It wasn't a catch.
It was a brutal loss considering the Cowboys were on the verge of beating the Packers in Lambeau with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line. Don't forget, too, that the Cowboys would've had to travel to Seattle for that game, a place where they won back in Week 6. Had the Cowboys won there, they would've gone on to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, the location of their last Super Bowl championship. It was the perfect setup!
But again, it wasn't a catch.
That playoff loss was a tough one for fans of the franchise formerly known as "America's Team," but unlike in years past, Dallas fans should actually be optimistic heading into the offseason. You read that correctly. Last year wasn't a fluke for you, but rather a sign of things to come.
The Great Wall of Dallas Part II
The Cowboys offense was something to see last year. They finished fifth in the league in points per game (29.2) and Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray all enjoyed career years. Romo threw 34 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while posting a career-best passer rating of 113.2 (first in the league). Bryant had a franchise record 16 touchdown receptions and Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards (which also broke Emmitt Smith's single-season franchise record).
None of this would've been possible, though, without the stellar play of their offensive line. With Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin as offensive stalwarts, the Cowboys' O-line conjured up memories of The Great Wall of Dallas and names like Mark Stepnoski, Erik Williams and Nate Newton.
Martin, in particular, was a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys and their fanbase. Sitting in the No. 16 spot in the 2014 NFL Draft, many people were hoping (or even praying) for the Cowboys to draft former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. The blogosphere and sports world would've been turned on its head! But the Cowboys stayed the course, drafting need over star power. Martin already looks like a 10-year veteran, and with the core of the O-line intact moving forward, the Cowboys can easily overcome the loss Murray should he leave in free agency. With that kind of blocking upfront, you could plug Gary Busey in as your running back and watch him put up 1,000-plus yards. Also, let's make this happen.
Stability under the headset
Jerry Jones was right. That's a fun sentence to say, isn't it?
The owner, president, general manager and galactic overlord of "Jerry's World" has often been ridiculed and questioned for his decision-making over the years, but his willingness to remain patient and stick with Jason Garrett has paid off in a big way. What's funny is that no one would've blamed Jones had he made a coaching move prior to last season. After all, Garrett was coming off his third-straight 8-8 season. That's the textbook definition of coaching mediocrity (unless of course you are the Cleveland Browns, in which case three-straight 8-8 seasons warrants a bronze statue built outside the stadium in your honor).
But Garrett and his team had a breakthrough year, surpassing all odds and going 12-4 and securing the NFC East crown. Garrett was rewarded after the season with a new five-year deal, and he's earned it. He gets through to his players and has assembled an offense that's ranked in the top five the last two seasons. Plus, his calm, even-keeled demeanor is the perfect complement to the media circus and spotlight that comes with being the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Rex Ryan could learn a thing or two.
The Rod Father
Going into 2014, many people had the Cowboys finishing near the bottom of the league, mainly because their defense was historically bad the previous year. In 2013, Big D finished last in the league in total defense, giving up over 415 yards per game. With Monte Kiffin out and Rod Marinelli (who once went 0-16 as head coach of the Detroit Lions) promoted to defensive coordinator, fans were expecting much of the same, especially with DeMarcus Ware gone and Sean Lee out with an injury.
But Marinelli transformed this defense, putting his stamp on the team and making them a top-20 squad, including 8th in rushing. He even resurrected the career of Rolando McClain! Who does that?! Players love him, and more importantly, they love playing for him. Marinelli signed a three-year extension in January to stay with the Cowboys, so is committed for the long term. If he had that much success in year one, imagine what he'll be able to do next season and beyond.
I know the Divisional Round loss hurt, Dallas fans, but cheer up. This team is built for the future. With a favorable strength of schedule and a formidable offensive line, there's no telling how far the Cowboys can go in 2015. In the meantime, let's work on that Gary Busey thing, yeah?