Out of their misery, Cowboys hope warmer days lie ahead
In certain cases of severe hypothermia, victims have been known to experience confusion so profound that they believe they are burning up instead of freezing. With their body temperatures plummeting, some afflicted mountain climbers rip off their jackets and gloves, unable to distinguish reality from hallucination.
So at the end of a frigid afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, where the thermometer read 15 degrees and the wind chill plunged below zero, it became fair to wonder about the well-being of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who stepped out of the cold and made an outlandish pronouncement.
“We are a damn good football team,” Bryant said.
This, to anyone of sound mind, was demonstrably and irrefutably false. The Cowboys won a football game 6-0 on Sunday, but they did not beat the disinterested Eagles as much as they finally decided to start caring just enough to spare everyone the torture of overtime.
It was an ugly, merciful ending to an ugly, merciless season, and now the Cowboys will have to spend an offseason dwelling on some unpleasant truths.
Assuming, of course, that they are clear-headed enough to recognize them.
All indications are Jason Garrett will return for another season as head coach, although he gave no such assurances about his assistants. There have been rumblings about both of his coordinators, and Garrett did not commit to anything when asked about staff changes after Sunday’s game.
“I have no considerations about that right now,” Garrett said. “We’ll certainly look at everything.”
One thing he presumably will examine is a passing game that fluctuated between mediocre and nonexistent for most of the past four months. That ineptitude — which the Cowboys often denied — was encapsulated midway through the first half Sunday, when on third down wide receiver Terrance Williams cut off his route, caught the ball, was tackled, and sprang to his feet signaling for a first down.
He was a full three yards short.
Maybe the cold had something to do with his confusion, too. Or perhaps Dallas just desperately needs an upgrade at that position, where Williams and Bryant did not give Dak Prescott nearly enough help this year.
Prescott, for his part, knows he needs to get much better, too. In 2016, a dominant offensive line and a consistent running game made him look better than he really was, and the league caught on to him in his second year.
He and the Cowboys are not a mere adjustment away from becoming the Patriots. At least he realizes that.
“There is not one aspect of my game that I could say, ‘If this improves, then we are going to be the most prolific passing offense there is,’” Prescott said. “It’s just all around. It’s every part of my game.”
To be fair, having Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott around for an entire season would help. So would a legitimate No. 1 receiver — a designation that no longer describes Bryant.
But it is not as though the Cowboys just had some bad luck. Maybe the offense would have been better if Elliott had not served a six-game suspension. The last two weeks, however, suggest otherwise.
“The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter,” Elliott said. “What’s the point of asking ‘what if?’ It already happened.”
That it did. And now that it is over, the Cowboys enter a familiar limbo, unsure whether their real identity is that of the team that won 13 games a year ago or the one that easily could have lost an eighth game this year if the Eagles had anything to play for.
Almost everyone on the team wants to believe it is the former. Tight end Jason Witten, who reiterated Sunday he will be back for a 16th season with the franchise, said he wouldn’t bother if he didn’t think it was a playoff team.
“I see a lot of good in this locker room,” Witten said. “I believe in the guys.”
There was a catch to this, though. For the previous three hours, Witten had been outside in that bone-rattling, brain-numbing cold, and because he said he considers himself “old school,” he had refused to wear shirtsleeves.
“The mind is a powerful thing,” Witten said.
When it is working properly, that is. The Cowboys’ mind tells them they are getting warmer.
We will find out soon enough whether that is reality or hallucination.