Ugly Wins Are Invaluable to Cowboys

Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.

He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football “science”.

Welcome to “The Science Lab”, a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.

FRISCO, TX — Two things are true of what we all witnessed in Week 14 at AT&T Stadium: there is no excuse for the Dallas Cowboys requiring a 98-yard game-winning drive to put away the one-win Houston Texans and, equally, that nobody should apologize for a win in the NFL (or anywhere); but here’s what really gonna bake your noodle:

Is a narrow win against a very bad team more valuable than a blowout victory over one?

For while boat racing the Indianapolis Colts with 33 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of that contest was entertainment great enough to qualify for a pay-per-view event, there’s more to be learned about themselves in nearly losing to the Texans.

That’s because it essentially serves as a reminder that “anybody can lose” — as Trevon Diggs explained to me two weeks ago — without actually losing, making the 27-23 victory a perfect balance of relearning a valuable lesson without the accompanying expense.

I called the upset at the hands of Aaron Rodgers the “significant loss” that could power this team to the Promised Land in February, and I still believe that can be the case, especially given what we’ve seen them repair since (ahem, run defense), but the collapse in Green Bay occurred precisely 27 days from when the Cowboys marched onto the field against the Texans.

That makes me wonder if the chronological distance from their last heartbreak made it more challenging to remember just how painful it was and, as such, more susceptible to nearly falling victim to the same outcome.

After all, are you likely to recall what you experienced when that questionable taco you ate last month decided it wanted out? Seriously, do you truly recall the actual experience of it and not simply the event itself??

Doubtful because, as far as human psychology goes, we’re designed to remember we were caused pain (the event) but we’re also designed to eventually forget exactly how that pain felt (the experience) and that’s how we often find ourselves repeating history without not-so-subtle reminders placed in front of us a time or two.

That’s what happened on Sunday when the Texans arrived: the Cowboys found themselves retching from biting the proverbial taco (er um… cheese?) for a little more than 56 football minutes before they found the Pepto Bismol — recovering just in time to mount an 11-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that required only two minutes and 39 seconds to complete.

The goal of any NFL team is to get hot in December, but there are levels to that “heat”. If you’re gauging by simply winning games, the Cowboys are still one of the hottest in the league, regardless of what took place in their victory over the Texans. They’ve now won four straight and don’t have a single two-game losing streak on their 2022 resume.

How many other teams in the league can lay claim to both of those positives?

Only one other team can: the Philadelphia Eagles.

That’s the company the Cowboys are in right now, and of course that makes their looming clash on Christmas Eve that much more insatiably suspenseful, and while many are eviscerating Dallas for only defeating the Texans by four points, it’s the same Houston team that gave the aforementioned Eagles a scare by holding Philly’s lead against them to only our points (21-17) at the top of the fourth quarter in that matchup.

And there were the Colts, a team that led the Eagles until there was only one minute and 20 seconds left to play in that contest, when Jalen Hurts saw the blue sea part to allow a short-yardage run into the end zone for what became the game-winner (by one point).

Those same Colts were fired into the center of the sun when they faced the Cowboys in a 54-point supernova to begin the month of December.

It’s almost like elite teams have bad days, too — e.g., Bills losing to the Jets, the Chiefs losing to the (wait for it…) the Colts and the Eagles to the Commanders — but when those bad days arrive, can you escape with the rare combo of tough (sometimes embarrassing) lessons learned and the victory? In Week 14, the Cowboys did, and when other teams failed to do so at varying points in the season.

The mission now is to carry every one of those lessons, from Week 1 to now, forward into the postseason where teams who haven’t fought through nearly as much adversity will have a difficult time trying to figure out how to deal with it when it inevitably arrives. I mean, at this point, there’s not much the Cowboys haven’t seen in 2022 that has attempted to derail their season.

And with more having arrived, both Johnathan Hankins and Terence Steele being placed on injured reserve, they’re no stranger to what it takes to win games when the chips are down.

So, yes, ugly wins are always more valuable in the NFL than pretty ones, because they show you what you’re capable of when everything goes wrong.

Say what you will about this version of the Cowboys, but you know exactly who and what they are in 2022, and it’s a word that has the explosive potential of helping them over the hump:

“It’s all a part of the ride,” Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “It’s all a part of the journey.”

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