Cowboys' focus stays on task at hand
Dallas follows script of Jason Garrett's message with playoff destiny in its hands
IRVING, Texas -- The scenarios seem endless with two games to play.
The easiest answer is to win the final two games against the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins to claim the NFC East title and bring the second playoff game to Cowboys Stadium since its opening.
A 9-7 record could still qualify for the Cowboys for the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but there are so many different machinations that not even a Princeton grad would want to take the time to examine all of them.
Just know that the Cowboys would need help (i.e., losses) from the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and perhaps New York Giants to make it as a wild-card team. And it would mean only a No. 6 seed because of their September loss at Seattle.
It is possible the tiebreakers could come down to common foes, strength of victory and/or strength of schedule based on beating the Saints or Redskins.
And that's before the ridiculousness of adding up points scored and allowed, net touchdowns or even a coin flip.
There is not enough time in the day to figure out all of the machinations -- the last tiebreaker among playoff scenarios is a coin flip -- which is why it is best to go with Al Davis' credo: Just win, baby.
The Cowboys might be tied for first place in the NFC East with two games to go, but Garrett is thinking of New Orleans and only New Orleans.
"Our mindset around here is that we always control our own destiny," Garrett said. "When you do your best work in life is when you focus at the task at hand and you're not distracted by the things around you.
Coach Jason Garrett talks about the Cowboys' overtime win against the Steelers.
With an 8-6 record, the Cowboys are contenders. Reread that sentence and promise you will not do a search on postings here on ESPNDallas.com about this team's playoff chances after the Thanksgiving Day loss to Washington, or even the Nov. 4 defeat at Atlanta.
While playoff talk might be a surprise to some (hand raised), it isn't to Anthony Spencer.
"I believed we were contenders two weeks ago," Spencer said after Sunday's 27-24 overtime victory against Pittsburgh.
There has to be some magical change, right? Maybe Garrett has called better plays? Not really, but there are some wrinkles on the offense that have led to more success. Maybe defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has invented some new defense? Definitely no, especially with so many starters out because of injury.
"We haven't really changed anything of what we've been doing all season," Spencer said. "We've been working the same way, staying consistent and doing the things we know to win games. It's just paying off."
Novel concept, huh?
The Cowboys are simply playing better now than they did earlier in the season.
Tony Romo is not turning the ball over and is making the big plays at the big moments. DeMarco Murray is not on the sideline and is breaking tackles. Dez Bryant is not running poor routes and is catching touchdown passes.
That all of this is coming together at this time of the season to this team with their recent history of late-season fades seems, well, un-Cowboy-like.
In 2008, the Cowboys lost three of their last four games, including a playoff-or-bust drubbing at Philadelphia to finish 9-7. Last year, they lost four of their last five games, including a de facto NFC East championship game at the Giants, to finish 8-8.
"We've had the ability to grab it so many times and been on the other side where you are so close and you don't do it," Jason Witten said.
When Witten stepped off the team plane in California in July, he provided the team's message for the season when he said, "It can't be the same old story."
With two games left, the Cowboys can write a new story.
Better to win than to worry about any playoff tiebreakers.