Thanksgiving is over. The Dallas Cowboys have some extra time to think now.
They have five games left, and they will be either one game or two games out of the lead in the NFC East going into December, when their next game rolls around.
But who will be playing in that game?
The Cowboys are afraid they might have lost linebacker Bruce Carter for the season with a dislocated left elbow. They lost defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had two sacks Thursday, to a concussion late in the game. Wide receiver Miles Austin also left the game because of a hip pointer. And cornerback Orlando Scandrick had surgery for a broken hand on Friday and could be lost for the season.
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That was on top of the injuries they already carried -- to nose tackle Jay Ratliff, defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Sean Lissemore, receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back DeMarco Murray, left tackle Tyron Smith, linebacker Sean Lee and centers Phil Costa and Ryan Cook.
"We've got to do like you have to in the NFL -- we have to put guys out there who can make up for them," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "We have no other choice. You just can't manufacture players."
The Cowboys finished the 38-31 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Washington Redskins with a defense that included two players who were unemployed just weeks ago, linebacker Ernie Sims and safety Charlie Peprah. Sims had four tackles, but appeared to make a mistake on a long touchdown pass, and Peprah had three tackles, an interception and a pass breakup.
The Cowboys have also had to use two other street free agents, Eric Frampton and Vince Agnew, on special teams because of injuries. They are thinking about signing another receiver, former Redskin Anthony Armstrong.
"There's a lot of guys that have stepped up and done great jobs, guys that we got off the streets a couple weeks ago, three weeks ago, in there making big-time plays," linebacker Dan Connor said. "We've just got to stay focused. Step up. Learn from it and progress as we finish out the season."
The Cowboys, who resume the season Dec. 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, will be one game behind the division-leading New York Giants if the Giants lose on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. If the Giants win, however, the deficit will be two games with five to play. The Giants would be 7-4, with the Cowboys 5-6.
The Cowboys don't play the Giants again and have split the season series. But one more game with the Redskins, the season finale at Washington, remains for the Cowboys.
"It looks like our best opportunity would be to end up with the best record in the NFC East," Jones said. "I don't know what that's going to be. I don't know if 8-8 will get it there or not, and I sure don't know if we're going to be 8-8. I'm not trying to be negative, but we've got to play these guys again. With how impressed I am with how they played, we've got our hands full up there for the last ballgame."
But before the last game matters, the next game has to matter.
"We have no room for any of that talk now," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "Our mindset is just the next game, get better throughout the week and put together a finished product on Sunday and finally give these fans something to cheer for."
For quarterback Tony Romo, it may be time for a mental break.
"I've said this before, but it's just not going to be a fun few days now," Romo said. "It's going to eat at you, and it's just going to consume all your thoughts. ...I'm exhausting my brain thinking about things to do and to help us get off to better starts and to move the ball better.
"It's a long five or six days just with the grind, tape-wise and physically and mentally. It's exhausting in some ways to get yourself ready to go so quick against a defense that does that many things. It's disappointing when you don't come out with a win. At the same time, we've got to put that behind us and get ready for Philadelphia now."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760