Cowboys must seize the moment
Clock is ticking for current core players to take advantage of chance at a playoff run
IRVING, Texas -- At some point the band will break up. It's inevitable, but Tony Romo chooses not to worry about the end.
"I just think anytime you're in this position where you have a chance to make the playoffs, it's important to get it done," the Dallas Cowboys quarterback said. "It's also hard to get here. It's also fun to be in this position and have a chance. I think that's exciting for our football team. That's why guys are playing with a lot of passion and are energized to be here every day. That's a great feeling. We're just going to build off that and keep getting better."
Individually, players such as Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Bradie James and Terence Newman have accomplished a lot, but they have been able to experience the thrill of the Super Bowl chase just once, in 2009 with a wild-card victory.
Whatever accolades they have received, they would give them up for a prolonged run this season because they know there is no guarantee the entire group will be back as a whole in 2012.
"There's a core group of guys that have experienced a lot together, both success and adversity and look at it as, 'Man, we need to take advantage of this moment we're in,'" Witten said. "That's why it feels so good to go through it with guys who work so hard and why it hurts so much when you go through adversity and have tough times."
With wins to close the regular season against Philadelphia on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium and Jan. 1 at the New York Giants, the Cowboys would clinch their third NFC East title in five years. If they beat the Eagles and the Giants lose to the New York Jets, they would win the division on Saturday.
Lose one or both of the final two games and the Cowboys likely would miss the playoffs for the second straight year.
Time after time owner and general manager Jerry Jones has mentioned that the Cowboys have had the highest payroll in the NFL over the last four years.
If they don't make the playoffs this year, then why should Jones stand pat?
Rosters change every year, but this is the first time since 1975 that the Cowboys have had four players from the same class remain teammates for nine seasons. Randy White, Bob Breunig, Pat Donovan and Herb Scott, part of the Dirty Dozen, were teammates for nine years.
Newman, Witten, James and Romo are in their ninth seasons together and have played for three head coaches.
Witten signed an extension through 2017. Romo is signed through 2013. James is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Newman is signed through 2014, but he carries a hefty salary-cap charge going forward.
"We knew that coming into it," James said of the possibility of the core being broken up. "It's definitely evident now, and we just need to take a crack at it and go for it, regardless."
But it's not just the class of '03. Mat McBriar, who was signed to the practice squad at the end of the '03 season, is a free agent after this year. So are Anthony Spencer, Keith Brooking, Abram Elam, Montrae Holland, Tony Fiammetta, Jon Kitna and Laurent Robinson.
There could be assistant coach changes, too.
A message has been sent by coach Jason Garrett and the veterans to young and old alike.
"All the older guys, [as well as] the younger guys, realize this is an opportunity you can't let slip through your hands," second-year defensive lineman Sean Lissemore said. "It doesn't come all the time. It's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in this position to make the playoffs and make a run."
A sense of urgency permeates the locker room and practice field when a team gets this close to a playoff spot. Once you're in the tournament, you have a chance. Green Bay was the No. 6 seed last season and won Super Bowl XLV.
"It's talked about here week in and week out," Ware said. "You have things you can lose easily. It's about how the team comes together and plays. We talk about this is it all the time. Each year is a 'This is it year.' It's like, 'What you're going to do about it?'"
Starting Saturday against the Eagles, the Cowboys have two weeks, maybe more, to show what they're going to do about it.
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.