Since starting the year 3-0 and fueling dreams of rediscovered glory, the Cowboys have lost seven of 10 games.
The good news is that they’re still in position to win the NFC East. The bad news is that they don’t look like a team capable of winning a damn game.
The door is now wide open for the woeful Eagles, who at 5-7 can, in theory, run the table and win the division. But these are the Eagles who, like the Cowboys, have lost three in a row. And these are the Eagles who will be facing the Giants and Eli Manning on Monday night. The Eagles who will be hearing it, loudly and clearly from their fans if they sputter at all in the game that can pull them even with the Cowboys at 6-7, atop the division.
Through it all, the reality is that one of these four teams in the NFC East (and, yes, they’re all still alive) will win the division and host the Seahawks or the 49ers, who will be 12-4 or 13-3 when visiting the fourth-seeded division champs, who are guaranteed a home playoff game by a system that could, in theory, have the four most dysfunctional organizations in the same division and one of them will be playing a home game in the wild-card round.
But even if the system changes (and change it should), it won’t change before Dallas or Philly (or, possibly, the Giants or Washington) get a chance to face the team that will have lost a potentially exhausting Week 17 game that quite possibly will have a bye hanging in the balance.
The fact that the Cowboys still have arguably the best chance of any of the teams in the NFC East to be that team will continue to nudge owner Jerry Jones away from firing coach Jason Garrett, in large part because Jones apparently (and justifiably) has no confidence in any of the other members of the staff to do what Garrett can’t: Finally start the lawnmower on a team that has the talent to be much better than it is.
So what will they do? The players will yell, scream, rant, and rave, Jones will talk about how fairy tales can still come true, and quite possibly the Cowboys will fall flat (again) in 10 days when they host the Rams.
In theory, the Cowboys can snap out of this funk and get hot in January. But it would be useful to at least become lukewarm in December. The Cowboys currently are anything but that.
At some point, Jones needs to blame himself for incessant chatter that sends mixed signals to the locker room without taking the kind of action aimed at snapping the team out of its current funk.
The fact that, in each of the last two games, the Cowboys have raced to a 7-0 lead before falling apart underscores the reality that they simply aren’t making the adjustments necessary to hold a lead. So why should anyone believe that they’ll be able to do it against the Rams or the Eagles?
While the Cowboys can still stumble next weekend at home against L.A., Dallas will need to be able to go to Philadelphia and win the game in order to position themselves for, if the Eagles beat the Giants and Washington over the next two Sundays, a winner-take-all Week 16 showdown in Philly.
Based on how the Cowboys have played since Jones decided after a narrow loss to the Patriots to take off the gloves and call out Garrett, there’s currently no reason to think that the Cowboys will figure it out.
So look for the Cowboys to keep pulling the cord on an engine that is low on gas and possibly devoid of a spark plug. And they’ll continue to look around and wonder what’s wrong while their shot at getting to the single-elimination round gets slimmer and slimmer.
Yes, anything can still happen. But with each passing game its harder to believe that the Cowboys will make it happen for themselves.
It’s great theater for football fans, but it has to be worse than maddening for Cowboys fans who know in their hearts that the streak without an NFC title game appearance, which dates back to 1995, will extend another year. The only question left is whether it ends at Philly in 17 days, in the wild-card round two weeks after that, or (if they somehow get that far) in a trip to San Francisco, New Orleans, or Seattle.