ARLINGTON, Texas — If it is not yet Panic City in Dallas, and one could argue it already is in some places outside the walls of the Cowboys’ locker room, a Giants win on Sunday night might just set off all of the alarms.
This is not a town that practices patience on Sundays — or the days and hours between them spent analyzing — in the fall.
But the fact is the Cowboys have played .500 football since taking the city on an unexpected thrill ride in the form of an 11-game winning streak in 2016. And when the frustrations continued last Sunday in a 16-8 loss to the Panthers, stalled by an offense that there were already questions about entering the season, the criticism only got louder.
“We’re all a work in progress,” coach Jason Garrett said this week. “We’re all striving to improve every day. We do have some new players on our team, so everyone playing well together will always be a big point of emphasis for us. Then finding what our players do best and trying to give them those opportunities is critical for the coaching staff. It all started [Tuesday] with our preparation for the Giants, and it’ll continue all week long. Hopefully it’ll lead to a good performance on Sunday night.”
The Cowboys haven’t started 0-2 since 2010, the last year Wade Phillips was the head coach. He was fired after eight games (they were 1-7) and replaced by Garrett, who had been the team’s offensive coordinator, and he righted the ship to end the season 6-10.
Since Garrett got the interim tag removed, the Cowboys are 62-51 and have played in three playoff games. In July, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said it was not “playoffs or bust” this year for Garrett, but the issue may not be going away if the wins don’t start coming fast.
“Hopefully we have the kind of urgency that allows you to win every week, in everything that we do as coaches, as players in the approach we take in our meetings, in our walkthroughs and practice every day,” Garrett said. “That’s certainly something that’s very important for us that we try to instill in our team, that sense of urgency.”
Meanwhile, all of the good will that Dak Prescott had built up from his rookie year seems to be running out of air, raising questions about whether he really is the franchise quarterback many had believed he would be. He stepped onto the field in 2016 to fill in for the injured Tony Romo, and after a season-opening loss to the Giants, reeled off 11 straight wins to steal the job from Romo and send him into retirement.
But most of the talk around town this week was about how Prescott’s accuracy was lacking last Sunday, how he wasn’t protected well enough by his line and how the play-calling by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had grown stale.
And yet, as all the noise swirled outside the Cowboys’ fortress known as The Star, players and coaches remained calm inside after what they boiled down to just one game.
“You look at a lot of the college guys and one lost game, a lot of times your season changes dramatically,” veteran linebacker Sean Lee said. “In the NFL, you’re going to lose football games. How you respond can change your season. We know it’s hard to win every game. You’re going to play tough teams. But how do you bounce back? We know we have a good football team with great guys, so let’s go to work and be the team we think we can be.”
There is already a do-or-die feeling among some fans entering this game. The first loss was just one loss, but it would be harder to downplay another one Sunday since it would come to the 0-1 Giants, a bitter NFC East rival, and sink the Cowboys to 0-2.
“You can’t really think about records,” slot receiver Cole Beasley said. “It’s really just a one-game-at-a-time approach. Every week brings its challenges and different personnel you’re going against.”
History has not treated teams that start the season 0-2 very well in the past, with regards to making the postseason, and a diehard fanbase would likely be even more judgmental.
But the Cowboys believe there is time left to change the narrative. They are a young team, filled with players who want to prove themselves, and what better chance than at home in prime time on Sunday night?
“We’re spoiled with AT&T Stadium,” center Joe Looney said. “Tell Jerry to set that thing to 72 [degrees] and let’s roll.”