Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says he doesn’t want his team spending too much time talking about other teams in the NFC East, playoff races and “all that kind of stuff.”
But that “stuff” is getting more relevant each week for a team that is in last place in the division and on a six-game losing streak.
Sunday’s opponent, Tampa Bay (3-5), has been vulnerable all season, but so have the Cowboys (2-6).
Close games and an emerging offense give the Cowboys hope.
Here are five things to watch:
1. Matt Cassel’s likely finale
Tony Romo is expected to return next Sunday, which makes this the final game for Cassel. He has been functional but has yet to lead the team to a victory. He has to minimize turnovers and avoid going into gunslinger mode if the Cowboys are to snap their six-game skid.
2. Dez Bryant’s production
Dez Bryant created headlines last week with his locker room tirade against the media. That shouldn’t worry fans too much, especially if that fuels Bryant on the field. He’s been nursing a knee injury but is also coming off his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
3. Pass rush, please
Greg Hardy, despite all of his baggage, has made an impact on the field. He has four sacks in four games. But the rest of the Cowboys’ pass rush must do a better job affecting the quarterback. This is a week to get it going in the right direction, too, facing a rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston.
4. Familiar faces
The Buccaneers must have liked what they saw from the Cowboys’ defense a year ago. They signed linebacker Bruce Carter, defensive tackle Henry Melton and cornerback Sterling Moore in the off-season. All three will be looking to make an impact against their former team.
5. Keeping hope alive
The Cowboys have had a six-game losing streak three other times in franchise history, and all three have extended to seven-game losing streaks. If that happens, the Cowboys playoff hopes will go from slim to none. The Cowboys must win at least one game without Tony Romo to keep their championship hopes alive.