A year after a Super Bowl-or-bust campaign ended in a 6-10 finish, the Dallas Cowboys are flying under the radar.
No one considers them an NFC East title contender, let alone a Super Bowl contender.
The Cowboys are saying all the right things.
Coach Jason Garrett has them focused on day-to-day concerns rather than end-of-the-season goals.
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The "one practice at a time and getting better every day" mantra has become a cliché at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters.
Even owner Jerry Jones had to be poked and prodded this week to predict a playoff run.
"We have to walk before we can run," Jones said. "Our goal is to put ourselves in a position to compete. I'm hopeful that we'll have the team in the situation after 16 games that we thought we were going to have last year."
Some people even have the nerve to call this a rebuilding season for the Cowboys and are seemingly OK with an 8-8 or 9-7 finish as long as the Cowboys show improvement and build for the future.
It's enough to make me want to explode.
Sure, the Cowboys dismissed seven starters from last season's team and are going with an inexperienced offensive line because of it. But none of the moves resulted in a downgrade in talent. The Cowboys actually got better and more athletic at every position in which they made a change.
Wade Phillips was fired last year because the Cowboys didn't produce.
So now it's OK to be mediocre and talk about playing for the future?
Give me a break.
America's Team doesn't rebuild.
Let me repeat, the Cowboys, owners of five Super Bowl rings and the richest franchise in the NFL, don't rebuild.
And let's not start cushioning things for Garrett by giving him a honeymoon period.
That's not happening.
He doesn't have to talk about making the playoffs, but reaching the postseason and then making a Super Bowl run is the goal in Dallas, stated or not.
I suspect Garrett knows as much, whether he talks about it or not.
Garrett needs to win or his tough talk will soon fall on deaf ears.
It should also be noted that Jones' chum, former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, is waiting for a job next year.
Don't discount anything with Jones if the Cowboys struggle.
It goes without saying that quarterback Tony Romo needs to win.
Lovable Romo has become star-crossed in recent years with a growing list of detractors countering his diehard fans.
No one cares about the numbers anymore. Romo certainly puts them up in bunches when he's healthy.
But until he adds to the single playoff victory on his résumé, it all rings hollow.
Put All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware in that category, too.
How else do you explain former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp's comments that Ware "couldn't lead a pack of ants to a backyard picnic"?
No one has more sacks than Ware since he joined the Cowboys in 2005.
But it's that single playoff victory that gives Sapp power to take shots.
This need for postseason success goes triple for Jones, who was undoubtedly more embarrassed by the Cowboys' record and performance last year than the Super Bowl fiasco at his beloved stadium.
So you can talk rebuilding all you want.
You can talk about the young offensive line and injuries in the secondary.
No one cares.
A rebuilding year in 2011 is unacceptable. Mediocrity will not be tolerated.
The Cowboys don't have to say "Super Bowl or bust."
Reaching the postseason and trying to make a run is the only goal.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.