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Jason Witten Continues to Move Up on Stat Rankings

Jason Witten is 151 yards away from his fourth career and third consecutive 1,000-yard season. His receptions have dropped off this year, but he is still on pace to record at least 80 this season. He currently has 68.

Witten is just five yards away from surpassing Drew Pearson for third place on the team’s all-time list for receiving yards. He only trails Tony Hill by 172 yards for second place on the list. Michael Irvin’s record of 11,904 is still more than 4,000 yards away, but Witten hasn’t reached the age of 30.

He is one of only four tight ends with more than 600 career receptions and surpassed Ozzie Newsome to rank third on the all-time list of receptions by a tight end. Witten made this lists in only 141 career games. The other three, including Tony Gonzalez (236 career games), Shannon Sharpe (204), and Newsome (198), played in many more.

As far as receiving yards, Witten trails Jackie Smith by 102 yards and Newsome by 164 yards. It will take a while to catch Gonzalez and Sharpe.

Witten currently ranks 22nd in terms of career TD receptions by a tight end. However, he will rapidly move up on the list. By recording just seven more TDs, he will move into the top 10 on this list. He’ll move into the top 5 by recording 15 more TDs.

Jerry and the Cowboys Commit More Blasphemy

Jerry Jones just can’t shut up. We all know that.

[As in, don’t talk about the playoffs right now, Jerry. Let this team focus on beating the Eagles]

However, since he is going to open his mouth anyway, perhaps he could show a little bit more appreciation for this team’s legacy.

First, he counters a point made by Jimmy Johnson by citing Joe Gibbs.

Last night, the main leaders of his team participated in a montage featuring a quote about winning.

That quote came from Vince Lombardi.

Cowboys fans older than 30 need immediately to place their foreheads into their hands. Let’s say this in unison…

Jerry, you just don’t cite Joe Gibbs. And in the name of all that is Tom Landry, you don’t quote Vince Lombardi.

Let’s go with this one:

I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be prepared to play a good game.

— Tom Landry, whose teams would have already won this damn division.

That all said, Jerry was pretty funny during the pregame show last night.

Of course, I continue to forget my principal rule that I should never listen to anything Jerry says.

* * *

Dallas 31, Tampa Bay 15: Miscues Don’t Completely Ruin Dominant First Half

The Cowboys should have spent Saturday evening celebrating. But a win is a win, right?

This was going to be the game where the Cowboys played so flawlessly that I couldn’t get angry. When Dallas took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, I told my young son that Dallas would score 50 tonight.

By the end of the second quarter, I was half-right. Dallas led 28-0 thanks to three Tony Romo touchdown passes and a Romo touchdown run.  At that point, the Buccaneers had only managed one first down, and that came on the opening drive of the game. One play after that first down, Josh Freeman fumbled the ball, which set up the first Dallas touchdown.

At halftime, Deion Sanders said there was no way the Cowboys would suffer another second-half collapse. After all, he said, Tampa player had all but quit.

Friends, this is the Cowboys we’re talking about. The Cowboys had not held a halftime lead of at least 28 points since 1994. But that is irrelevant. This is the 2011 Cowboys we’re talking about. These Cowboys know exactly how to ruin any lead, no matter the margin and no matter the time remaining.

So just think what could happen when the Cowboys received the second-half kickoff. Feed Felix Jones early and often, helping my fantasy team? Throw very safe passes to Jason Witten and Miles Austin, moving the ball just a bit and eating up the third quarter?

Maybe that was the plan. But a nine-yard run by Felix Jones was wiped out by a holding penalty on Tyron Smith. That backed the Cowboys up to their own 10. Two plays later, Dallas faced a 3rd-and-19 from the 11.

What could possibly happen? Lots of things, which is why much of the pregame focused on such highlights as Romo throwing two picks returned for touchdowns by the Lions, which put the Lions back in the game on October 2.

So what should we all think and feel when Romo protects his 28-point lead by trying to keep a 3rd-and-19 play alive, rolling to his right, getting hit and stripped of the ball by Adrian Clayborn? And what should we believe when Dekota Watson scoops up the ball and runs in for the score, cutting the Dallas lead to 28-7?

I couldn’t even get mad. This team is so clueless about how to win a game that I had little doubt that Tampa would make a game of it after all.

Dallas did go on a drive that ate up 7 minutes and led to a Dan Bailey field goal. That was promising.

But the defense turned around and gave up a long drive that resulted in a touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion.  With 23 seconds left in the third quarter, Dallas led by only 16 points, and the Buccaneers could have tied it with two touchdowns and two more conversions.

Let’s borrow from Baylor’s Robert Griffin III: It was unbelievably believable that the Cowboys had no idea up to that point how to put the game away.

Dallas moved into field goal range, only to suffer a sack that put the team out of range. Mat McBriar has faltered in a few situations this year, and when the team could have used a punt downed inside the 20, he kicked the ball into the end zone.

Tampa moved the ball back into Dallas territory. The worst play was a 4th-and-9 play from the Tampa 44. Kregg Lumpkin took a pass over middle, but Sean Lee was right there. However, the best tackler on the team missed the tackle, allowing Lumpkin to pick up the first down.

Fortunately, that drive stalled with just under six minutes left. Dallas killed some clock, and McBriar had another opportunity to pin Tampa Bay deep. Another touchback.

The Cowboys held on the final drive, giving Dallas its eighth win of the year after the offense ran out the clock.

Again, the story of the game should have been the first half. Romo finished the game with a QB rating of 133.9, and most of his damage came before halftime. He threw touchdown passes to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Laurent Robinson. A big positive is that Austin looks like he has returned to form, but Romo continues to look in the direction of Robinson.

Two other positives were the play of Jones and his new backup, Sammy Morris. The latter picked up 53 yards on some tough runs throughout the game.

The defense also played a nice first half. The second half wasn’t terrible, but it was troubling to see DeMarcus Ware on the bench during several series in the second half. By the end of the game, Ware and Anthony Spencer were on the bench, and Dallas went with Victor Butler and rookie Alex Albright.

(Someone explain this: Tampa double-teamed Albright on a few of the plays late, and Dallas still couldn’t manage a sack.)

Anyway, the win is a positive. The first half had many other positives. But the feeling that this team really hasn’t learned anything is glaring.

 

Cowboys-Buccaneers Storyline

The Cowboys are set to take on Tampa Bay for the first time since 2009. The teams have faced one another 14 times, with Dallas holding an 11-3 record.

Their last contest resulted in a 34-21 win. The Cowboys scored three second-half touchdowns in the win. Noteworthy: the three Cowboys who scored (Patrick Crayton, Roy Williams, and Marion Barber) are no longer with the team.

Miles Austin was not yet a starter, but he gave a preview of things to come with a 42-yard touchdown reception on a catch and run. That score gave Dallas a 13-7 halftime lead.

Thanks to Storify, here are other stories:

Bad Month So Far for Some Ex-Cowboys

The Cowboys rid themselves of some underproductive and overpriced veterans last season. Dallas also let a long-time special teams ace leave via free agency.

Unlike a few other recent events, those decisions have not come back to haunt the Cowboys this year. Here’s a summary:

Roy Williams

Roy drove us crazy during his tenure in Dallas. He would make a play now and then, but in between those plays, he would often drop some very easy passes that came his way.

He hasn’t improved during his time in Chicago this year. Consider this comment.

Williams didn’t rank among the league’s top 20 and, in fact, rookie teammate Dane Sanzenbacher has dropped more, but Williams’ problem beyond drops has been more one of bobbling catches. Some of the incompletions on passes thrown to Williams have resulted from Williams bobbling the ball first, allowing defenders to break up the throw or — in the case of a goal-line pass against Kansas City — come up with an interception.

Inconsistency has been Williams’ biggest problem. He failed to come up with a single catch in six games and hasn’t had more than 62 yards receiving, while scoring just one TD. Yet he continues to get starting time, and a lot of that has to do with his blocking ability.

Against the Chiefs on December 4, Williams had a chance to catch near the goal line. The ball, however, bounced off his hands and wound up in the hands of a Kansas City defender. The Bears lost, 10-3.

Marion Barber

One week later, former Marion Barber was the culprit in a Chicago loss. He had a great game for much of the contest, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown. However, with time running out in the fourth quarter, Barber ran out of bounds instead of falling to the ground. That stopped the clock and eventually gave Denver enough time to tie the game.

In overtime, Barber looked as if he would run for a touchdown, but a Denver defender stripped the ball. The Broncos turned around and won the game on a field goal.

The Chicago media then criticized Barber for not speaking to reporters until the middle of this week.

Sam Hurd

Many of us thought the Cowboys had made a mistake by not signing Hurd. It turns out, though, that Hurd had a side business while in Dallas, and he continued to run that business after he signed with the Bears this summer.

A transaction related to that business required Hurd to try to buy 5 to 10 kg of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana. That’s about five times more pot than the amount that sent Nate Newton to prison in 2002.

Charles Haley

Of course, there’s also the matter of Charles Haley, who was accused of slapping a woman on the butt at Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving. Yes, that was two weeks after he was inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from December 14, 1985

Tom Landry: The 20-Year Winner

A reader named Bruce Lombard earlier this year most generously sent me a stack of copies of the old Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from the 1985 season and 1986 offseason. Each Wednesday, we will take a look at some interesting tidbits in these issues.

The focus this week is in the issue published on December 14, 1985.

Another Blowout Loss

For only the third time in its history, Dallas gave up 50 points in a game. And for the second time in four weeks, the Cowboys suffered a blowout loss.

Cincinnati routed the Cowboys, 50-24. The defense gave up 274 yards on the ground, along with another 296 passing yards.

Dallas fell behind early thanks to a safety, followed by a Bengal touchdown. By the end of the first quarter, it was 22-0 in favor of Cincinnati.

Ray Horton (a future Cowboy) said, “The Cowboys are like Coca-Cola. They think they’re the real thing.”

Tough words, Ray. Tough words.

NFC East Up for Grabs

The Dallas loss left the Cowboys at 9-5, and the Cowboys were scheduled to face the Giants at Texas Stadium the following week. With both teams entering at 9-5, the winner would take the division title.

At that point, the Cowboys had not secured a playoff berth, which would have happened with a win over the Bengals. Nevertheless, Dallas could still secure a playoff spot even if the team finished at 9-7.

Tom Landry: A Winner for 20 Seasons

The Cowboys’ win over the Cardinals on Thanksgiving Day gave Dallas nine wins, guaranteeing the team its 20th consecutive winning season. Despite the team’s loss to the Bengals, the cover of the Dec. 14 issue featured Landry.

Tex Schramm said the ninth win had great significance.

I’ve been thinking about it for some time, because it is a game that represents a very important milestone for the organization.

At that time, the Cowboys’ streak was the longest active streak in professional sports. In terms of all-time records, only the New York Yankees (39 consecutive seasons) and Montreal Canadians (32 consecutive seasons) had longer streaks.

Madden: Bears are the Best Team by Far

CBS analyst and former Raider coach John Madden sat down to talk to Brad Sham. According to Madden, the Bears were the best team and that a large gap separated Chicago from the rest of the league.

Madden grouped Dallas with such teams as the Giants, the 49ers, and the Rams.

Robert Lavette: A Long-Time Cowboys Fan

Rookie Robert Lavette waited a long time to join the Cowboys. He had been a fan since he was eight years old.

He suffered an injury that ended his 1985 season. He had served as a kickoff returner, a role he had not had since his freshman year in college.

How did the rookie live during his first year as a pro? He had a two-bedroom apartment, had purchased a stereo, and planned to buy a few albums.

(Lavette spent one more full season with Dallas in 1986. He played four games with the team in 1987 as well).

Hollywood Henderson Not Happy About Omission

Hollywood Henderson had not been a member of the Cowboys for six years by 1985. The Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly had published a list of former first-round picks and inadvertently omitted Henderson from the list.

Henderson wrote to the magazine, saying he assumed “contempt” for the omission.

(He wrote this letter two years after being convicted for threatening and sexually assaulting two teenage girls. He remained sober after the 1983 incident.)

The Roll of Academic Pedigree and Playing Experience in Head Coaching Success

Few probably believe that Jason Garrett’s job is in danger this year, even as he makes costly mistakes. Franchises with high turnover rates at the head coaching position simply aren’t successful (review, for a moment, the recent records of the Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins…for that matter, review the records of the Dallas Cowboys).

That said, some are finding it puzzling that someone as immensely intelligent and wise as Jason Garrett could make the type of mistakes he has made. I mean, the man froze his own kicker, after all.

Support for the statement that he is immensely intelligent and wise: (1) he went to Princeton and Columbia; and (2) he played in the NFL for many years.

That’s logical. He’s clearly smarter than most of us. And he had professional playing experience that must have taught him a great deal.

The problem is that neither elite academic pedigree nor professional playing experience alone has had much to do with coaching success in the NFL.

Consider this: of the 20 head coaches in NFL history with the most wins, only two attended schools remotely close to Princeton in terms of academic reputation. Those coaches include Bill Belichick (Wesleyan) and Marv Levy (masters degree from Harvard). Other coaches on this list attended such schools as John Carroll University, Pittsburgh, Dayton, Juniata College, Univ. of Illinois, Eastern Illinois, San Diego State, Syracuse, etc. Nothing wrong with these schools, but I don’t know how many people would seriously confuse them for Princeton.

That said, perhaps someone could argue that Belichick’s education helped him to become the mastermind that he is. However, Belichick’s success is more likely based on a long grooming period. He was, after all, a highly successful assistant coach long before he was a head coach. Maybe his superior intelligence told him to seek mentoring as an assistant, but his degree in economics from Wesleyan probably had little to do with his career trajectory.

As for Levy, most remember that he lost four consecutive Super Bowls with Buffalo. However, few would know that after he earned his M.S. from Harvard in 1951, he spent more than 40 years as an assistant or head coach at the high school, college, or professional level. Again, the M.S. in English history probably had little to nothing to do with his later coaching success.

Another coach worth nothing was Vince Lombardi. He attended Fordham University—a fine institution—but he couldn’t find a job after graduating in 1937. He later enrolled at Fordham’s law school, but he dropped out after one semester. Needless to say, I would doubt that Fordham’s academic reputation had much to do with his five NFL titles and two Super Bowl titles.

As for playing experience, the majority of coaches in the top 20 list for wins had some NFL playing experience. However, nine of these 20 had no playing experience. Moreover, in most cases, the playing experience seems to have been more important to these coaching landing assistant jobs than it was to having a direct impact on head coaching success. And in most cases, the experience under a strong mentor seems to have been the most critical aspect of future success.

Back to Garrett. Garrett played in the league for eight years. During one of those seasons, his head coach was Jimmy Johnson. His other head coaches were Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, and Jim Fassel.  “Great minds” isn’t what comes to mind.

(Of course, Garrett’s father is a longtime assistant coach and scout. He also led Columbia University to an 0-10 record in 1985.)

Garrett also served as quarterbacks coach at Miami when the head coach was Nick Saban. Great college coach. Not so great at the pro level.

His mentor during his time as offensive coordinator in Dallas? Wade Phillips? Jerry Jones?

The bottom line, I think, is that Jerry hired Garrett to mentor himself, with Jerry assuming that a smart guy like the Princeton-educated Garrett could figure this stuff out on his own. It hasn’t been a complete failure by any means, but it’s no wonder Garrett makes mistakes that more seasoned coaches probably wouldn’t make. And I seriously doubt that the Princeton degree ensures that Garrett won’t react poorly to pressure, which seems to have happened a few times this season.

So again, I’m not saying Garrett should be fired. I’m saying that, much like the problems with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, we probably could have seen these limitations in coaching. Here’s to hoping for an injection of wisdom over the next four days.

* * *

Here’s a list of the top 20 coaches in NFL history in terms of wins, along with their colleges and playing experience, if any.

Don Shula, John Carroll University, Case Western Reserve Univ. (M.S.)

George Halas, Illinois

Tom Landry, Univ. of Texas at Austin

Curly Lambeau, Notre Dame

Paul Brown, Miami (Ohio) (did not play professional football)

Marty Schottenheimer, Pittsburgh

Chuck Noll, Dayton

Dan Reeves, South Carolina

Chuck Knox, Juniata (did not play professional football)

Bill Belichick, Wesleyan (did not play professional football)

Bill Parcells, Colgate Univ. and Univ. of Wichita (drafted, but did not play professional football)

Mike Holmgren, USC (drafted, but did not play professional football)

Bud Grant, Minnesota

Mike Shanahan, Eastern Illinois (did not play professional football)

Joe Gibbs, San Diego State (did not play professional football)

Steve Owen, Phillips Univ. (now defunct)

Bill Cowher, North Carolina State

Marv Levy, Coe College, Harvard (M.S.) (did not play professional football)

Jeff Fisher, USC

Tom Coughlin, Syracuse (did not play professional football)

His Profile Notwithstanding, This Defensive Coordinator Hasn’t Fixed Anything

[I changed the original title, which was “Our Pregnant Defensive Coordinator Hasn’t Fixed Anything.” I’m pretty sure that Rob Ryan isn’t pregnant]

I was once a member of a certain now-defunct, Cowboys-related forum. During week 2 of the 2009 season in the inaugural game at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys grabbed a 31-30 lead with less than 3:40 remaining. A defensive stop would show that the team had turned a corner, would give the Cowboys a 2-0 record, and would open the new stadium in style. It didn’t happen, of course, as Eli Manning marched the Giants right down field, facing only two third downs on their final drive. Lawrence Tynes nailed a field goal as time expired to give the Giants the win.

A prominent member of that forum swore he wouldn’t watch the Cowboys again as long as Wade Phillips was head coach. Wade was supposed to “fix” the defense, and his failure was evident to this forum member after the loss to the Giants. To my knowledge, this member refused to watch the Cowboys for the rest of the 2009 season (including the playoffs), and what was odd to me at the time was that a number of other members agreed with the principle of what he was doing.

Consider for a moment the defensive starters on that 2009 team — Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, Gerald Sensabaugh, Mike Jenkins.

Now fast-forward to last night’s complete collapse, caused mostly by that same defense. Sure, Wade Phillips is gone, replaced by the only pregnant football coach in the United States. But look at the defensive starters— Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, Gerald Sensabaugh, Mike Jenkins.

Dallas has added a young linebacker in Sean Lee, and he’s made a big difference, including a huge interception in the fourth quarter last night. Dallas also replaced Ken Hamlin, first with Alan Ball and then with Abram Elam. The Cowboys also bid farewell to Igor Olshansky, replacing him with Kenyon Coleman. Spears was replaced by Jason Hatcher as the starter.

Otherwise, this is the same group, including the same members of the secondary. Alan Ball couldn’t cover anyone as a safety in 2010, and he certainly can’t cover anyone as a key backup corner now. Mike Jenkins can make three great plays in a row, followed by a fourth play that drives us all mad.

Terence Newman had a great game against Buffalo a month ago. But he played a big part in the loss to Arizona last week, and he blew several coverages in the loss to the Giants. He could have given the Cowboys a 7-0 lead with a pick-six early in the game, but he caught the ball as well as your average offensive lineman and watched the ball fall straight to the ground. The Giants should have scored earlier than they did last night because Newman failed to cover Manningham on a play where Manningham dropped a sure touchdown reception.

The bottom line is that Dallas has tweaked with this defense a bit here and there, but this is largely the same bunch who could not stop anyone during much of the 6-10 season in 2010. In fact, most of these players have been around for a series of gut-churning losses during the past six years. If you want a bad trip down memory lane, read this article at ESPN, which chronicles 13 head-scratching losses since 2005.

Now back to guts, or a gut, consider this new defensive coordinator, who was supposed to fix the defense that “Mr. Fix-It” failed to fix. Rob Ryan’s resume before 2011:

  • Seven seasons as a defensive coordinator in Oakland and Cleveland. Not one of those teams had a winning season.
  • The 2006 Raiders finished third in total yards allowed. Of course, that Oakland team went 2-14.
  • His defenses finished 22nd or worse in six of the other seasons in which he was a defensive coordinator.
  • His defenses finished 27th or worse in total turnovers in four of his seven seasons.

How does this compare with Phillips’ tenure in Dallas? The Cowboys finished in the top 10 in yardage allowed during each of Phillips’ first three seasons. As far as team defensive stats, Rob Ryan’s defense has never finished ahead of a Wade Phillips defense in any season other than 2006, when the Raiders were (once again) 2-14.

No, I am not defending Wade as either the head coach or the defensive coordinator. And yes, I was one of those who wanted to believe that Rob Ryan could provide an answer on defense.

But the bottom line for me right now is that my attitude is not far from my former friend on the Cowboys forum. If I didn’t have tickets to the Eagles’ game on December 24, I might consider by own boycott. It’s seriously become that sickening to watch this team.

Anyway, Rob Ryan is Rex Ryan’s brother and Buddy Ryan’s son. That’s really what he has going for him. And apparently networks are just too happy to show Rob mouth the F word as he somehow continues to walk in straight lines even with that large stomach of his.

But he’s being asked to fix a defense consisting of the very same players who have lost so many of those games in the past several years. These are the same corners who find creative ways at various times to blow coverages at the absolute worst possible times.

We’re expected to believe that the results will change because of who is designing the schemes. Jerry apparently believes that the results will change depending on who designs the schemes.

But the greater concern is what has stayed the same. Same personnel. Same secondary coach, who was also once a head coach who managed only 15 wins in three seasons. Dallas brought in two free agents during the off-season, but both of them (Elam and Coleman) had been in Dallas before.

The most we should probably expect from a coordinator is better, um, coordination. Instead, we sometimes see confusion among members of that defense. We saw last night a last-second substitution that resulted in Mario Manningham ending up wide, wide open for what turned out to be a 47-yard touchdown. One play before that, the Cowboys neglected to cover Hakeem Nicks, who was the same player who had torched the Cowboys for nearly 100 yards in the first quarter.

The problems with this 2011 team are not limited to Ryan’s defense, and the problems are also not new to this team in 2011. The problems come down to this—no one area of this team is good enough to cover for deficiencies in other areas. Forget that talk about talent, and forget for a moment about who is designing schemes and calling plays. These players—especially the ones who have been on the field for these era-defining losses—are not good enough to win games consistently.

Some teams, such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, can win with their defenses, even if their offenses are inconsistent.

Others, such as New Orleans and New England (in the last few years, at least), win with overwhelming offenses, even as their defenses tend to give up huge yardages to opposing offenses.

Then there are the current Packers, who seem to win games on both sides of the ball.

For Dallas, when the offense catches fire, the defense tends to suffer a let-down. But in games when the defense holds tight, the offense can’t get anything going. The offense might make a critical score late in a game, but the offense can’t trust the defense to make a key stop. But in another game, the defense gives the offense a chance to win, and the offense can’t come through.

No, this hasn’t been true in every game, or else this team wouldn’t have a 7-6 mark. However, this imbalance occurs often enough that that team repeatedly struggles to stay above the .500 mark. For 2011, I’ve returned to my original prediction of 8-8.

And when Rob Ryan joins his brother in the head coaching ranks, I’m simply not going to lose a second of sleep over it. The real question is whether Dallas will bother to fix what is really broken. When the general manager doesn’t answer to anyone but himself, though, there’s little reason for immediate optimism.

N.Y. Giants 37, Dallas 34: Cowboys’ Pathetic Collapse Is All Too Familiar

The cowboy in the background sums it up for all of us.

The features of the 2011 Dallas Cowboys:

(1) We get to see shot after shot of Rob Ryan for no real reason.

and

(2) The Cowboys completely rip our guts out by finding yet another way to blow a game.

Dallas took a 34-22 lead over the Giants with 5:41 when Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Yes, that’s a 12-point lead with 5:41 to go.

Then the defense of the greatest defensive coordinator in the league needed to make just one stop. Maybe this defense could have just slowed down the Giants.

Nope. The Giants moved the ball 80 yards in two and a half minutes to cut the Dallas lead to 5.

Then Dallas just needed perhaps one first down to secure the win. On 3rd-and-5, Romo found Miles Austin streaking up the right sideline on a go route. It would have been a touchdown, or at least put the ball deep into Giant territory to secure the Dallas win.

At that moment, my television literally froze for a second, but it was clear enough that Romo missed Austin’s outstretched hands.

Dallas had to punt, and at just the moment that Mat McBriar needed to nail a 60- or 70-yarder, he hit one off the side of his foot for a 33-yard effort. New York just had to move the ball 58 yards.

How else could Dallas help the Giants stay in the playoff hunt?

How about a holding penalty on Frank Walker that gave the Giants a first down rather than having to face a 3rd-and-10 from the Dallas 24?

How about a large tight end named Jake Ballard catching two passes for 39 yards to put the Giants at the Dallas 1?

How about Dallas not having any answers at the goal line, allowing the Giants to score and then convert a two-point conversion?

Dallas moved the ball back into field goal range. Dan Bailey kicked what looked to be the game-tying field goal, but the Giants called time out. The Giants then blocked Bailey’s second attempt, ending the game.

This had become a season of magical performances by two key rookies. DeMarco Murray provided a rushing attack that the team had lacked, and Bailey was hitting field goal after field goal.

Well, that magic is gone. Murray fractured his ankle and is probably gone for the year. Bailey has missed game-winning or game-tying field goals in each of the last two weeks.

As for Ryan’s defense, the Cowboys should have won the game despite the secondary’s effort. Dallas had no answer for Hakeem Nicks, who caught 7 passes for 154 yards. Mario Manningham came from nowhere to catch a 47-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter thanks in large part to a completely blown coverage by the Dallas defense, which got caught trying to make last-second substitutions.

(Yes, some other teams get caught making substitutions, but are their defensive coordinators featured by the networks every 30 seconds?)

Dallas had some good performances, including those by Romo and Laurent Robinson. Romo put the team in position to tie it at the end, but the team would not have had to do so if he hadn’t missed Austin on the 3rd-and-5 play.

Anyway, many people, including me, thought the Cowboys were an 8-8 team. There is no reason to think they will be in any better than that. A win over Tampa Bay will give everyone a small glimmer of hope, but then Dallas will have to beat the Eagles and Giants in consecutive weeks to pull out the NFC East.

Logically, why would anyone believe that will happen?

A Look Back (1977): Cowboys Stomp Giants Thanks to Dorsett’s 2 TDs

The New York Giants face rookie running back DeMarco Murray for the first time on Sunday. It would be nice of Murray could have the kind of debut against the Giants that another rookie once had.

In 1977, the Cowboys had drafted Tony Dorsett with the second overall pick. Dorsett had done little in the team’s opening game, but against the Giants, he showed his promise.

Dorsett didn’t start, but it took less than a full half before he would score his first NFL touchdown. He had two by the end of the day, along with a 62 rushing yards. Dallas stomped the Giants, 41-21.

Here are the highlights: