Fourth game might be swing game for Cowboys

Posted Saturday, Sep. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There are no must-wins in Week 4 of the NFL season.

That much is a given.

And yes, the goal is to win every game every week.

That’s understood, too.

But if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then nothing is bigger for the Dallas Cowboys (2-1) right now than getting a victory against the San Diego Chargers (1-2) on Sunday .

A victory would give the Cowboys back-to-back wins for the first time this season and only the third time in the past two seasons. They would also improve to 3-1 for the first time since 2008 and only the fourth time in the past decade. A victory would also get them out of the win-one, lose-one, bad-to-middling malaise that has engulfed the franchise for more than a decade.

The Cowboys not only have an 18-17 mark since the start of the 2011 season, but they are 106-105 since the start of the 2000 season.

While quarterback Tony Romo said his focus is primarily on the Chargers’ defense and doing whatever he can to win the game, he acknowledges that the inability win back-to-back games is why the Cowboys have been 8-8 the past two seasons.

Linebacker Sean Lee was even more definitive.

“It’s huge for us,” Lee said. “It’s something we’ve not done in the past consistently.”

The Cowboys know that if they want to achieve their goals this season of breaking a three-year playoff-less streak and possibly make a Super Bowl run, then they must find a way to stack wins together.

That message was at the heart of defensive tackle Jason Hatcher’s explosive, post-practice speech that inspired the Cowboys to victory against the St. Louis Rams.

The Cowboys had followed a Week 1 victory against the New York Giants with a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It appeared to be a continuation of their old problems — considering the Cowboys didn’t win consecutive games last season until Weeks 10 and 11 on Nov. 11 and 18.

It was so bad that the bettors in Las Vegas are in on the disappearing act, putting out a telling stat this week that the Cowboys are 4-14 against the spread after a win in their past 18 chances.

“That’s been a problem for a long time around here,” tight end Jason Witten acknowledged. “Obviously, you look at 8-8 and there have been a lot of big wins and tough losses over the years. This is a new team. You can’t focus on that. This is what good teams do. They start winning games and stack them up. You have to find ways to do it. There’s no other way to say it.”

Another reason the Cowboys need to win today is because of their history of poor starts that stem from their problems in the fourth game of the season.

The Cowboys are 2-8 in their past 10 seasons in their fourth game, including six consecutive losses when they’ve gone into their fourth game of the season with a 2-1 record.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had shots to go 3-1, and we’ve had some tough losses,” Lee said. “We have to find a way to build that consistency, and we understand that it’s building throughout the year, and stacking games together is what the great teams do.”

Considering the early struggles of their rivals in the NFC East — the New York Giants and Washington Redskins are a combined 0-6 and the Philadelphia Eagles are 1-2 — winning back-to-back games would also allow the first-place Cowboys to develop some cushion and possibly distance themselves in the division race.

“You want to build confidence early,” defensive end DeMarcus Ware said.

An inability to start strong goes hand in hand with the team’s well-chronicled struggles when the schedule gets tougher in December.

“This is when you get separation. We’ve found ourselves the past two years playing for divisions in Week 17, but you always look back and say, ‘If we had that one,’ early on in the season,” Witten said.

“We’re just trying to create an atmosphere and a mindset of ‘Let’s go do that.’ We’re all tired of talking, and we know the results have got to happen.”

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760 Twitter: @clarencehilljr

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