Hines Ward: Dallas Cowboys figuring it out at perfect time

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In the 2005 season, we lost three straight heading into December, then won four in a row to end the season before winning another four on the way to a Super Bowl championship.

How’d we do it? We leaned on our veterans. Jerome Bettis, heading into the season, figured it might be his last ride, and we felt obligated to him to turn things around. We weren’t exactly playing our best football, and we knew that it started with us. Since our playoffs basically had already started, we had to take each game at a time.

I remember, the first game of that streak against the Chicago Bears, we put Jerome in and he ran over Brian Urlacher for a touchdown and it galvanized our team.

It inspired us to see this guy, in probably his last year, pushing himself that hard, and we thought, “if he’s doing it, we definitely need to be.” We rallied behind it, put our egos aside, and really never looked back.

If there’s a team today that reminds me of us then, it’s probably the Cowboys. They’ve grinded out two big wins the last two weeks, over New Orleans and Philadelphia, and that gives you a different mentality and confidence at the end of the season.

The defense is playing well, Ezekiel Elliott is running hard and Dak Prescott is getting more comfortable in that game manager role and making less mistakes. They’ve got everything you want in a playoff team.

Rapid reactions

New England taking on Pittsburgh was supposed to be two Super Bowl contenders, now, both need to win to fix their season. The Patriots still are in a position to lock up that one or two seed with a win, but that loss to Miami shook things up a lot. The Steelers, if they don’t turn things around, might end up missing the playoffs completely. That rivalry speaks for itself, you don’t need to hype it up anymore other than, “Tom Brady is going to Heinz Field.”

I think the Chargers are set to surprise a few people. A lot of people aren’t picking them to go far, but they’ve still got a chance to win their division and maybe pick up a top-two seed, and it comes down to a big game this week, playing Kansas City on the road. If they win that game, look out — they’ve got an experienced quarterback, Melvin Gordon’s coming back from injury, you look at them all around, they’re solid from top to bottom.

On the flip side, the Vikings have surprised in a bad way. Last year, they were one game away from the Super Bowl, and then this year they’re so up and down. They had a disappointing loss to Seattle, and the theme of all season has just been too many mistakes. You see a team with that much talent, who just paid a quarterback a bunch of money, and you expect so much more.

Saquon Barkley has by far been my favorite rookie to watch this year. He’s just so electrifying, so explosive, he’s a threat to do something every time he touches the ball and I think he should definitely end up winning Rookie of the Year. What he’s done for the Giants, especially in a down season, has been so much fun to watch. I just really love seeing the kid play.

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