Cowboys can be optimistic they have playoffs in front of them

The Dallas Cowboys could look at their 4-4 record at the midway point of the season as half-empty. Instead, they choose to take the optimist’s view: It is half-full.

The Cowboys, believe it or not, are in position for their first playoff berth since 2009. The NFC East is a combined 11-20, with the Cowboys holding a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles, who have lost two in a row.

“We’ve got to keep our eye on continuing to win games,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week on his radio show on KRLD/105.3 FM. “This thing is going to come down to the end, and you could have a situation like Baltimore did last year. They didn’t look like they were it. They weren’t playing very well. We missed beating them by a [missed] 6-inch field goal, to refresh our memory, and they end up in the world championship.

“We’re continuing to have some injury that will impact that, too. But we’ve just got to keep dealing with what we’re dealing with.

“I want to be very positive, though. We’re sitting here with probably as good a chance… to be where we want to be as we did when we started the season.”

The Cowboys’ four losses were by a total of 14 points. Two were one-point losses, and Denver beat them by three on a last-second field goal.

Dallas blew fourth-quarter leads against the Denver Broncos and the Detroit Lions, and they blew halftime leads against the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers.

The Cowboys’ losses have come against teams with a combined 24-7 record.

“I think we’re a better football team than 4-4, but at the end of the day, Bill Parcells used to say, ‘You are what you are,’” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We’ve won four games pretty solidly. We unfortunately can’t win a close one right now, but that’s going to change. We’re going to get better. We’ll continue to improve. I do think that will change.

“I think we’ve got a good football team. We just haven’t been able to pull out one of these tight ones. We’ve lost four really close ones. We’re 0-4 in the close ones, and you’d like to think one or two of those would go your way. But you are what you are. We’re 4-4. We’re disappointed. But we’re certainly optimistic about what lies ahead of us.”

The Cowboys’ remaining opponents are 25-33, with only three opponents sporting a winning record. So, despite their record, all of the Cowboys’ off-season goals remain in front of them.

“We control our destiny,” Stephen Jones said. “We have to go out and play well and play better in all phases. I think from an injury standpoint, we do have reinforcements coming in terms of getting players back on the field. So there are a lot of reasons to think that we can be better.”

Best game

Cowboys 31, Rams 7: The Cowboys dominated St. Louis in their most dominant game in two years. DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Tony Romo threw for three touchdowns. The Cowboys’ defense allowed only 232 yards. The Rams have proved to be a better team than Dallas made them look that day.

Worst game

Lions 31, Cowboys 30: The Cowboys blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead as the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final 2:33. Dallas had a chance to all but run out the clock, but on a third-down play, left tackle Tyron Smith was called for holding. Although the Lions declined the penalty, the clock stopped with 1:07 remaining. It gave the Lions plenty of time to drive 80 yards for the winning score after the Cowboys kicked a field goal. Matthew Stafford’s quarterback sneak with 12 seconds remaining was a dagger to the heart.

Team MVP

LB Sean Lee: If the defense is ranked 32ndin yards allowed, can it have the team MVP? You can make an argument for Tony Romo, who has 18 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 101.7 passer rating. But last week Lee was named NFC defensive player of the month. He has a team-leading 99 tackles, and his four interceptions are tied for first in the NFL. Lee and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher have been among the best players at their positions in the NFL this season despite this team’s defensive problems.

Best rookie

C Travis Frederick: It is unlikely an offensive lineman will win the league’s offensive rookie of the year award, which is why receiver Terrance Williams, and not Frederick, will be mentioned. But Frederick, the team’s first-round pick, has helped shore up the interior of the Cowboys’ offensive line. He has allowed two sacks, according to STATS, and has no holding penalties. Pro Football Focus ranks Frederick the 10th-best center in the league.

Sizing up the NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles: Positive: LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing with 733 yards. Negative: The Eagles have played three quarterbacks this season and still have no idea who their franchise quarterback is. Outlook: The Eagles are 31st in total defense and likely a year away from having a contending team.

New York Giants: Positive: They have two victories in a row after an 0-6 start, as Eli Manning protected the ball the past two games. Negative: The Giants have a league-worst 25 giveaways, 17 of them by Manning, and are minus-12 in turnover ratio. Outlook: The Giants have never finished the first half worse than 5-3 under Tom Coughlin, but they remain confident they will make a playoff run.

Washington Redskins: Positive: Only three of their remaining opponents have winning records. Negative: Robert Griffin III, who underwent knee surgery Jan. 9, ranks 21st in passer rating at 79.2 and has thrown eight interceptions. Outlook: If Griffin can regain his mojo this season, the Redskins will get back in the race.

Cowboys’ remaining schedule

Vs. Vikings: The Vikings shouldn’t present much of a challenge, ranking 29th in offense and 30th in defense. Win

At Saints: The Cowboys already have set a record, becoming the first team in history to allow four 400-yard passers in a season. Drew Brees likely will become the fifth. Brees passed for 446 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys last Dec. 23. Loss

At Giants: The Giants are starting to get their groove back. Though the Cowboys are 3-0 against the division so far, including a season-opening 36-31 victory over the Giants, it’s a hunch they lose this one. The Giants are 6-3 against the Cowboys the past nine games. Loss

Vs. Raiders: It won’t be as easy as everyone thought before the season started. Dennis Allen’s Raiders are tough on defense and scrappy on offense. Win

At Bears: It will be cold, and Jay Cutler will be back. But the Bears aren’t the Bears. Win

Vs. Packers: Oh, boy, another big-time thrower, another 400-yard game. The Cowboys will have to outscore Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for the upset. Loss

At Redskins: Weird things happen in Washington when the Cowboys play there, and RG3 should be back in form. Loss

Vs. Eagles: For the third year in a row, the Cowboys get a win-or-go-home game, only this season at home. It says here they win the NFC East and get a home playoff game (against the 49ers?) with an 8-8 record. Win



Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram