Commentary

Dallas Cowboys can't lose appetite

If the Cowboys play this poorly again, they'll have big problems on Thanksgiving

Updated: November 19, 2012, 4:37 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The 24-hour rule doesn't apply this week.

The Dallas Cowboys couldn't afford to spend much time celebrating their 23-20 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns. Not that scraping by a 2-8 team is cause for popping champagne bottles, but the Cowboys don't have time to savor this victory anyway with a date with the Washington Redskins looming about 88 hours after Dan Bailey's game-winner split the uprights.

"We're going to enjoy this one for another 10 minutes or so," coach Jason Garrett said, "and then get on to the Redskins."

Was 10 minutes really necessary? Sure, the Cowboys have a winning streak for the first time this season are sitting at .500 again and only a game behind the NFC East-leading New York Giants, but let's be brutally honest. If the Cowboys play this poorly again, they'll have big problems on Thanksgiving.

Let's worry about December, when the Cowboys' seasons tend to crumble, when it gets here. It's impossible to picture the Cowboys making a run to the playoffs if spotting the sorry Browns a 13-point lead is a sign of things to come, especially with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints coming to town the two weeks before Christmas.

But we'll just go one holiday at a time for now. The Cowboys have their work cut out for them against the Redskins on Turkey Day.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was already grumbling on Friday about what tough luck it was to get a short week to prepare for rookie sensation quarterback Robert Griffin III. Just wait until Ryan watches film of the Redskins' 31-6 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles, which featured RG3 completing 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns and running for another 84 yards.

Ryan might not get 10 minutes of sleep this week.

Nor should Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan after they review the film of their offensive line's performance against the Browns.

Quarterback Tony Romo probably needed some pharmaceutical assistance to get any rest Sunday night. He managed to escape significant injury despite a poor, patchwork offensive line allowing him to be sacked a career-high seven times, but Romo was so sore that just walking out of the locker room was a chore.

Suffice to say that Thursday feels awfully soon to be playing football again for Romo.

That's especially true if left tackle Tyron Smith can't play. Smith's status is shaky at best after suffered a high ankle sprain, although the Cowboys aren't certain about the severity yet.

Safety Danny McCray needed a pain-killing injection to return against the Browns after injuring his right hip, and he has already resigned to needing another one to be ready for the Redskins. There are a bunch of other bumps and bruises that the Cowboys will have to nurse over the next few days.

The fact that the Cowboys figured out a way to win -- or the Browns figured out a way to lose again, depending on your perspective -- means this is far from a worst-case scenario for the 5-5 Cowboys. But they really could have done without having to play an extra 7 minutes to put this one away.

"I'm concerned. I'm concerned," owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "We know we don't really have a practice between this. We have Tyron Smith, that's an issue for us. We know how Washington played today, so I'm concerned. We emptied a lot here today to win this ballgame. You know that.

"This is the negative part of playing Thanksgiving Day."

The Cowboys have to figure out how to mask the flaws of a sorry, injury-stricken offensive line and defend one of the most unique talents and offensive schemes in the NFL. They've got a few days to do it.

If they fail, they can pretty much forget about the playoffs. That's the party-pooping reality for the Cowboys after their survival against the bottom-feeding Browns.

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