Jerry Jones was standing in a losing Dallas Cowboys locker room on Sunday (again), talking to reporters about urgency (again) and ticking clocks (again). Meanwhile, he was maintaining his against-all-odds bit of optimism, a trait that must develop when you've spent a life making fortunes and winning championships.
Still, the Cowboys – these Cowboys – keep running the same race. Week after week. Season after season.
After a crushing, mostly self-inflicted, boo-rich home loss to the New York Giants, they are 3-4. They could easily be 5-2 and riding a three-game win streak. That doesn't exactly speak to a corner about to be turned as much as the inherent reality of the team. They beat themselves … often. And perhaps only Jones' full faith in the future isn't being tested.
"I'm very disappointed right now," Jones told reporters. "Very disappointed. I don't know where you categorize that as far as faith. I'm not sure they're in the same sentence or the same meaning. I'm very disappointed.
"Our clock's running," he continued. "It is running and we're starting to get very urgent in having to be very urgent, not that we shouldn't be."
Very urgent in having to be very urgent. It's a quick slope from there to desperate and then defeated and then what?
Up next is a trip Sunday to 7-0 Atlanta, the team that Jones probably thought he was building in Dallas all this time.
There's Matt Ryan, the quarterback who is making [or has made] the step to elite status in the NFL the way it was planned for Tony Romo. There's Julio Jones, the young gifted receiver consistently making big plays with far fewer backbreaking mistakes than Dez Bryant. There's a coach in Mike Smith who's developed into a consistent winner, which was expected of Jason Garrett.
Mainly there is an undefeated team that, because of its offensive power, game-breaking defense and overall dominance, hasn't just developed into a Super Bowl contender but a flashy favorite for fans from coast to coast.
The Cowboys-Falcons analogy isn't perfect, of course. The comparisons fray under deeper reflection, this Atlanta crew under Smith famously hasn't won a playoff game and hot starts in the NFL can be quickly forgotten.
Still, the Falcons are making a move on erasing what they've been; there's development, momentum and confidence. Both teams are built to contend for championships and right now only one of them is seizing the opportunity their potential provides.
"Well, my window is getting shorter," Jones said. "Time goes by. I do feel real pressure because we do have players not only in Tony Romo but Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware, to leave out several that are [also] in the prime of their career. And we need to strike and strike soon with those guys.
"Jason Garrett feels exactly the same way about it and understands how urgent it is," he continued. "Candidly, you're looking through rose-colored glasses if we all don't realize that now is the time to compete on the field."
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Those quotes came via the NFL Network last spring, before a potential statement-making opening night win over the Giants turned into this current mess. Romo disagreed with the window closing at the time and maybe that's one of the issues. The 32-year-old threw four interceptions Sunday, including three early, one of which was a pick-six. That helped dig a 23-0 hole that Dallas eventually climbed out of (24-23) only to lose in the end (29-24) anyway.
Romo has thrown a ridiculous 13 picks on the season and has lost two fumbles. There's virtually no way to win consistently with that stat line.
Cowboys fans booed the quarterback relentlessly in the second quarter. "I would have booed us, too," Romo said. Garrett met the same fate when he appeared on Cowboys Stadium's massive video screen, many fans likely still upset by poor late-game time management in a loss to Baltimore a couple weeks back.
And then there was the topper, catcalls to Jones during no less than a breast cancer awareness public service announcement.
''I've been to 'boo school,' so to speak,'' Jones said. ''Seriously. I'm sure the fans had the same feeling I did. I was frustrated, mad and knew that we had dug ourselves a hole that was going to take super effort to get out of.''
Sunday is Week 9, the halfway point, and if the NFL has taught any lessons of late it's that almost no season is officially over.
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For Dallas though it's another in a line of big games. This one is not about the division race since the 6-2 Giants are pulling away with that. It's not over wild-card positioning since Atlanta isn't going to need it. It may not even be about the playoffs at all, although 4-4 sure is better than 3-5.
Mostly Sunday is about the Cowboys. These in their prime Cowboys showing the country, their own fans and their own loyal owner that they can still be the exciting, championship-caliber team of the present [and future] in the NFC. It's about trying to be the Atlanta Falcons, who seem to have stolen their script.
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