Itâs hard to make a tangible gain or suffer a significant loss in the NFL when your team doesnât play. On Sunday, the idle Cowboys managed to do both anyway.
In fairness, the Cowboys played a role in the strides they made in Week 1. If you think this wasnât a crazy start to a season, maybe you did not stop to consider the following:
On the NFLâs opening week, the winners of the last seven Super Bowls all lost.
Now in some ways, thatâs simply an anomaly. Certainly the Indianapolis Colts losing was neither a surprise nor beneficial to the Cowboys.
But if youâre a Cowboys fan trying to determine how far removed from the NFC elite your team currently stands, losses by the Giants, Packers and Saints are relevant for a couple of reasons.
I donât need to point out that the Giantsâ loss is the most significant since it was brought about by Dallas on Wednesday in the Meadowlands. Beyond that, however, these three Super Bowl winners possess something the Tony Romo critics will tell you separates them from the local heroes.
Green Bayâs Aaron Rodgers, New Orleansâ Drew Brees and, yes, the Giantsâ Eli Manning represent the quarterbacking elite of the NFC. They have Super Bowl rings and NFL records to prove it.
Those three teams were among the last four standing in last yearâs NFC playoffs. The other was San Francisco, whose defensive deconstruction of Green Bay on Sunday was shocking.
But even the most over-the-top Romo bashers donât go around saying, âYeah, the 49ers have Alex Smith and the Cowboys donât.â
The 49ers quarterback is a work in progress after one successful season in which he ranked somewhere between caretaker and team leader. In the playoffs, he certainly excelled. Smithâs draft standing (first overall pick in 2005 when Rodgers went 23 picks later to Green Bay) suggests he has the tools to get it done.
But Smith still has far more to prove than Romo. On his side, to be sure, he has a great defense and running game. At the very least â" until we get game results that begin to refute what happened this weekend as meaningful â" the Cowboys are not separated from the top of the NFC by the quarterback position.
That, of course, brings us to the âhoweverâ portion of the column as in â¦
I thought â" like a lot of others thought â" that the Cowboys had about a two-year window before they had to concern themselves with Washingtonâs off-season master stroke that landed Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.
For one thing, the Redskins always do big splashy things in the off-season that turn out badly. So you had to figure as much as Washington might appear blessed to move up to the second spot of the draft, Griffin was cursed that it happened to him.
In addition, the Redskins traded such a bounty of draft picks and were even more hampered than Dallas by a strange salary cap âassessmentâ by the NFL that they did little else to upgrade their 5-11 team.
For Griffin to go to New Orleans and deliver that kind of performance (320 yards on just 26 attempts, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions) while the other four rookie starters produced two TD passes and 11 interceptions (and four losses), it went beyond Mondayâs âDazzling Debutâ headline.
The Redskins will face better defenses in days ahead, for sure, but their confidence can only be expected to soar. Coach Mike Shanahan has done little to define himself as a great coach since his back-to-back Super Bowls with John Elway in the late â90s.
But how many truly good mobile quarterbacks has he had to manage since then?
Griffin will have his down days as all quarterbacks, especially rookies, inevitably do. But those check marks that you placed next to Nov. 22 and Dec. 30 on your Cowboys pocket schedule?
Make sure those were done in pencil.
Quarterbacks move quickly up and down the quality scale in todayâs NFL as coaches incorporate facets of the college game that made players such as Griffin so tantalizing at that level.
The Cowboys and Redskins have been waiting a long time for a new era in the NFC. We canât be totally sure which team is more equipped to step forward right now.
Follow Tim Cowlishaw on Twitter at @TimCowlishaw