“It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Yogi Berra’s famous quote may be dripping in redundancy, but is there any better way to describe the situation the Dallas Cowboys woke up to Monday morning? After 16 weeks of drama, filled with the over-the-top highs and lows that could only accompany Jerry Jones’ team, Week 17 brings a third straight winner-take-all finale.
It was a heart attack of a trip just to get there. Ten times they played in games decided by single digits, six of those were by a field goal or less. No stretch was more up-and-down than the last two weeks, though.
It started at halftime of Week 15. Dallas had just dominated Green Bay for two quarters, leading 26-3 and outgaining the Packers 327-123. Then the tables turned dramatically. Matt Flynn and Tony Romo switched uniforms, the Cowboys went away from a running game that gained 7 yards per carry in the 1st half and the Packers escaped AT&T Stadium with one of the most unlikely wins in their storied history.
The Dallas players said all the right things about turning the page and putting one of their worst losses ever in the past, but that’s easier said than done. The Cowboys did lead at halftime in Washington, but in the 4th Quarter it was the RGIII-less Redskins holding a 23-14 advantage.
That’s when they saved the season. Dallas went on an 8:47 drive that Dan Bailey capped with a field goal. Then, the real fun started. Down six with 3:39 on the clock and 87 yards ahead of them, Romo and Co. went to work. Passes of 15, 51 and 17 yards set up 1st and Goal from the 4, but it wouldn’t be that easy. DeMarco Murray runs of 3, 0 and -9 meant 4th and the season from the 10-yard-line.
Romo had all the time he needed and Murray caught the touchdown pass that kept the season alive. Dallas won 24-23, and that has them hoping the third time really is the charm.
For the third straight season, and against the third different opponent, the Cowboys are playing an NFC East Championship game in Week 17. The first two times definitely left a sour taste. Two years ago, Eli Manning and the Giants rolled 31-14. Manning completed 73% of his passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns, and New York took the division and, eventually, the Super Bowl.
Last year was a tour de force performance for Redskins running back Alfred Morris. The rookie power back ran 33 times for 200 yards, and his three scores led Washington into the postseason.
Now, the NFC East merry go round finishes its turn, bringing the Eagles to Dallas for a shot at the postseason. When at their best, Philadelphia has the ability to bring the Manning quarterbacking performance and Morris’ rushing dominance, all in the same game.
Nick Foles has thrown for 25 touchdowns passes in nine starts, one more than Tom Brady has in 15 games under center, and LeSean McCoy is well on his way to the NFL rushing title. Needless to say, the task won’t be easy for a Cowboys unit ranked dead last in total defense. Their 418.6 yds/game surrendered is nearly identical to Philadelphia’s 2nd ranked offense and its 420.7 yds. Slowing them down isn’t likely. It’ll be all about keeping up.
The bright side is that the Dallas offense has the tools to do that. Romo went toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning earlier this year, throwing for 500 yards and five touchdowns, and he topped 300 yards four times. He’s got a top ten wide receiver in Dez Bryant, a top ten tight end with Jason Witten and most importantly one of the best young running backs in football with Murray.
Dallas’ best chance to win? Probably in a shootout. More important than the match up, though, is the pride to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself once again.
“I know in some ways we’ve gotten hit with the fact of losing the last couple of years in that final game,” Romo said. “But I think we’re the only team that keeps getting itself in position to win the NFC East every year. That’s a credit. That’s also a negative in the fact we didn’t do it the last couple of years. You just have to keep getting yourself there. When your team is good enough, you’ll knock down that door.”
The door is there. Does anyone have a crowbar?