Recurrent Theme for the Dallas Cowboys: So Close, Yet So Far Away
We all remember very well that the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007 and had the top seed in the NFC playoffs. And we all remember that the team came out rather sluggish against the Giants, who beat Dallas 21-17 en route to a Super Bowl title.
NFL Films might have named the annual highlight film for the 2007 Cowboys as “So Close, Yet So Far Away.”
Four years later, NFL Films could have recycled the same title, but for different reasons.
It’s hard not to think of those 2007 playoffs after watching both of the divisional playoff games this weekend. The Giants once again traveled to Green Bay to take on a favored Packers team, and once again, the New York defense rose to the occasion to give the Giants the upset win.
On Saturday, the 49ers sat in a position similar to the 2007 Cowboys. Like the Cowboys, San Francisco hasn’t been especially relevant in the NFC for quite some time. The 49ers posted a 13-3 record, just like the 2007 Cowboys, and San Francisco hosted its first playoff game in nine seasons. Recall that the Cowboys hosted their first playoff game in nine seasons when they took on the Giants.
The Saints didn’t emerge from nowhere like the Giants did in 2007. It was hardly a big surprise when, with less than two minutes left in the game, Drew Brees found Jimmy Graham on a seam route near mid-field. Graham was able to split two defenders and run for a touchdown. A two-point conversion gave the Saints a 32-29 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
In 2007, the 13-3 Cowboys trailed the Giants by four points but got the ball back with less than two minutes left. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 23, but thanks to a poor route by Patrick Crayton on one play and an ill-fated desperation pass on fourth down, Dallas could not pull out the last-minute win.
The 2011 49ers did almost exactly what the 2007 Cowboys couldn’t. Of course, San Francisco only needed a field goal to tie the game, but the 49ers went for the win. Rather than agonizing for years about someone like Patrick Crayton hesitating on his route, the 49ers can remember Vernon Davis catching a 47-yard pass, which helped to set up his awesome 14-yard touchdown reception that gave San Francisco the win.
The 2011 Cowboys should be shaking their heads with the knowledge that the Giants and 49ers are playing for the NFC title, even without regard to the parallels with the 2007 Cowboys.
After the second week of the season, there was reason to believe that these 2011 Cowboys might be a force in the NFC when an injured Tony Romo’s efforts erased a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit and produced a 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco.
That’s the type of victory that can give a team a great boost. From there, Dallas was scheduled to face the likes of Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, Seattle, Buffalo, Miami, and Arizona over the next ten weeks. Even if Dallas had lost to the Patriots and Eagles (which happened, of course), there was a good chance that Dallas could be 9-3 heading into its final four games.
As it turned out, the Cowboys were close with a 7-5 record after a loss to the Cardinals, but it wasn’t the Cowboys who took off after their win at San Francisco. Instead, the 49ers won eight straight, including wins over Washington, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and the N.Y. Giants.
Some have liked to point out that the 49ers had a relatively easy schedule in 2011, but it really wasn’t notably easier than the Cowboys’ schedule. Rather, San Francisco simply won the games it should have won (save for a loss at Arizona), whereas the Cowboys won a few games they should have lost and lost a few games they should have won.
Of course, Dallas still had a great chance to capture the NFC East, needing only to hang on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants on December 11. Instead, the Dallas defense fell apart when it mattered most, and after Tony Romo and Miles Austin failed to convert on a play that could have ended that game, the Cowboys watched the game fall from their grasp and their season spiral into a failure.
“So Close, Yet So Far Away” isn’t limited to 2007 and 2011, either. We could consider the 2008 season, when Dallas had a chance to earn a wildcard berth by beating the Eagles. Philadelphia won in a 44-6 blowout, of course, and the Eagles wound up in the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in nine years.
We could also consider the 2009 playoffs, when the Cowboys caught fire late in the season, only to run out of gas against the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Thus, for the fourth time in five seasons, Dallas fans get to watch an NFC Championship Game with the thought that our team could be competing for the conference title. Instead, we put on our faces of resignation and repeat—so close, yet so far away.