ARON ON COWBOYS: Midseason review
IRVING, Texas -- A weird win, an unimpressive win and a vengeful win.
A strong win, a solid win and an ugly win.
Two losses, each with curious postscripts.
Yep, that makes 6-2. Just like everyone expected from the Dallas Cowboys halfway through the first season under Bill Parcells, right?
Well, truth is, most folks figured six wins would be the season total. Optimists saw seven and anyone who said eight or more was considered an honorary member of the Jones family.
How the second half will turn out is anyone's guess. And, since the guesses have been pretty inaccurate thus far, it's not worth trying, especially with the next eight games shaping up to be more difficult than the first eight.
So, instead of peering ahead, let's use some crystal-clear hindsight and reflect on what's happened so far.
^BIGGEST SURPRISE:@ Quincy Carter.
When Chad Hutchinson sat out an early preseason game and Carter got extended action, it was read into as Carter's last chance to prove he should remain in training camp.
Ha! Carter now has the full respect and confidence of teammates and coaches, if not fans, too. He's been a major figure in the victories and only part of the problem in the losses.
"When we first started and he made a mistake, it wasn't surprising. When he makes one now, I'm surprised," Parcells said.
^BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:@ Larry Allen.
As much money as he makes, as many Pro Bowls as he's been to, Allen should've been the least of Parcells' concerns.
Instead, Parcells has spoken volumes by saying little about Allen and his on-again, off-again injuries. Not listing him on the injury report before the Washington game, after Allen lingered on the sideline the previous Sunday, was an indication the coach thinks Allen is more lazy than lame.
"It hasn't gone 100 percent the way I hoped it would," Parcells said. "There's been times he's struggled for whatever reason, but, that being said, I'm not into going much further than that."
He doesn't have to.
Think about it: If Smith, a rookie who was making his NFL debut, picks up that ball inside the 10, with time running out and no timeouts left, the Cowboys probably don't drive for the tying field goal, don't go to overtime and don't pull out the win that turns into the launching pad for all the success that has followed.
Remember, Dallas blew a big lead in that fourth quarter to get behind; because the Cowboys won, that tends to be overlooked. If they'd lost, though, then had a bye week to stew over it, there would've been thoughts of, "Here we go again." Instead, a can-do mindset was instilled.
Ol' Deuce-Deuce already was having a horrible homecoming when his left shoulder blade met Williams, cracking under the pressure. He hasn't played since.
Williams, meanwhile, has been dishing out licks like that every Sunday.
^MEMORABLE MOMENT:@ Randal Williams returning game-opening onside kickoff for a touchdown against Philadelphia.
According to the slow-fingered scoreboard operator, Williams' 37-yard score took three seconds -- about as long as you needed to read the previous paragraph. While Williams probably took closer to five or six seconds, it still goes down as the fastest into a game a touchdown was scored.
^MOST ILLUSTRATIVE QUARTER:@ Third, vs. Detroit.
Dallas held the ball for all but three plays. Although the Cowboys scored just one touchdown, the 13:59 time of possession was better than points, especially since they were already so far ahead.
The key is, Dallas ran effectively, converted on third downs and let the defense rest while the offense wore down the opposing defense. It's exactly what Parcells preaches.
^CRAZIEST QUARTER:@ First, vs. Washington.
Three turnovers in six plays, one of them a fumble at the end of an 11-yard run, the other more like a lateral to a safety after the receiver bobbled a catch.
The Redskins wasted the first two and only got six points out of the third because Dallas blocked the extra point.
The Cowboys also had two touchdowns negated by penalties.
^HEAD-SCRATCHERS:@ Both losses.
Not to say the Cowboys should be undefeated, but the circumstances around both losses seem a bit strange now.
The Falcons haven't beaten anyone since handling Dallas 27-13 in the opener. Quarterback Doug Johnson lost the next six games, then his starting job. Coach Dan Reeves is taking so much heat that even Deion Sanders says he could run Atlanta better.
As for the loss to Tampa Bay, falling on the road to the reigning Super Bowl champs is understandable. And, considering the way the Cowboys' offense played in Tampa Bay, they might not have beaten some of the old, neon-orange Bucs teams. But that remains Tampa Bay's only home win. New Orleans visited the Pirate Ship this past Sunday, held the Bucs scoreless for three quarters, then won in the closing seconds.
^BACKBONE AWARD:@ The defense has certainly led Dallas' surge. Just look at the numbers, which eight games into the season can no longer be considered a fluke:
The Cowboys have allowed only three rushing touchdowns; no one has given up less. Only two teams are allowing fewer than the 16.2 points per game Dallas is giving up.
As for yards, nobody compares.
The Cowboys allow 240.8 yards per game, 33.7 better than anyone else. They're also tops in fewest yards per play (4.2) and the fewest first downs (13.9).
And, now, on to the second half.
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