The Cowboys were thrown in the middle of discussions regarding social justice protests during the national anthem after owner Jerry Jones threatened to bench any player who didn’t stand. Commissioner Roger Goodell met with NFL owners in New York to discuss the subject.
Then there’s running back Ezekiel Elliott’s ongoing legal battle to avoid a six-game suspension handed down by the NFL.
For the Cowboys, they’re just ready to play football again.
Tight end Jason Witten said distractions come with playing for the Cowboys. He said players had productive and open talks with Jones. But their focus is trying to get back on track after consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.
“This is a tough game and we’re here to win football games, and we’ve got to keep that focus on it,” Witten said. “You’ve got to have good leadership so when these things come up, you can talk through them. I think last week we did that with the anthem. Mr. Jones was very transparent. He listened. He talked. I think everybody understood what we were trying to get accomplished.
“With that, everything over the course of the season, things come up. The teams that are able to handle it, that have strong leadership, that are able to talk through it and then get back and kind of see the big picture of hey, we’ve got to play better football. We’ve got 11 games in front of us. I think our team has done a good job of that after the bye and moving forward.”
Still, the anthem issue can’t be ignored given Jones’ mandate and the situation they face against a 49ers team that has had more players protest than anyone in the league, and will likely have representation again when the Cowboys come to town.
The Cowboys have not been part of the protests during the anthem. Defensive end David Irving said he was planning something for the anthem, but did not specify.
While Jones’ threat caused some hurt feelings and misunderstandings, a team protest isn’t likely.
“We’ve been standing, right? So what’s going to change now?” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence asked.
Witten was a little more effusive, saying the team hashed it out during the bye and plans business as usual.
“It’s been that way for a few weeks now,” Witten said. “It was very open and transparent. I think the loyalty around here has been one of the best traits we’ve had, and Mr. Jones has done that. I think he was clear in how he communicated it.
“I think everybody is on the same page. As a football team, you’ve got to come together, and that’s what makes a locker room strong. I think our team is really strong at this point.”
Where the Cowboys need to be strong is on the field. They believe they have shown signs of life on offense, where they’re beginning to look like the team that went 13-3 a year ago.
Despite back-to-back losses, the Cowboys have scored 28, 30 and 31 points in the past three games.
“Well, there’s a number of things,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I feel like we got better in situational football. Not getting into real specifics, but I just think our ability to do better on third down, catching it in the red zone, those kinds of things.
“I think you can look at byes, actually look at them the same way whether we’re coming off a win or a loss, whatever you are. I think you kind of sit back, settle back and say these are things that we didn’t do well in the first five games, but here are some really good trends, especially the last three games.”
What excites the Cowboys most was how they dominated the ball, and the clock, with their running game in the 35-31 loss to the Packers, their last action before the bye.
And most encouraging were Elliott’s 85 yards on 13 carries in the fourth quarter, plus a 17-play, 79-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that gobbled 8 minutes, 43 seconds off the clock.
Linehan said that’s where they looked like the team of a year ago more than any other time this season.
Quarterback Dak Prescott agreed.
“That drive we ended up scoring on, the long drive, that was what we’re used to, and our standards of just moving the ball at will and effectively to eventually score a touchdown ... There’s definitely no panic [at 2-3],” Prescott said. “We’re getting better. We’re heading in the direction. We’ve just got to turn some of these close losses into wins and we’ll be right where we need to be.”
Dallas Cowboys 2017 Schedule
Sept. 10 Cowboys 19, New York Giants 3
Sept. 17 Denver 42, Cowboys 17
Sept. 25 at Cowboys 28, Arizona 17
Oct. 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams 35, Cowboys 30
Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay 35, Cowboys 31.
Oct. 15 Bye
Oct. 22 at San Francisco (KDFW/4) 3:05 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Washington (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 5 vs. Kansas City (KTVT 11) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Atlanta (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 23 vs. L.A. Chargers (KTVT/11) 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 30 vs. Washington (KXAS/5) 7:25 p.m.
Dec. 10 at New York Giants (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 17 at Raiders (KXAS/5) 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 24 vs. Seattle (KDFW/4) 3:25 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Philadelphia (KDFW/4) Noon