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Cowboys’ fans are not likely to remember today’s game against the Giants very fondly. Sure, Dallas overcame a 23-point deficit to take a lead in the second half, but this is the modern-era Cowboys, who find ways to make the dumbest mistakes at exactly the wrong times.
But if Dallas (or New York fans, for that matter) want to remember this game, we might call it the Middle-Finger Game.
Of course, this refers more directly to Dez Bryant‘s middle finger. With the Cowboys trailing 29-24 with about 10 seconds remaining in the game, Bryant caught what was first called a touchdown that would have almost certainly have given Dallas the win. Instead, replays showed that Bryant’s finger(s) landed on the back line, thus negating the touchdown.
Tony Romo had two more chances. On the final play with time expired, Romo threw the ball 10 yards out of the back of the end zone.
That was one of many instances to direct a middle finger at Romo, who was awful for much of the game. True, he threw for 432 yards by completing 36 of 62 passes. However, his four interceptions helped the Cowboys to commit a season-high six turnovers.
The last interception came at the end of yet another bone-headed drive with time running out. Two weeks after the team blew a chance to upset the Ravens thanks to mind-boggling decision-making, the Cowboys did it again.
With 1:27 remaining and the score 29-24, Dallas had moved the ball to the New York 28. Romo hit Jason Witten for nine yards.
One play later, the Cowboys ran another play to Witten, who dropped the ball on an out pattern near the sideline.
3rd-and-1. That’s one yard to gain a first down with 1:23 remaining. Most teams would make sure to pick up a first down.
Not Dallas. The Cowboys decided to go for the end zone, with Romo throwing to Kevin Ogletree on a fade route. This is the same Kevin Ogletree who had not caught a single pass all day. He didn’t catch the fade pass.
4th-and-1. Dallas lined up in the shotgun, and Romo looked as if he was going to Witten. However, the Giants double-teamed the tight end, and Romo had no second option. He pathetic pass was picked off by Stevie Brown.
Dallas got the ball back, but the final drive failed after the referees negated Bryant’s apparent touchdown.
There were many middle fingers to go around in the first half.
Romo threw interceptions to end the first two offensive drives. Bryant did his part in the debacle by fumbling a punt after trying to catch it over his shoulder.
With 13:14 remaining in the second quarter, Romo dug a hole as deep as he could when he threw his third pick. Jason Pierre-Paul picked off a screen pass and ran it in for a touchdown from 28 yards out. The Giants led 23-0 at that point.
The Cowboys actually looked good for the rest of the first half and for much of the third quarter. Dallas cut the lead to 23-10 at the half and then to 23-17 in the third quarter. Romo’s touchdown pass to John Phillips with 3:50 left in the third quarter gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game.
The defense appeared to do its part when Danny McCray grabbed an interception after the ball fell out of the hands of Victor Cruz. Dallas had all the momentum at that point, but a sack by former Cowboy Chris Canty helped to kill the momentum.
Dallas punted, and the Giants drove for a go-ahead field goal. On the ensuing drive, Felix Jones fumbled, setting up another Giant field goal.
From there, the Cowboys bumbled their way to yet another loss.
* * *
The online simulators rarely predict a score as accurately as the five simulators did for this game. Here were the predicted scores from my post the other day:
AccuScore: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 25
NumberFire: N.Y. Giants 25, Dallas 24
Team Rankings: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23
Madden (ESPN): N.Y. Giants 29, Dallas 24
The Madden simulation not only predicted the score but also predicted that the Giants would lose a lead only to regain it late in the game.
There should not be any question that Jerry Jones is a Sean Lee fan. Jerry was not willing to consider this team as anything less than a Super Bowl contender until the Cowboys lost Lee for the season. Jerry now says the team is “going to have to adjust for him” and that he may have lower expectations.
Even with the injuries, most simulations have the Cowboys giving the Giants quite a game. However, none of the simulations predict a Dallas win. Here’s a summary:
What If Sports: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23
AccuScore: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 25
NumberFire: N.Y. Giants 25, Dallas 24
Team Rankings: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23
Madden (ESPN): N.Y. Giants 29, Dallas 24
* * *
Very few commentators think the Cowboys will win. Of 12 commentators on ESPN, 10 think the Giants will win. One of the two who think the Cowboys will manage an upset was Nate Newton. Michael Irvin also predicted a Dallas win on the NFL Network’s pregame show.
* * *
Tony Romo’s name showed up on a poll of NFL players about the league’s most overrated player. Romo was tied for second by receiving 8 percent of the votes.
The leader was Tim Tebow, who received 34 percent of the votes. Michael Vick and Ray Lewis also received votes.
The Cowboys are off to a 3-3 record for the second year in a row. According to at least one story, Dallas has about a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs with this start.
(Losing Sean Lee certainly doesn’t help. In fact, I think the Cowboys’ chances of recording another turnover this season just fell from 50% to 5%. I’ll keep you posted.)
The Cowboys don’t have a deep history with 3-3 records. Including the 2012 season, Dallas has started only eight seasons with 3-3 marks.
The really bad news: the Cowboys managed a winning record in only one of those previous seven seasons, and that was thanks to a boost that Tony Romo gave the team in 2006. Here is a summary:
1961: Start 3-3, Finish 4-9-1. Dallas finished the year with an 0-6-1 record.
1962: Start 3-3-1, Finish 5-8-1. Dallas finished the year with a 1-5 record.
1987: Start 3-3, Finish 7-8. Thanks to the replacement players, Dallas started the season at 3-1. It did not end as well.
1997: Start 3-3, Finish 6-10. Barry Switzer’s swan song did not end well as the Cowboys lost their last five games.
2002: Start 3-3, Finish 5-11. Dave Campo’s swan song did not start or end well.
2006: Start 3-3, Finish 9-7. Lost to Seattle in the playoffs. The Cowboys had a 3-3 record when Romo officially took over for Drew Bledsoe. Dallas improved to 9-5 but finished at 9-7.
2011: Start 3-3, Finish 8-8. The Cowboys became world-beaters in November before having yet another December to forget.
By the way, don’t look at this year’s December schedule. It isn’t cause for optimism.
Jerry Jones called the Cowboys’ 19-14 win over Carolina “beautiful.”
And there were, to be sure, some stats that looked better to Dallas fans than some in previous weeks—Carolina had more turnovers, more penalties, and fewer points than the visiting Cowboys.
But there were the negatives, leading at least one person to call the win “f’ugly.” (My 12-year-old can figure that one out later.)
Ugly, as in a 14-13 fourth-quarter deficit to a team that entered the game with a 1-4 record. Ugly, as in a team that needed a few lucky breaks at the end to propel the Cowboys to the win over the previously 1-4 team.
Some expected the Dallas offense to have a great game on the ground and also to take advantage of a weak Carolina secondary. Miles Austin had a decent game (5 rec., 97 yards, 1 TD), but few other Cowboys stood out. Dez Bryant only managed 2 receptions for 14 yards. Felix Jones could not match his totals from last week’s game against Baltimore, gaining just 44 yards on 15 carries.
On a more positive note, a member of the Dallas secondary finally recorded an interception when Morris Claiborne picked off a Cam Newton pass in the end zone, ending a Carolina drive. Except for a couple of drives in the second quarter, the Cowboys managed to contain Newton.
The Cowboys held 3-0 lead when Claiborne intercepted the pass. Dallas moved into Carolina territory, but when Miles Austin caught a pass over the middle, he couldn’t keep his hold on the ball, fumbling it back to the Panthers.
Ten plays later, and Carolina led 7-3 thanks to a touchdown pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell. The Dallas pick was important, but the fumble was more costly.
Fortunately, Austin made amends in the third quarter. He caught consecutive passes of 36 and 26 yards, respectively. The second was in the end zone, giving Dallas a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. Dallas later extended the lead to 13-7 on a Dan Bailey field goal.
Carolina started a drive early in the fourth quarter and benefited from a personal-foul call on Jay Ratliff along with a defensive holding penalty on Brandon Carr. A Mike Tolbert touchdown gave the Panthers a 14-13 lead with 11:38 remaining.
The teams exchanged possessions before the Cowboys managed a drive for the go-ahead field goal. One controversial call was on a 3rd-and-9 play from the Carolina 15 when Jason Garrett called a simple draw that wasn’t about to get a first down. Nevertheless, Bailey was good on a 28-yard field goal to give Dallas a lead.
On the next drive, Carolina moved to its own 40 but faced a fourth-and-1. Dallas was caught with the wrong personnel, and it appeared that Dallas was going to be called for too many man on the field. However, the Cowboys managed to call a time out.
On the fourth-down play, Newton’s pass to Louis Murphy was incomplete, and it looked as if Claiborne got away with interference. Nevertheless, Dallas took over at the Carolina 40.
More luck on the next drive when referees called James Anderson was called for a horse collar, even though replays showed the Anderson did not have his hands inside Philip Tanner’s shoulder pads.
Bailey’s fourth field goal of the game gave Dallas a 19-14 lead. Newton could not lead Carolina on a miracle comeback, so Dallas picked up its third win of the season.
The Cowboys are now tied with the Eagles with a 3-3 record, while Washington falls into last place with a 3-4 record. Dallas hosts the Giants next week.
The Dallas Cowboys (2-3) face off against the Carolina Panthers (1-4) on Sunday, October 21.
Below is a story line about the game. I am using the plugin for Storify. If you have trouble loading the links, try this link.
Between 1960 and 1996, the Cowboys were seldom mediocre. The team had its ups and downs, but by 1996, the Cowboys had turned their fortunes around after two very bad years to end the 1980s.
Between 1991 and 1996, Dallas went 70-26 with a playoff record of 12-3. Everyone knows that three of those seasons ended in Super Bowl titles.
One of those three playoff losses, though, came against a team that did not play a single game until 1995. Of all teams to end a dynasty, it couldn’t be an expansion team in its second year.
But that’s what happened.
Nobody who even barely followed the Cowboys in 1996 can forget the many scandals. Michael Irvin missed five games because of drug charges, and it appeared as if he and offensive tackle Erik Williams were going to face even more severe problems when a woman accused them of raping her.
The charges didn’t stand, but the loss did. Once the Cowboys lost Irvin to a shoulder injury, the team was just never quite in the game. Meanwhile, Dallas could not stop the great Anthony Johnson, who ran for 104 yards on 26 carries.
(What do you mean you don’t remember Anthony Johnson? The Notre Dame fullback? Emerged from nowhere in 1996 before returning to obscurity after that?)
From Sports Illustrated:
The Carolina Panthers not only beat the scandal-scarred Super Bowl champion Cowboys on offense, defense and special teams at Ericsson Stadium, but they also showed more poise. However, the most stunning thing about Carolina’s 26-17 win in this NFC divisional playoff game was that it wasn’t so stunning. Dallas’s run for a fourth Super Bowl victory in five years ended in part because of drug suspensions and injuries but mostly because the Panthers were the setter team. Running back Anthony Johnson carried Carolina in crunch time when Smith couldn’t carry Dallas. Panther Kerry Collins was a better quarterback than Troy Aikman, who threw interceptions to kill the Cowboys’ last two drives. With a complex blitz package and a secondary that played tighter coverage than Dallas ever anticipated, the Carolina defense frustrated the Cowboys for the better part of 60 minutes.
Anyway, the franchise that was seldom mediocre has been anything but since then. Between 1997 and 2012, here are the numbers:
* Regular season record: 122-123
* Playoff record: 1-6
* One of those six teams: Carolina in 2003
I’ve heard someone try to argue that Carolina has “owned” the Cowboys, but that is certainly not true. While Dallas has fallen to the Panthers in two playoff games, Dallas has an overall record of 8-3 against Carolina, including wins in the last four.
The Cowboys had their typical December collapse in 2011 after posting a 7-4 record after a Thanksgiving Day win over the Miami Dolphins. Although Dallas picked up the victory on Thanksgiving, some problems that occurred in that game have shown up a number of times since then.
Dallas had 11 penalties for 59 yards and lost the turnover battle thanks to two interceptions. The Cowboys narrowly won thanks to a field goal by Dan Bailey.
Since that game, the Cowboys have played ten more regular season games. Their record is 3-7, and two of those wins came over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who suffered through a ten-game losing streak to end the 2011 campaign.
A few disconcerting numbers about the Cowboys in their last ten games:
- Dallas has been called for 102 penalties for 535 yards. Many of these penalties have caused drives to stall because they are often called on offensive linemen for false starts and holding penalties.
- Opponents’ penalties during that ten-game span: 59 for 448 yards.
- The Cowboys have committed 16 turnovers in the last ten games. This includes 10 interceptions.
- The Cowboys have caused 7 turnovers during that span, giving the Cowboys a turnover differential of -9 in the past ten games.
Compare the Cowboys’ turnover differential with numbers from the New York Giants. New York finished the 2011 season by going 6-0, including the playoffs. During that time, the Giants recorded 12 turnovers and only gave up 2. That’s a differential of +10.
The Giants haven’t been quite a strong in 2012, but they are still 4-2. They have recorded 14 turnovers and have given up 7 for a differential of +7.
Giants in their last 12 games: 10-2, with a turnover differential of +17. Super Bowl title.
Cowboys in their last 10 games: 3-7, with a turnover differential of -9. Demented owner thinks team can vie for the Super Bowl title.
Several radio commentators noted this today, but until Sunday, the Cowboys had never rushed as many as 42 times for 227 yards and lost the game. Here’s a further breakdown of where this ranks:
200-Yard Rushing Days
The Cowboys have gained 200 rushing yards or more as a team 84 times. The team’s record in those games is 72-11-1.
The team record for most rushing yards is 354, set against the Colts when they were in Baltimore in 1981.
Most Rushing Yards with Only One Touchdown
The Cowboys ran for only one touchdown on Sunday. That is not unusual. In the 84 games when the Cowboys have rushed for at least 200 yards, the team has scored one touchdown or no touchdowns in 29 of those games.
The most rushing yards the team has ever gained while only scoring one touchdown also came against the Colts in 1978. Dallas rushed 45 times for 278 yards in a 38-0 win at Texas Stadium.
Most Rushing Attempts in a Loss
The Cowboys nearly set a team record for the most rushing attempts in a loss. The team record was set in an overtime game in 2000, when Dallas ran the ball 46 times in a 16-13 loss to Philadelphia.
Overall, the Cowboys have rushed at least 42 times in 94 games. The Cowboys’ record in those games is now 91-3.
* * *
DeMarco Murray increased his rushing total in 2012 to 330 yards. He would be on pace for more than a 1,000 yards but will likely miss next Sunday’s game with a foot injury.
The Cowboys had plenty of chances to quit on Sunday against the Ravens. After all, the team trailed 31-23 after Baltimore scored with 4:41 remaining.
Dallas then went on a drive that was equal parts epic and boneheaded. The Cowboys committed four penalties (even if a chop block call on Felix Jones was nonsense). At one point, Dallas faced a 3rd-and-27 play.
Yet somehow, the Cowboys found ways to convert two third downs and two fourth downs on what turned out to be an 18-play, 81-yard drive. Dez Bryant capped off a great day by catching a four-yard touchdown pass to pull Dallas to within two.
Then Dez immediately assumed the role of goat when Romo’s pass on the two-point attempt bounced right off Bryant’s hands.
But the game wasn’t over. Dan Bailey hit an onside kick up the middle instead of to the sideline, and Andre Holmes recovered.
More luck: On the first play after the recovery, Chykie Brown was called for interference on a pass attempt to Kevin Ogletree, giving Dallas the ball at the Baltimore 34. There were 26 seconds left, and Dallas still had a timeout. Plenty of time for…
One play? For one yard?
Yep. When Romo threw a slant to Bryant, the play gained a yard. The offense tried to organize to do something, but nothing happened. It looked as if neither Romo nor Garrett knew what they were supposed to do. (And I’m not the only one who thinks that.)
Instead, the Cowboys settled for a 51-yard field goal attempt. Bailey had not attempted one from that far this year.
And, of course, he missed. The audience saw a shot of Jason Garrett smiling. The pregnant Rob Ryan shouted something I won’t write on here. Romo pouted. Bryant received consolation.
Dallas is now 2-3. As the time of this writing, the Eagles had fallen to 3-3, and the Giants and Redskins were still playing. It is very possible the Cowboys could wind up in last place after today’s action.
Throughout the game, the Dallas offense rarely snapped the ball with more than three seconds left on the play clock. Few have offered solid reasons why the team has to check off so much while running the risk of delay-of-game or other penalties.
Nevertheless, the team showed heart. Felix Jones scored his first touchdown since the beginning of the 2011 season. The defense mostly shut down the Ravens offense in the second half.
But the same mistakes that have haunted the Cowboys, and it’s past time to question decision-making across the board.
Doug Free can’t go a game without a penalty. Tyron Smith doesn’t seem to understand what he is required to do to avoid holding penalties. As a team, the Cowboys committed 13 penalties for 82 yards. That gives Dallas a total of 46 penalties in five games.
The kickoff coverage team that was so bad in 2010 allowed a 108-yard kickoff return to Jacoby Jones. That occurred when Dallas had cut the Baltimore lead to 17-13 in the third quarter.
On top of that, the Cowboys were called for both pass interference and for having 12 men on the field on a play where Torrey Smith scored late in the second quarter.
* * *
The biggest positive was the rushing attack. Even after DeMarco Murray left the game with a foot injury, Jones, Philip Tanner, and Lance Dunbar had some nice runs. As a team, the Cowboys rushed 42 times for 227 yards.
On the other hand, Kevin Ogletree is showing he isn’t close to a solid #3 receiver. He was targeted four times but did not manage a single reception. He didn’t come close to catching the pass when Brown interfered with him late in the game.
Dallas will travel to Carolina next Sunday.
Second-year running back Felix Jones, taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, took a pitch to the left and raced 49 yards for a touchdown. That effectively ended the game.
One week later, the Cowboys hosted the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. It marked the first playoff game at Cowboys Stadium.
Jones again broke the game wide open in the third quarter when he scored on a 73-yard touchdown run. He finished the day with 148 rushing yards. Another 2008 pick, Tashard Choice, scored in the second quarter to give Dallas a 14-7 lead.
Yet another first-round pick from 2008, Mike Jenkins, snagged an interception in the second half. A fifth-round pick from 2008, Orlando Scandrick, helped in a secondary that mostly shut down the Eagles.
Dallas won, 34-14.
Okay, so what’s my point? Well, let’s look at what the Cowboys have done since beating the Eagles in the playoffs on January 9, 2010.
* The Cowboys barely showed up in a 34-3 loss at Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs.
* The Cowboys’ overall record since January 9, 2010: 16-21.
* Since scoring on long touchdown runs in back-to-back games at the end of the 2009 season, Jones has scored a total of three touchdowns. He has not scored since the opening week of the 2011 season.
* Since rushing for more than 100 yards in back-to-back weeks in 2009, he has rushed for more than 100 yards a total of four times. He has 13 rushing yards in four games in 2012.
* Since Jenkins intercepted the pass against the Eagles on January 9, 2010, he has had a total of two interceptions. That is the same total as Orlando Scandrick during that time.
* Draft picks Choice, Martellus Bennett, and Eric Walden now play for other teams. Although Choice hasn’t done much, Bennett has three touchdown receptions for the Giants, and Walden has been a part-time starter with the Packers.
There have been plenty of things that have gone wrong since the promising end to the 2009 season. The entire 2009 draft was a monumental failure, thanks in large part to a terrible trade for Roy Williams. Several key players aged quickly, leading to the current rebuilding effort.
The 2008 draft class, though, certainly hasn’t helped matters. Those players showed so much promise only to regress almost immediately.