In the NFL, "winning ugly" is a common experience. Fans hate it but coaches love it. In the case of the Dallas Cowboys, "winning ugly" sums up Monday night.
Before we write off Tony Romo, again, as just another mistake-prone quarterback who looks brilliant one play and silly the next, consider that he essentially beat the Washington Redskins single-handedly behind a wretched offensive line, depleted receiving core and bruised running back. Oh yeah, he has a broken rib and a punctured lung.
In our fantasy-football-obsessed world, we tend to focus on statistics as the barometer of a player's performance, especially a quarterback's. If you do that for Romo, then he was rather ordinary Monday, throwing for 255 yards, one interception and zero touchdowns.
But for the second week in a row, the 31-year-old willed Dallas to victory, while wearing a motion-limiting vest. It wasn’t sexy to watch, but a gutsy performance was exactly what his team -- no, what his franchise -- needed. Let's not forget that the Cowboys organization with just one playoff win in the last 15 years. For all the glitz and glamour of "Big D," for all the hype around the billion-dollar stadium, "America's Team" has offered one colossal disappointment after another since the mid 1990s.
The game Monday night, when seemingly everything was going against Dallas, was precisely the type of game it would have lost in the past. Former head coach Wade Phillips made it a habit to lose these games, as did his predecessors Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and even Bill Parcells.
The ability to win ugly is what makes the Cowboys especially scary this season. While Washington surely isn't Pittsburgh or Green Bay, it is a markedly improved team capable of making a run at the NFC East. Philadelphia is 1-2 and quarterback Michael Vick is already complaining, while the New York Giants -- fresh off a monster win over the Eagles -- have a patchwork secondary and injury-ridden receiving core themselves.
Dallas, meanwhile, will get healthy. Receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin give Romo one of the most devastating 1-2 punches in the league, with Bryant the playmaking burner on the perimeter and Austin the possession genius. Running back Felix Jones clearly demonstrated he still has the dramatic burst of speed that made Marion Barber expendable this off-season.
The big question mark is the offensive line, which looked downright awful against the Skins. Center Phil Costa had three fumbles and a barrage of bad snaps, while Doug Free looked completely overwhelmed at left tackle. But this is a young line, and adjustments will be made. If they can just be average, Romo -- with one of the quickest releases in the league -- will make do.
An 18-16 win on "Monday Night Football" wasn't pretty and not what owner Jerry Jones pays for, but it was a benchmark. For the second consecutive week, Dallas played poorly and won.
Just as I wrote before the season started, watch out for them 'Boys.
Ed. Note: Originally, this text ran as: Dallas being "one colossal disappointment after another since the early 1990s." The correct version is mid 1990s.
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