Following their 19-14 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys ended a two-game losing streak and moved back to .500 as they enter a critical three-game stretch of their schedule — home against the New York Giants, road games against the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles - to keep their 2012 playoff hopes alive. Dallas will have to close out the final 10 games of the season without inside linebacker Sean Lee, arguably the league's best inside linebacker, who will have surgery next Tuesday to repair a torn plantar plate.
Super Bowl expectations are the norm in Big D under owner/general manager Jerry Jones, but Lee's injury, along with injuries to running back DeMarco Murray, appear to have Jones adjusting his own lofty expectations for this season.
"We're going to have to adjust for him," Jones said on Wednesday via Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas. "We're going to have to make injury adjustments. I've said all along I think this team has an opportunity to be a contender, but the one exception that I made was, sitting as we're sitting right now health-wise, injury can make a difference and does in the NFL."
Before you break out your violins, it's worth noting that while Lee is an enormous loss, the Cowboys have just four players on injured reserve: Lee, safety Barry Church, seventh round linebacker Caleb McSurdy and punter Chris Jones.
The 2010 Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV with fifteen (15) players on injured reserve, a list that included five Week 1 starters. The 2011 Giants lost cornerback after cornerback to season-ending injuries — rumor has it cornerbacks who were even thinking about playing for the Giants suddenly developed a limp — yet they still managed to stifle the New England Patriots and the NFL's No. 2-ranked passing offense to win Super Bowl XLVI.
It's no secret that the NFL is a league of attrition and the Cowboys should be able to overcome, or at least mitigate the loss of Lee. And if/when they do, they won't the first team to overcome adversity and they won't be the last team to do so, either. At least the Cowboys players aren't panicking and are adopting a "next man up" approach.
"When Sean's out there, he calls a lot of the plays and a lot of the checks that goes on," outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who missed two games earlier this season with a shoulder injury, told "Galloway & company" on 103.3FM (via ESPNDallas.com). "Just making sure that everyone is working just that much harder to cover what he's not going to be out there to do for us. Just the next man up .
"Everyone knows that this game is just about surviving the season, just making it through and then having injuries and people stepping up and being able to come in and fill in that role so it's just everyone filling in for Sean. Just having that attitude that when someone goes down you got to play just that much harder to get the 'W'."