By Matthew Postins
It’s a question one has to consider after the Cowboys went on the road and beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-19, on Sunday.
Set aside the playoff implications for now (we’ll get to that later).
This is a truly banged up football team, physically and emotionally.
When Orlando Scandrick moved to injured reserve he became the 11th Cowboy to land on injured reserve this year.
When Morris Claiborne left Sunday’s game with what amounted to a busted lip, Sterling Moore – who joined the team this week – played opposite Brandon Carr.
When defensive coordinator Rob Ryan went onto the field, chewed out officials and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that should have killed the Cowboys’ chances of stopping the Bengals. It didn’t. They held Cincinnati to a field goal.
When the team found out that Jerry Brown, a practice squad player, died Saturday morning in a one-car accident in a car driven by defensive tackle Josh Brent, that should have sent the team reeling.
These Cowboys, somehow, persevered. Could it be that this team, one that most had discounted as mentally weak, actually has a backbone?
The Cowboys have now won four of their last five games. In all four of those wins, at one point, the Cowboys trailed. Two of those games, against Cleveland and Cincinnati, you could argue they had no business winning.
But they did.
Of all of the things the Cowboys have been accused of this season, I’ve not once heard anyone accuse the Cowboys of quitting. If you’ve paid attention this season, there’s no way you could.
This is a team that fell behind the New York Giants by 24 points at home and nearly won.
This is a team that fell behind 28-3 at halftime to Washington and still managed to make it a one-possession game late in the contest.
This is a team that fell behind Cleveland 13-0 and managed to win in overtime.
This is a team that, less than a day after losing a teammate, fell behind by nine points to Cincinnati and rallied to win.
Somehow this Cowboys team manages to make things interesting, no matter the situation. That’s not luck. That’s a character trait. That’s the sort of determination that head coach Jason Garrett has tried to instill since he was elevated to head coach two years ago.
Is it finally sinking in?
I’m not sure there’s enough evidence to support that yet. This is still a team when, you look at its body of work, has flaws that are big enough to keep it from making the postseason and, more importantly, make it hard to have faith in its long-term future.
But as we’ve learned the NFC East is a deeply flawed division this year. With three games left, anything appears to be possible.
As I’ve covered the team this season I’ve doled out plenty of criticism, which is easy to do when your name isn’t on the back of a jersey.
For at least one day let’s praise what the Cowboys have managed to accomplish in this trying season. The Cowboys, despite their flaws on the offensive line, despite a myriad of injuries to their defense, despite the absence of running back DeMarco Murray for six games and, despite their horrible start to this season, are still in the playoff race.
Some of that is beyond their control.
But much of it is due to these players who, despite what must seem like a mountain of criticism at times, still go to work every day and still play as hard as possible every Sunday.
Does winning Sunday mean they’ll make the playoffs? No. I’m still betting against that happening.
But for the first time this season it’s starting to feel like a bet I might lose.