm not going to doubt them given the run they've been on this year. I think New England can score 31 on this Atlanta defense, and the Patriots can hold Atlanta to 27 or so. I've got the Patriots winning Super Bowl LI and tying the Cowboys and 49ers with five Lombardi Trophies.

6.There's a lot to say about the approaching offseason, whether it be Tony Romo or the Cowboys' impending free agents. We'll get to all that. For now, I'm going to cap this column off woefully short of where it was supposed to go – which is sadly fitting for the Cowboys as they prepare to watch the Super Bowl.


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