As God and a Twitter time stamp as my witnesses, I was worried about the Broncos. For one, this felt like the classic letdown game: coming off the emotional Halloween night win without Dak Prescott, facing a team that just a few days earlier had traded its best player and was missing 60 percent of its offensive linemen, an opportunity to move up in the NFC standings with Aaron Rodgers out due to COVID-19 protocols. I was also worried because I’ve always disliked the Broncos.
I was 7 years old when we moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. My dad had joined the military, and they stationed him in Fort Carson. It was cold, and green, and the Broncos were in the Super Bowl that year. On my first day of class, the teacher told me she could either call me Robert, Bob, or Bobby. Because it sounded exotic, I said Bobby. I then stood in front of the class, next to her, as she introduced me. She asked if I was a Broncos fan.
“No,” I said, “I’m a Cowboys fan.”
Someone laughed, presumably because I cheered for a mediocre team but more than likely because you never have to go far to meet someone who hates the Cowboys. “Oh,” the teacher simply said.
Later that day, when I told my mom what had happened at school, she either misunderstood or wanted me to fit in. Either way, she soon bought Broncos sweaters for me and my brother. I disliked that sweater as much as I disliked the Broncos. I say “dislike” only because I reserve “hate” for NFC East rivals and, occasionally, the Houston Texans.
You might have a team like this, too: not an obvious one to hate as a Cowboys fan but one you do all the same for reasons entirely petty and personal. It’s a hatred — sorry, dislike — your friends and family don’t quite get, but that doesn’t stop your well-earned grudge since only you know what caused it.
The Cowboys lost to the team I deeply dislike on Sunday, and, despite what the final score said—30 to 16—it wasn’t even close. The closest they got to making it competitive was when Tony Pollard ran back the opening kickoff for 54 yards. Then the team did nothing until it was far too late.
Too many dropped passes, including one by Amari Cooper, who hadn’t done that once all season. It made you think that perhaps this was one of those games the Cowboys weren’t meant to win. Too many bad passes, just like the play after the Cooper drop, when Dak Prescott overthrew a wide-open CeeDee Lamb. Too much dumb bad luck, just like how the Cowboys blocked a punt, and yet, because of an awful rule, the Broncos still managed to gain about 10 yards and a new set of downs. Too much everything bad for them to get out of the hole they fell into.
What made it all that more excruciating was it felt like the fall was in slow motion. We could see what was happening and had enough time to think, “If they can just regain their balance, they’ll be alright, but they have to do it now.” They didn’t, of course, and it was one of the worst games I can remember from a Cowboys team that’s actually good. That’s the important part: despite this loss, this team is good, and there’s no reason to panic.
I am pessimistic in general when it comes to the Cowboys, a habit forged from more than 25 years of watching this franchise disappoint, but I remain optimistic about this season. (Although I must admit that, while writing the previous sentence, I did picture myself as the meme of the Gunshow dog who wears a hat, drinks coffee while surrounded by flames, and says, “This is fine.”) But really, despite the few messages I received from people — who’ve been surprisingly quiet for a couple of months — who would want me to believe this is the end of the season, this isn’t that. The Cowboys are fine because we must trust what we’ve seen, and after eight weeks—far enough into the season, even if there’s still plenty left—this game is the outlier.
There’s no deep structural issue that got exposed Sunday. No one needs to get benched. No awful coaching decision that stood out. For whatever reason, the entire team, except for Micah Parsons, just looked off. It was a Sunday with so many oddities, including a red stripe on the helmet (which they should never wear again and even burn, just in case), The Undertaker on the sidelines, and Malik Turner being the only Cowboy to score touchdowns. My takeaway there is he wore No. 17, which made me think of Quincy Carter.
Nothing to do but move on. There isn’t even a need for Mike McCarthy to waste his motivational tricks—like smashing a watermelon with a sledgehammer—on a game like this. Let the watermelons live because, realistically, the Cowboys weren’t going to finish the season 16-1. They weren’t going to win 16 games in a row; only six teams have done that over the last half century. They were going to lose eventually. They’ll very likely lose a couple more times before the season ends, and it’s fine.
Sometimes you wake up and step on a thorn your dog brought in from outside. You turn on the coffee maker only to realize, after the first sip, you’re just drinking hot water. The tire-pressure light pops on while driving to work. And then you still have 16 hours of day left.
You survive. You move on. And maybe tomorrow you’ll have a good day. Like me, when I was a kid in Colorado and the only one smiling on the school bus, still wearing my Broncos sweater because the day before, Washington blew them out in the Super Bowl.