I was watching ESPN's "First Take" for the show's opening minutes this morning, and they were arguing what I thought was a pretty pointless debate: Whether the Cowboys would have won last night if Tony Romo would have stayed healthy.
We saw everything we needed to know about this Cowboys team in their loss to the Giants, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Romo.
Here's the difference between the 1-5 Cowboys and the 5-2 Giants: confidence. Real, honest-to-goodness belief that any obstacle can be overcome. Not the fake bravado we have come to associate with the star-laden but heartless Cowboys.
Case in point: When Romo got hurt, the Cowboys looked like they saw a ghost. They were completely spooked. It was a gut shot they couldn't take. The only guy who showed any kind of life out there was Dez Bryant — and maybe David Buehler — who played as if the game wasn't over. Gee, what a novel idea.
The Giants, meanwhile, didn't suffer nearly as big a blow as the Romo injury, but they were down 20-7 in Dallas. There was a time, remember, when that lead was unassailable. But had I not known the score and I looked at their body language, I would have thought they were up two scores. They acted like they were in complete control, never changing their course.
For all of Tom Coughlin's critics, give him this: The man knows football, and he knows how to build a tough team. Is he buddy-buddy with all the players? No, but really, who cares? They play hard for him and his staff, bottom line.
And you know the hilarious irony? The Cowboys really could use a Coughlin type to coach them. I realize throwing Wade Phillips under the bus is a tired act at this point. And the weird twist is that Romo going down probably saved his job — for the rest of this season, that is. When the Cowboys go 5-11 or whatever, then Phillips will be out a job.
It will frustrate fans to hear this, but the Cowboys need — at the sacrifice of some explosiveness on offense — a smart, measured, even-keeled disciplinarian as their coach. John Fox. Ron Rivera. Someone who can let these guys know that they are not that good and need to work harder and have a little more humility to get better.
Never mind Romo — the Cowboys should have won last night's game without him. Really. Even though they were down only two scores with the ball last night, they sleepwalked through the final minutes. Again, besides Bryant, the kid who perhaps doesn't know better, was the only one who showed any life.
Down two scores with the ball in Giants territory, they moved at about 50-percent speed between plays, slow to get up to the line. Did they want to win? It sure didn't look that way. I'd venture to guess, without looking at the game tape a second time, that they wasted 18-20 seconds on that final scoring drive. Again, some of these things appear meaningless now, after the fact. But what if Buehler somehow can come down on his very good onside attempt? Bet they wished they had a little passion then.
It has to be said that Romo going down did cost the Cowboys any chance of winning this season. But I would argue that last night — and most of the previous five games — were all the proof we needed for this team. If Romo was healthy and they made the playoffs, somehow, magically, they still were not going to do any real damage.
They were too worried about the Jerry Jones talk of playing in their own building for the Super Bowl. They were too caught up in what they did last season in, what, a four-game span, really? Before the New Orleans game in 2009, they were little different than the Cowboys are now: a talented but highly mercurial team with real confidence issues. Their fall this season — silly me, picking them to the Super Bowl — should not have surprised us.