And why not? They had 13 Pro Bowlers back from last season's 13-3 team. Owner Jerry Jones tried to ensure a run by giving offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a $3 million annual salary to shun a head coaching offer in Baltimore. He signed Terence Newman, Terrell Owens, Flozell Adams, Marion Barber and Ken Hamlin to contract extensions and traded for suspended cornerback Adam Jones to shore up the secondary.
Now, they are 5-4 and in last place in the NFC East. They would be sitting at home if the playoffs started today. The Cowboys opened the season 3-0 only to lose four of the last six games and now coach Wade Phillips is on the hot seat.
Adam Jones is suspended again. Quarterback Tony Romo has missed three games with a broken pinky. Owens is off to his worst start since 1999. And a trade for receiver Roy Williams has been neutralized by poor play in the absence of Romo at quarterback.
Simply put, the team that spent the preseason on HBO's Hard Knocks television show spent the first half of the season dealing with hard times while becoming the biggest disappointment in the league.
GOOD NEWS: The Cowboys get quarterback Tony Romo and a host of other injured players, including guard Kyle Kosier, running back Felix Jones and cornerback Terence Newman back for the second half of the season. Those are all legitimate reasons for the team to be optimistic it can make a run to the playoffs, even though it has little margin for error.
Romo is clearly the key. The Cowboys are simply not the same team without him at quarterback. He makes the offensive line better with his mobility. His ability to throw the ball downfield makes Terrell Owens and Roy Williams threats again at receiver. And his presence as a passer should open things up again in the running game for running back Marion Barber. Jones gives the Cowboys just another big-play threat on offense and on special teams. He was en route to a rookie of the year-type season before missing three games with a torn hamstring.
Kosier will help settle down a struggling offensive line, especially left tackle Flozell Adams who has played poorly in his absence. A healthy Newman gives the Cowboys a playmaker and Pro Bowler in a secondary that has been gashed for big plays in the passing games all season.
THE BAD NEWS: Even though the Cowboys get all of their players back, they will be hard pressed to make a playoff run. They have little margin for error and they have a killer second-half schedule with road games at Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and home games against the Giants and Ravens to go along with soft ones against Seattle and San Francisco.
The Cowboys need to go at least 5-2 over the final seven to get to 10-6 and then that might not be enough considering all their losses have been in the conference, which forces them to lose conference tiebreakers.
More important, there is no guarantee the Cowboys are going to suddenly start playing at a high level to get to 10-6 because they weren't playing all that well before Romo was injured. They had lost two of three games before he was injured and really had never reached the high level of play they showed last season when they opened 12-1.
Since going 12-1 to open 2007, the Cowboys have lost seven of the last 13 games, including the playoffs.
MONDAY NEWS & NOTES: WR Roy Williams is excited to finally catch a few passes from QB Tony Romo. Romo has missed the past three games with a broken pinky since Williams joined the team from Detroit.
--CB Terence Newman is back at practice and ready to play against the Redskins after missing the past four games with a sports hernia. Newman intimates that he was misdiagnosed in training camp when the Cowboys said he had a torn groin. He missed all of the preseason and first game with a torn groin before playing three games and then decided to have hernia surgery.
--LB Greg Ellis will not be replaced in the starting lineup by Anthony Spencer, coach Wade Phillips said. But Spencer will split time with Ellis on an even basis.
--WR Patrick Crayton is getting first crack at becoming the holder on field goals and extra points. He will replace Brad Johnson, who is going to be inactive as the third quarterback.
--RB Felix Jones didn't practice during the bye week after missing the past three games with a torn hamstring. But the Cowboys expect him to return to practice Monday and be ready for Sunday's game against the Redskins.
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