The Dallas Cowboys overcame a lot of obstacles and past demons to enjoy a highly successful season this year, and they will look to remain hot when they host the Detroit Lions in the final Wild Card game this weekend. In the past, the Cowboys were traditionally horrendous in December, with quarterback Tony Romo having made some questionable decisions and throwing interceptions that proved very costly. This was particularly true in the fourth quarter. The offensive line often looked incapable of providing adequate protection for Romo, and the running game never seemed to fully come to life to relieve Romo of some of the pressure. The Cowboys defense also too often looked vulnerable, and all of this contributed to a drop off in playoff appearances and success in recent years. While the franchise can boast some of the greatest accomplishments of any team in the league, they have won only one playoff win since the 1996 season.
However, the Cowboys this season overcame many of those past demons to enjoy more success than they have in a long time. Dallas has shown a strong determination as they reversed their fortunes this season, as they arguably ended the season hotter than any other team in the league. In the process, they ended their traditional December blues, winning their last four straight games. They averaged over 40 points in the last three games in particular. The Cowboys captured their first NFC East title since 2009 and finished the regular season with a solid 12-4 mark, the best record the team has had since 1995. That also happened to be the last time that the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, and it has fueled speculation that this Dallas team might be able to reach the big game.
Romo has often been criticized in the past for his decision-making, particularly after throwing interceptions at key moments in games. But he enjoyed the finest season in his career in 2014, throwing for 3,705 yards with 34 touchdown passes, and only 9 interceptions. He also received strong protection by the Cowboys offensive line, which is considered one of the best units in the league. This helped him post the highest quarterback rating for the month of December in NFL history. Yet, his reputation remains as a good regular season quarterback who cannot win the big one remains. He desperately wants to shed that image, and would trade all of the records for the chance to win one championship.
Romo also got more help from the rest of the offense than he has in the past, as well. Running back DeMarco Murray also had a banner year, as he ran for 1,845 yards and set a new rushing record for the Cowboys, passing Emmitt Smith’s old mark in the process. Also, Dez Bryant caught a franchise record 16 touchdown passes this season, averaging one touchdown catch per game. It was this kind of success seen by the Dallas offense that has reminded people of the glory days of the nineties, when the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls and enjoyed the distinction as the “Team of the Decade.” Many fans are thinking that this team has a real chance at reaching the Super Bowl this season.
But the Cowboys will face a tough test on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, who had one of the toughest defenses in the league. The Lions also have a tremendous amount of talent on offense, and can be potentially explosive. The Cowboys probably know that already from the last time that these two teams met in 2013, when Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson collected 329 receiving yards on 14 catches, which ranks as the second best performance ever by a wide receiver in league history. Detroit won that contest with a touchdown in the final seconds, handing Dallas a heartbreaking loss.
Still, this is a very different Dallas team than the one the Lions beat last season. In 2013, the Cowboys defense gave up a lot of big plays, but they have tightened up considerably this season. They limited the big plays the defense allowed from 135 last season to 85 this season. The defense got better later in the season, allowing only 1 yard rushing against Indianapolis in a 42-7 win, and forcing four turnovers against Washington in the season finale, which was another convincing, 44-17 victory. It is this kind of success that have many Cowboys fans feeling that this is the team that not only finally overcame past demons in order to enjoy success this season, but that could possibly see them enjoying success a run deep into these playoffs.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Billy Bob Bain – Flickr