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Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Updated: September 28, 11:01 AM ET
Dallas Cowboys have a new identity

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- This is a different Dallas Cowboys team than you're used to seeing.

There are no diva wide receivers being brought in to jump-start the offense.

Forget about high-priced free-agent offensive linemen or safeties leading the charge.

If we've learned anything from the first month of the 2011 season, it's that these Cowboys are more homegrown. And if a free agent is signed from another team, don't expect a fancy news conference announcing the deal.

Cowboys
Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware continue to help the Cowboys grind out tough victories. The last nine games under Jason Garrett have been decided by three points or less, and the Cowboys have a 5-4 record in those games.

The Jason Garrett Cowboys are a bunch of grinders.

The past nine games under Garrett have been decided by three points or fewer, the longest stretch of games with such a slim point differential in league history (the Cowboys are 5-4 in those games). The previous record was held by one of owner Jerry Jones' old buddies, Al Davis. The Raiders were involved in six straight games by three or fewer points from 2004 to 2005.

"I think we talked about it earlier in camp, a lot of games come down to these situations and we need to be ready to go," tight end Jason Witten said. "You saw all the situational football we worked on [in training camp] and to be in a situation where we can handle it, and I feel like our team has done a good job of it so far. We need to continue doing it."

Yes, you get a big play here and there, like QB Tony Romo's 77-yard strike to WR Jesse Holley in San Francisco and Romo's 30-yard pass to WR Dez Bryant in the Monday night win over the Redskins. But you also get the little plays.

You see LB Anthony Spencer smother Redskins TE Chris Cooley at the start of his route, preventing QB Rex Grossman from completing a swing pass in the flat.

You see LB DeMarcus Ware flush Grossman out of the pocket, leading to a Spencer strip-sack that forced a game-clinching turnover Monday.

If you're going to grind, you put your ego aside.

There was LB Bradie James on the kickoff unit Monday night so second-year player Sean Lee, who is having a wonderful start to the season, could catch his breath.

LB Keith Brooking put his ego aside, knowing he's still going to play, so Lee can start at inside linebacker.

DE Marcus Spears put his ego aside so his good friend Jason Hatcher could take over at defensive end.

Players are playing nicked up.

In San Francisco, there was WR Miles Austin, with one leg bothering him and the other carrying him along to the tune of nine catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns. CB Mike Jenkins is so banged up he's living in the ice tub. He's got a bruised shoulder, a sore knee and he's recovering from a stinger.

RB Felix Jones is battling through a dislocated shoulder.

Witten is playing with bruised ribs, but the vest he wore Monday night was bothering him, so he took it off and played without it.

Let's not forget Romo, who recovered from a small puncture of his lung and needed two pain injections to play in the home opener.

This might not have happened under former coach Wade Phillips.

While the players liked Phillips -- and won two NFC East division titles for him -- they didn't pour out their hearts and souls for him often.

It seems this group is doing it for Garrett.

There was Garrett, on the sidelines hugging Spencer, a man who questioned his own abilities, for making the big play on Monday.

Dan Bailey, the rookie kicker who was wide right on a 21-yarder at Candlestick Park, was smiling after making six field goals in the Cowboys' win versus the Redskins.

Bryant is perhaps the only diva on the team -- and he's under some control.

He went on a sideline rant during the MNF game, upset about something. He walked along the sidelines yelling, and nobody really said anything to him. But wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson was there to lend an ear to a young receiver who is still learning the game.

No fuss. No controversy.

Just football.

Whether this transfers into victories -- because that's what these people are playing for -- is uncertain. At least in September, the Cowboys can say they're in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East.

And that's a good thing going into Sunday's home game against the Detroit Lions.

"No team has been like this -- gritty," Ware said. "No matter what happens, let's go out there and just grind. If it's 16-15 with one second left, let's go out here and grind this one play because that builds that team unity."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.