When the Cowboys fell to the St. Louis Rams in October, I called Dallas a 9-7 joke. I retracted the prediction just a bit, hoping that this season would be more like the 1970 campaign, when the Cowboys bounced back from a 5-4 start to finish 10-4 en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
The Cowboys posted some huge wins against Tampa Bay, Washington, San Francisco, and Seattle, and it looked as if maybe this would be a season to remember for something other than disappointment. Then came the loss to the Steelers, where the defense kept the Cowboys in the game (and should have won the game by itself), but Tony Romo and the offense found a way to give to Pittsburgh.
Last week, the Cowboys pulled off a win over the Giants, the team the ruined the 13-3 season from 2007. It looked as if Dallas might have put the worst of everything behind the team and was ready to move forward. The team sounded confident last week. The team sounded as if it were coming together.
And then came the latest implosion, this time against Baltimore in the final game at Texas Stadium. There was a playoff-like electricity in the air, and the Cowboys had plenty of opportunities to take control of this game. But this, friends, is the Cowboys of the 2000s. The team of mediocrity. The team that cannot put two quality wins back-to-back. And so instead of driving home for two hours to write about the magic of the evening, I get to write a post about how the Cowboys just blew their chance to get into the playoffs because 57 minutes into the game the defense forgot how to tackle.
Tony Romo Was Terrible
Tonight was the first time I have seen Tony Romo play live. I could have picked a better game to attend if I wanted to be impressed, for Romo was way off all night.
* On the opening drive of the game, with the Cowboys facing a 2nd and 3 from the Dallas 49, Romo rolled right. He slung a pass deep for Roy Williams, who wasn’t even close to being open. Ed Reed stepped up and picked it off. The play was not so bad, for the Cowboys forced fumble deep in Baltimore territory on the ensuing drive, but it was indicative of the night that Romo had.
* With the likes of Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, and Miles Austin on the field, Romo spent much of the first half hitting Tashard Choice on short patterns out of the backfield. Choice has been a pleasant surprise, to be sure, but now the offense centers on him? He had seven receptions for 25 yards.
* With 49 seconds left in the first half, Owens had a step on his defender on a deep seam route, but Romo underthrew the receiver badly.
* On the very next play, Romo tried to throw deep to Owens, but this time Romo underthrew the ball so much that Reed picked off the pass. Romo tried to say that the pick was little more than a punt, but that excuse masks the fact that Reed was able to return the ball to midfield. Three plays later, the Ravens were in field goal range and were able to take a 9-7 lead at the half.
* If the misses at the end of the first half weren’t bad enough, Romo missed a wide open Miles Austin on a post pattern early in the third quarter on what would have surely been a touchdown.
* Romo was better in the second half, but he still threw too many balls to nobody in particular. Even his pitch on an option play on a 3rd-and-1 early in the fourth quarter missed its mark, as Choice had trouble hanging on to it. Dallas was forced to kick a field goal.
This Defense Isn’t Doomsday
I’m made many mistakes on this blog and elsewhere, but referring to this defense in the same context as Doomsday ranks up there among the worst.
* With Dallas trailing 9-7 with 5:50 left in the third quarter, Willis McGahee fumbled the ball right into the arms of Ken Hamlin. Hamlin then for some reason tried to roll from his stomach to his back and lost the ball in the process, giving the ball back to Baltimore. The Ravens scored a touchdown on that drive.
* In the second half, Joe Flacco went from being pressured to having five or more seconds to throw the ball. With 2:58 left in the third quarter, he had all day, all night, and all the next morning to find Derrick Mason in side of the end zone for a touchdown that put Baltimore up 16-7. After being sacked five times in the first half, Flacco was not sacked at all in the second.
* The second most sickening play ever at Texas Stadium: after Dallas cut the Baltimore lead to 19-17 with 3:42 left, the Dallas defense needed to make a stop to give the Cowboys a chance to win with a field goal. Instead, McGahee ran nearly untouched on a dive play for 77 yards and a touchdown. Three Cowboys defenders completely whiffed as McGahee ran right by them for the score.
* The most sickening play ever at Texas Stadium: The Cowboys managed to cut the Ravens lead to two again after the McGahee touchdown. That’s when 260-pound running back Le’Ron McClain ran off tackle, broke a couple of arm tackles, shrugged off a tackle attempt by Hamlin, and raced 82 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Bruce Read Is Still Employed, and the Special Teams Still Stink
Special teams highlights:
* As good as he is on field goals, Nick Folk cannot or does not kick the ball further than the five yard line.
* Miles Austin muffed one catch and fumbled another, although the Cowboys recovered.
* Sam Koch, a punter who holds field goals, ran nine yards on a fake field goal on 4th and 6 to give the Ravens a first down. Two plays later, the Ravens extended their lead to 16-7.
I should note that Pacman Jones finally had a long kickoff return of 41 yards, but it was after McClain’s touchdown run and after the Cowboys had any realistic chance of pulling out the win.
Why Did We Sign This Roy Williams Fellow?
If Roy Williams actually has the ability to be a #1 receiver, I saw no evidence of it. He got no separation from the defender, and he was almost never double-teamed. His “damage” tonight: 3 receptions for 12 yards.
The Farewell Ceremony
I’ll have more about the ceremony after the game tomorrow. Although it was pretty cold at that point, it was great to see so many of the all-time greats. That marks the first time I have ever seen Roger Staubach in person.