Dallas Cowboys

Rested, healthy Cowboys eager to finish strong

By all accounts, the Dallas Cowboys won the bye week.

Where is my air lasso?

Where is former coach Wade Phillips when you need him?

Heck, what the Cowboys accomplished by sitting idle over the weekend is far greater than declaring a first-round bye a playoff win as Phillips did in 2007.

But let’s not digress.

There is no doubt things couldn’t have gone better during the bye week for the Cowboys.

While they rested and healed up, the NFC East went bottoms up.

The Philadelphia Eagles and quarterback Mark Sanchez were exposed as something less than a juggernaut in a 53-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Far less.

The Washington Redskins (3-7) remain a cesspool of disarray on the field and in the locker room, getting blown out 27-7 at home by the 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And the New York Giants (3-7) continued their season-long meltdown, losing their fifth straight game, 16-10 to the San Francisco 49ers, as shell-shocked quarterback Eli Manning tossed five interceptions.

The Cowboys (7-3) return to practice Tuesday in a first-place tie in the NFC East with the Eagles with six games to go.

But don’t look for any hats and horns at the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters.

These Cowboys, led by the process-oriented Jason Garrett, know they haven’t accomplished anything yet.

And frankly, they have no interest in what happened to the rest of the division on Sunday.

They are excited about the possibility of lies ahead, but the focus and the motto remains the same as it has been all season: “It’s about us, it’s not about them.”

“That’s the message Jason preaches,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We know what we need to do to win. We know we have to work out tails off. We have played well. But we know we can play so much better. This team has high standards. There is a lot of excitement. We are chomping at the bit. Everything you want is front of you. But you know the work that has to come with it.”

“We feel good. We just have to go do it.”

When Witten talks about the excitement of everything you want being in front of you, he means everything — a division title and a run to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.

Even owner Jerry Jones, who entered the season talking about how the Cowboys were going to have their backs against the wall and openly lamenting the failure to draft Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, is back on the hyperbolic bandwagon.

“Well, I’ll tell you this: We didn’t really think that possibly this year might be the year, but you sure can’t dismiss (a Super Bowl run) at this particular point,” Jones said on his local radio show. “I think we’re going to have some fun here in these last six ballgames.”

The Cowboys just need to finish what they started, beginning Sunday at the Giants.

It won’t be easy with four of the last six games on the road, including three of the last four.

And none of that bodes well, considering the Cowboys well-chronicled history of finishing with a whimper.

The Cowboys are 14-22 after Dec. 1 since Tony Romo took over as quarterback in 2006.

And no one can forget that for the last three years the Cowboys have failed miserably with the division title on the line the last game of the season.

But these are not those Cowboys.

They are set up to finally finish strong because they are healthy late in the season for the first time years.

And because of they have changed their style from the pass-happy to run-oriented behind NFL-leading rusher DeMarco Murray and the league’s strongest and most physical offensive line.

The Cowboys believe that’s a formula that will serve them well in the cold weather games down the stretch — at New York, at Chicago, at Philadelphia and at Washington.

“Well, certainly if you can run the football well and you’re a physical team, you travel maybe better than other kinds of teams,” Garrett said. “That’s one of the things we always talk about, playing in the division we’re playing in; you’re going to deal with weather. You’re going to deal with conditions at the end of the year in these critical games to help you try to win the division. So you want to be that kind of a team. Whatever circumstance, whatever conditions you’re playing in, you want to be able to be successful. And I think the bigger and stronger you’re up front and the more able to run the football, it certainly helps you.”

Quarterback Tony Romo’s fractured back should be stronger and feeling better the week off.

Linebacker Rolando McClain (knee/groin) and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (knee), who missed the last game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, will be ready to go against the Giants.

“We feel good,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “If you look at the big picture, especially as it’s compared to the last two or three years, we’ll feel very good, and also these guys are getting healthier. We think they’re fresh. We think they’ll continue to get better. We’re playing at full strength now that Tony is back. That’s a big deal, and I think that shows.”

Most important, Murray is feeling fresh and ready to carry them to the finish line. He told Stephen Jones last week that the Cowboys can hop on his back and ride him down the stretch.

“I’m ready. I’m ready to go,” Murray said. “Like I said before, whatever they ask me to do I’m going to do times 10.”

The Cowboy may have won the bye. But they know they still have work to do.

No air lassos. No hats and horns.

Just resolve to finally finish strong and live out some long awaited “super” dreams.

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