The Dallas Cowboys have a more difficult path to the playoffs this season than they did the previous three. But that doesn’t bother owner Jerry Jones.
In fact, he is more optimistic about this year’s chances, in large part because of Tony Romo’s health.
With a playoff berth on the line in Week 17 last year, Romo sat at home with a back injury as backup Kyle Orton and the rest of Romo’s teammates fell to the Eagles 24-22.
It came down to the final week in 2011, as well, with the Cowboys at the Giants. Romo played OK through a bruised right hand, but was sacked six times in a 31-14 loss.
Sandwiched between those Week 17 years, the Cowboys endured a 2012 season in which they needed to win just one of their final two games, but didn’t. Romo had a forgettable three-interception game at Washington in the finale.
This year, though, Jones is confident that Romo and the rest of the team are ready to close it out.
“I feel better than I felt in those years principally because of the health of Romo,” Jones said. “We’re in better shape with his health than we were in at least two of those three years.
“Just looking at our team and how it’s continually improved and it has, I think we’re playing our best. On an individual basis across the board the players are executing, and they’re healthier than they were in any of the last three years in general, across the board. Now, that has a lot to do with it.”
Romo’s health was the Cowboys’ main concern coming into the season. He had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back last off-season, less than a year after he had a surgery to remove a cyst.
Romo went through a limited practice schedule in training camp and has taken off Wednesdays since Week 3.
But Romo has responded with arguably his best season, completing 69.3 percent of his passes, with 28 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions and a 110.5 passer rating.
“It has the potential to be his best season,” Jones said. “The factor that would impact the most in my mind would be if we do have the kind of season that we’re all dreaming about here, then it would be his best.”
The Cowboys are in position for a playoff run for the first time since 2009. It’s not time to “leave anything at home,” Jones said, whether that means running DeMarco Murray out there days after having surgery on his left hand or emptying the playbook.
The Cowboys are well aware that the success of this season is going to be judged on how it ends. Simply breaking the 8-8 barrier isn’t enough.
Getting to the postseason is what matters, and the only way they guarantee themselves that is by winning out, which would make them NFC East champs. Anything short of that and they’ll need help to either win the division or earn one of the two wild-card spots.
“This isn’t a feel-good, hey, winning season, got things back on track,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I mean, we’re playing to compete in the postseason and that needs to be everyone’s mentality. And I think it is right now.”
Witten also said there are noticeable differences between this year’s team and those that came up short, pointing to this team’s ability to deliver in crucial situations.
They converted a third-and-20 during the game-deciding series in their win at Seattle when Romo eluded the rush and found Terrance Williams down the sideline for a 23-yard gain. Last week after the Eagles rallied from a 21-point deficit, the Cowboys responded with an eight-play, 78-yard scoring drive to regain the lead.
“There’s no trick, there’s no secret,” Witten said. “Just playing good football at key times. That’s what we’ve done. That gives us confidence to continue to do that.
“I don’t see that changing. As big of a game as that was last week and the win, I think our team understands the stakes just get higher. That’s good. We need to embrace that.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
The Cowboys will clinch the NFC East division this weekend with:
▪ 1. DAL win + PHI loss or tie or
▪ 2. DAL tie + PHI loss
The Cowboys clinch a playoff spot with:
▪ 1. DAL win + GB loss or tie + DET loss or tie as long as both don’t tie