Being confident you’ll win is one thing. Expecting to win is a level up from there. This stratum presently occupied by your Dallas Cowboys? This is about feeling that wins are almost inevitable.
“We always feel like we have a chance to win the game,’’ said QB Tony Romo after the Cowboys’ nail-nibbling 28-27 victory Sunday at Detroit. “We are good enough to win the Super Bowl.’’
That’s lofty stuff. Not that it’s wrong, though. What was wrong was some of what we anticipated I’d see in this game pitting two clubs heading in absolutely opposite directions.
We expected pocket pressure on QB Jon Kitna, harsh in his analysis of the Dallas defense. Demarcus Ware hit him viciously (and illegally) early. Greg Ellis recorded a strip-and-sack on the final play of the game. But otherwise, that storyline did not unfold.
I (and, I think, Cowboys coaches) expected the pass-happy Lions to sling it all over Ford Field. Instead, Detroit downshifted into a balanced attack – 32 rush attempts, 36 pass attempts – and ran for three TDs.
I expected Terrell Owens to get in his licks against a Lions defense that was missing a handful of key bodies. Instead, Detroit’s secondary focused on taking away the deep ball, leaving Romo having to be satisfied with check-downs and dumpoffs.
And most of all, I expected a lopsided Dallas win. The Cowboys came in as winners of six straight. The Lions came in as losers of four straight. I mean, do the math! Las Vegas knows!
“We won,’’ Owens said. “Nothing else matters.’’
Actually, winning matters – but winning in this fashion matters, too. What we were left with: A couple of minutes left on the clock. Dallas down by six. No timeouts. Possession beginning 83 yards away from the necessary game-winning touchdown.
The situation apparently didn’t look dire to Romo, who said, “We’re going to find a way to have a chance to win the game.’’
In that final drive. …
At 1:43, Jason Witten catches a big third-down catch for 13 yards to the Dallas 36. At 1:17, Detroit’s pass rush strips Romo. The ball is loose, the Lions’ Paris Lenon stoops over to corral it, but he somehow boots it free again, and lineman Kyle Kozier retains possession for Dallas by snuggling with the thing. (The weird sequence is evidence of how important it is to be lucky AND good, as is a huge break 10 minutes earlier, when reliable Lions kicker Jason Hanson barely missed a 35-yard FG try. Lucky. And good.) With 57 seconds left, Marion Barber’s catch in the flat goes for the first down and he gets out of bounds across midfield. With 28 seconds left, Sam Hurd picks up 16 yards to the 20 and also gets out of bounds. And in the end, Romo roomie Witten is allowed the opportunity for retribution.
See, the Cowboys had pretty much already manufactured its game-winning drive on the previous possession. Only problem was, Witten’s catch to the 1-yard line with 6:00 remaining also included Witten’s fumble of the ball at the 1-yard line.
“I was thinking I lost the game for us,’’ Witten said.
So when the tight end caught the 16-yard touchdown pass to instead win the game, he capped a career-best day (138 yards on a franchise-record 15 receptions, again largely because of Detroit’s willingness to allow the underneath stuff), he got credit for a game-winning score, and shed guilt like it was a lost Lion linebacker.
At 12-1, the Cowboys have now wrapped up the division title for the first time since 1998. They’ve done it with enough heart, talent and focus (and Sunday, a bit of drama) to be reminiscent of the very best in the game. They’ve earned the right to even talk of winning a Super Bowl.