LANDOVER, MD -- It has taken Jerry Jones 26 NFL seasons to reach a conclusion he believes might fit all 12 teams that have earned postseason entry. The way Jones sees it, sometimes when you "zig," you should have "zagged."
Sometimes when you think you are good, you are not good at all.
Sometimes when you do your work, be patient and closely watch the ride unfold, you are pleasantly astonished.
NFL Playoffs 2015
SB Nation's playoff guide and bracket
The regular season is over and now we look to the wild card round of action in the 2015 NFL playoffs.
NFL Playoffs 2015
Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989. His first season resulted in a 1-15 record. That was followed by a 7-9 one. Then an 11-5 playoff season. Then Super Bowl championships in three of the next four seasons, with that one miss a loss in the NFC championship game.
But since 2010, Dallas has been 6-10 plus three straight 8-8 seasons with no playoffs. Jones thought some of those teams were good enough. He was uncertain this one was good enough.
"Those first Super Bowl teams we had kind of surprised us," Jones said. "They kind of slipped up on us. We did not expect to be that good that fast. We just never expected it could or would happen like that. I'm beginning to believe that when you least expect it, what you want so much in this league tends to happen for you. It just seems to happen that way. You try to rationalize it, and that is something I have done in all of my life, in all of my businesses. And it just seems to me that in the NFL your very best comes in this league when you least expect it."
It fits the Baltimore Ravens. They are in the playoffs after a season that looked destroyed at the start from dealing with the Ray Rice domestic violence trouble and the inferno for the Ravens that resulted. It fits the Carolina Panthers, NFC South champions with a losing record (7-8-1) and a starting quarterback, Cam Newton, who only 20 days ago was involved in a nasty two-car crash that could have killed him. It fits the Arizona Cardinals, who for much of the season maintained the NFL's best record and retained high hopes despite injuries at quarterback that have recently made their position messy and unstable.
It fits the AFC North, a division that was not considered the jewel of the league but showed its sparkle by producing half of the AFC playoff field with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Ravens.
Recent history indicated the Cowboys would fold in December.
Jones says open your eyes.
"Right before people's eyes we've fixed December," Jones said of his team's 4-0 December record. "That should last as answer for everyone and for us for a long time."
The way the Cowboys trampled Washington is an indicator of what Dallas has become and how turnovers will again impact the playoffs.
Dallas collected two interceptions and two fumbles from Washington and defensive end Anthony Spencer returned one of those fumbles 5 yards for a touchdown. Dallas leads all playoff teams in turnovers forced with 31 (18 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries). Of all playoff teams, only the Indianapolis Colts are on the negative side in turnover differential (-5).
And consider that of the top two seeds in each conference, three of the four ranks this way in league-wide turnover differential: Green Bay No. 1 at plus 14, New England No. 2 at plus 12 and Seattle No. 4 at plus 9.
"No question I am playing at a level I am proud of and our team is excited about our performance and the playoffs," Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said.
He is talking about an offense that concluded the regular season with the franchise's all-time single-season rushing leader in running back DeMarco Murray (1,845 yards) and all-time single-season touchdown reception leader in receiver Dez Bryant (16). Each player led the NFL this season in those respective categories.
He is talking about a defense that has little glitz but has remained steady while rising to the NFL's eighth-ranked unit vs. the run.
"We've become one heartbeat," Dallas safety J.J. Wilcox said.
And one of 12 playoff teams that begins fresh and anew after a season ripe with the unexpected that transformed into a crack at becoming Super Bowl XLIX champions.
"I've never been to the playoffs," Dallas safety Barry Church said, wide-eyed and full of joy. "It's my first shot. We know we belong there now. Our team. Our players. All 53."