When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, fantasy and reality often get confused, muddled and befuddled.
The Cowboys have been a mix of bewilderment and chaos since the end of last season when most blamed their NFC divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers solely on Dez Bryant’s catch that wasn’t.
No one has dealt in reality on anything — not regarding the loss of DeMarco Murray, the impact of the Bryant holdout, the addition of Greg Hardy and the Tony Romo injury.
And now we are here. The Cowboys are losers of eight of nine and sitting in last place in the NFC East with the third-worst record in the league at 3-8.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
A team that came into the season as Super Bowl contenders for the first time in 20 years is in the thick of the race to the bottom.
It’s time to separate fact from fiction so you can head into the final five games with open eyes and a clear conscience and accept the new Cowboys normal for what it is.
It’s maybe more likely that the Cowboys earn the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft than win the NFC East.
Yes, the Cowboys are still alive in the playoff chase heading into Monday’s game against the division-leading Washington Redskins (5-6) because of the abomination known as the NFC East.
But let’s be real.
As winnable as the division is, it’s just as likely — maybe more likely — that the Cowboys lose out and earn the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
The Cowboys have the right attitude and haven’t given up hope, exhibited by their amazing ability to lose so many close games.
Reality says, if you are playing as hard as you can and still continuing to lose, then maybe you weren’t as good as originally thought. It’s one thing to lose and blame it on a lack of effort. It’s another to try with all your might and still lose. That means you simply weren’t good enough.
And if you weren’t good enough without Romo against such dreadful teams as the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then why would you be good enough now without Romo?
The team wasn’t able to win with backups Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel. Certainly, neither played exceptionally well. But we noticed in the 33-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers, during which Romo’s season ended with a third-quarter injury, the Cowboys’ shortcomings go far beyond the quarterback position.
The Cowboys failed to properly address the running back position in the draft and free agency and the entire team has suffered because of it.
Cassel and Weeden didn’t win because they had little help around them, offensively and defensively.
Cassel will have no chance to get out of the anti-Romo funk in the final five games if his teammates continue to slump around him, which brings us to Bryant, Murray and the running game.
After last season’s 12-4 regular season finish and what appeared to be a breakthrough campaign, the Cowboys claimed they were going all out to make a push for the Super Bowl.
How they handled the Bryant negotiations and Murray’s dismissal tells another story. No matter how bad Murray has been in Philadelphia, he is truly missed in Dallas. He would have been better than the combination of Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden.
This is about the Cowboys and their push for a Super Bowl, not Murray and his future in Philadelphia. The Cowboys failed to re-sign Murray. They failed to properly address the position in the draft and free agency and the entire team has suffered because of it.
Regarding Bryant’s injuries and disappointing season, even Stevie Wonder saw this coming after the contract impasse that had him missing the entire off-season program and minicamp.
Practice matters for Bryant. It always has.
Greg Hardy is a party of one when it comes to the elite players on the Cowboys’ defensive line, maybe the entire defense.
The same is true for Hardy, who remains the Cowboys’ best defensive player, but he has not become the impact player they hoped would make the negative publicity worthwhile.
Although Hardy is in great shape and plays with tremendous spirit, he has been affected by missing 19 games over the past two seasons, 15 last year and first four this season.
As great as he is, he is not a one-man wrecking crew. In Carolina, he had a number of standout players around him on what is still a very good defense. They have not missed a beat without him.
Hardy is a party of one when it comes to the elite players on the Cowboys’ defensive line, if not the entire defense.
Linebackers Sean Lee and Rolando McClain have elite-level skill, but neither has ever put together a complete season in their careers because of injury or suspension. It remains the case this season.
Those are the facts of the Cowboys’ situation. They include faint signs of life in the NFC East division race, but also the more likely scenario of finishing with the worst record since going 1-15 in 1989.
See ya in Washington.
Cowboys at Redskins
7:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN, WFAA/8