San Diego 20, Dallas 17: Goodbye to the NFC East Lead
At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, my guess of the week had the Cowboys beating the Chargers 27-20. Don’t ask where I came up with:
I am not going to abandon the Cowboys’ chances to make the playoffs and even pick up a playoff win. I think the Cowboys will fall behind tomorrow, but the team will regroup. Tony Romo will have a big day, and Nick Folk will rebound with at least two field goals and no misses.
Certainly not prophetic. It was, in fact, pathetic, given that final outcome was three points, which is the number of points the Cowboys lost thanks to yet another Nick Folk miss. Just before Folk’s miss, the Cowboys failed to score after having a first and goal from the San Diego 4, thanks to the Chargers stuffing Marion Barber three consecutive times from the 1.
It is hard to say that the game would have turned out much differently had the Cowboys scored near the end of the first half, but a 10-10 halftime score would have been considerably better than the 10-3 score that resulted from the Cowboys’ missed opportunity. Heck, a 10-6 deficit would have been better than the 10-3 deficit the team faced.
The Cowboys managed their three points thanks to a 41-yard kickoff return by Felix Jones on the opening kickoff of the game. Dallas moved the ball to the San Diego 13, but on a 3rd-and-7 play, Romo tried to hit third tight end John Phillips in the end zone. The pass was incomplete, and Nick Folk managed to nail a 31-yarder to give Dallas a 3-0 lead.
On the next drive, San Diego faced a 3rd-and-12 from its own 14. In what was a common theme throughout the game, the Dallas defense could not come up with a third-down play when the Cowboys needed a stop. Phillip Rivers hit Malcom Floyd on a 24-yard completion, giving the Chargers a first down. Five plays later, the Chargers had a 7-3 lead, thanks in large part to a pass interference penalty on Gerald Sensabaugh.
Dallas went three-and-out, and the defense again struggled to stop the Chargers. San Diego’s drive stalled with about 11 minutes left in the second quarter, but Nick Kaeding kicked a field goal to give the Chargers a 10-3 lead.
The next Dallas drive took nearly eight minutes off the clock, but the Cowboys could not punch the ball in from the one-yard line. On three consecutive plays, Dallas tried to send Marion Barber to the right side of the line from the one. The strategy failed.
Terence Newman didn’t have a great game, but he gave the Cowboys another opportunity late in the second quarter when he picked Rivers off at the San Diego 27. However, Dallas only managed to move the ball three yards, and Folk missed the field goal to the left.
Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys had a drive that could have defined its season. The team took the ball 99 yards on 13 plays, capped off by a six-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Miles Austin.
The game was tied, and the Cowboys had some momentum in an important home game. The defense had a chance to take control of the game, but instead the team fell apart yet again.
DeMarcus Ware sprained his neck on a second-down play near midfield and was carted off the field. After a nearly 10-minute delay caused by Ware’s injury, the Chargers faced a 3rd-and-12. With the crowd worked up and the Chargers on their heels, Rivers managed to complete a 39-yard pass to Vincent Jackson down the right sideline. One play later, Rivers found Antonio Gates for a rather easy 14-yard touchdown, giving San Diego a 17-10 lead.
The Cowboys’ response on offense: three and out after losing five yards.
The Cowboys response on defense: give up a 15-play, 73-yard drive that led to a Charger field goal. At that point, the game was already over.
Playoff Picture (As If We Need to Worry About That Right Now)
With the Eagles beating the Giants and the Packers beating the Bears, Dallas falls out of the lead in the NFC East and into the #6 spot in the NFC. The Giants (7-6) are a game behind the Cowboys (8-5), but New York obviously holds the tiebreaker over the Cowboys thanks to two wins by the Giants over the Cowboys. Dallas will also lose a tiebreaker in the wildcard race to the Packers, who are now 9-4.
The remaining schedules:
Dallas: at New Orleans; at Washington; vs. Philadelphia
N.Y. Giants: at Washington; vs. Carolina; at Minnesota
Philadelphia: vs. San Francisco; vs. Denver; at Dallas
Green Bay: at Pittsburgh; vs. Seattle; at Arizona.