You already know how the story goes, but I’m going to write it anyway, with a soul-searching question included.
You already know how the Dallas Cowboys get to the Super Bowl and the methods by which they will turn a great campaign into something serious and tangible and worthy.
You know what it looks like, this dream run that they’re teasing, because, mostly, it doesn’t feel like dreams or miracles are what’s needed to make it happen.
You can see it unfolding. You can almost hear Jerry Jones infiltrating media night and spitting hype and history, bluster and boldness. Insisting this is their time, because of course it is.
You know who will have delivered for Mike McCarthy’s squad to find itself in Arizona during February’s second week; the biggest names, the most trusted performers.
The script is there. It is written. Now, here’s the zinger.
For the script states that Dak Prescott will save three of the biggest performances of his life for a likely trio of road games through the NFC portion of the postseason bracket. Do you buy what’s being sold by the optimists — that Prescott will not only meet the demands that will be imposed upon him in elimination football, but exceed them, without faltering?
The story goes that Micah Parsons and his defensive menaces will menace some more when it matters, with picks and strips and sacks and all the game-changing good stuff needed to tilt postseason battles toward a certain side of the ledger.
Do you believe in that as a feasible outcome, which would require displays closer to what the Dallas D managed nearer to the beginning of the campaign rather than over the past month or so, which has been notably less consistent?
The narrative dictates that McCarthy will have the nous and nuggets of information, combined with the requisite nerve, to find an antidote for (probably) Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, be too shrewd (if the chalk otherwise holds) for Nick Sirianni and the Philadelphia Eagles, and still have something left for whoever beckons in the NFC Championship.
Do you believe in that? That this will be a postseason where McCarthy’s wits are as a sharp as when he took the Green Bay Packers to the title 11 seasons ago, a time when the excellence of his tactical blueprint was largely overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers‘ quarterbacking dominance?
The plotline flows through Tony Pollard continuing to run as if there is a hurricane propelling his feet. It assumes Ezekiel Elliott will continue to channel his early-career effervescence, providing an unstoppable double-headed rushing option.
Do you believe that? And maybe believe the sort of painful wisdom Elliott imparted to reporters recently when he said this? “You can make the playoffs and, we’ve seen it, lose in the first round. Does not taste good. Don’t feel good. It’s almost worse than not even going.”
And do you believe that this will be the most satisfying year of Jones’ 33-year reign, one where the moves he made panned out big time, like Parsons and CeeDee Lamb (drafted in 2020 and 2021) and good ol’ Cooper Rush, the 24-carat backup QB Jones paid to stick around, and who held the fort admirably during the stint when Prescott was sidelined with an early season hand injury?
Or is there an unshakable thought that it will be more recrimination, another offseason churning on what might have been, an additional dose of disappointment to mix with all the others, this one somehow worse because it came from a version of the Cowboys that looked every bit like it had true potential.
“I feel confident in the group that we have, what we’re able to do, what we’ve been able to do, what we’re going to do moving forward,” Prescott said this week. “Making sure we’re detailed as hell in everything and getting two more good games is going to be great for us as we move forward.”
On Thursday night, Prescott and his colleagues begin Week 17 by taking on a Tennessee Titans group that seems certain to be severely depleted. The reason for that is simple, and obvious. Tennessee’s playoff hopes rest squarely on its final weekend clash with the Jacksonville Jaguars, no matter what goes down here, so strategic rest makes the most sense.
It is a strange time for those who follow the Cowboys. No fan would complain about seeing Prescott sling it for 300 yards against the undermanned Titans, in what would be a confidence booster for him and for the fingernail-biting fan base who want so badly for the hope to be justified.
But even if it happens that way, it will all just form part of the script. And a script is just a story, in this case a possible outcome, no more, no less.
Everything Dallas has done up to now and until the postseason shapes up as an opportunity to sample feelings of joy that only become real if things play out as they supposed to. And other, more familiar, gloomier thoughts, ready to rise up if they don’t.
It all depends on the script, and whether it can be trusted.
So, do you believe it?