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As we all know, the 2015 Dallas Cowboys will go down in history as one of the worst teams in franchise history.
And, of course, the team might be best known for its lack of turnovers. The team forced only 11 turnovers in 16 games.
In the history of the NFL, the team’s turnover differential of -22 ranks as the 27th worst in a season. Among teams playing 16-game seasons since 1978, only 14 teams have had a turnover differential worse than -22.
The 14 teams with turnover differentials worse than -22 since 1978 have won an average of 3.78 games.
It is only fitting that Dallas went 4-12.
This was not the worst season in NFL history or in team history, however. Below are a few points about turnover differential in league history.
Worst of all time: 1965 Pittsburgh Steelers
The worst turnover differential in league history, or at least dating back to 1940, was -30 by the 1965 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 1965 Steelers were a miserable 2-12. Pittsburgh turned the ball over six times in a game against the Cowboys and seven times in a game against the Redskins.
What gave those Steelers the worst turnover differential was Pittsburgh’s miserable performance against the Cardinals on December 12, 1965.
Quarterback Tommy Wade threw seven interceptions, while Bill Nelson threw two more. Moreover, the team lost three fumbles, giving Pittsburgh a total of 12 turnovers in one game. It tied a league mark for most turnovers in a single game.
The Steelers turned the ball over five times in their season finale, giving the team 57 turnovers in one year.
Modern futility: 2000 San Diego Chargers
Since the league expanded to 16-game seasons in 1978, the worst team in terms of turnover differential has been the 2000 San Diego Chargers.
Led by the infamous Ryan Leaf and the 37-year-old Jim Harbaugh, the Chargers went 1-15 that season. They turned the ball over at least twice in every game that year and suffered five turnovers in three consecutive games.
By season’s end, the Chargers had 50 turnovers. The defense only managed 22, giving the team a turnover ratio of -28.
Worst in Cowboys’ history: 1989 and 1960
The worst seasons in team history remain the 1960 and 1989 seasons. The 2015 season was not far behind, though.
In 12 games during the franchise’s inaugural season of 1960, Dallas turned the ball over 50 times while forcing only 26 turnovers, giving the team a differential of -24.
That mark stood for 29 years until the 1989 Cowboys had a turnover differential of -25.
The 2015 Cowboys will take their place among those horrible teams with the third-worst season.
1989 Cowboys (1-15): -25
1960 Cowboys (0-11-1): -24
2015 Cowboys (4-12): -22
1988 Cowboys (3-13): -21
2004 Cowboys (6-10): -15
The Best of All Time: 1983 Washington Redskins
Not surprisingly, teams with the highest positive turnover differential have performed well.
The team with the highest differential were the 1983 Redskins, who finished with a 14-2 record. Washington forced an incredible 61 turnovers while committing only 18, for a differential of 43.
The next highest number on the list was +30 by the 1958 Baltimore Colts.
The Best of Dallas Teams: 1981
The Cowboys have had some great defenses, but in terms of regular-season statistics, no team has had an especially impressive turnover ratio.
The best season for the franchise in this context was the 1981 Cowboys. Thanks largely to rookie Everson Walls’ 11 interceptions, Dallas forced 53 turnovers and finished the season with a ratio of +18.
Here is the list of the top five:
1981 Cowboys (12-4): +18
1971 Cowboys (11-3): +16
1973 Cowboys (10-4): +13
1970 Cowboys (10-4): +11
1998 Cowboys (10-6): +11
At about 1 p.m. central standard time, the Dallas Cowboys showed up to play a football game. As head coach Jason Garrett likes to state, the team scratched and clawed and showed heart and…
Unfortunately, the game against the Washington Redskins started at noon. By the time the Cowboys appeared to realize they were playing a football game, Washington led 24-0.
Dallas did make things interesting for a while and even put up 512 yards of offense, representing a season high. But many of those yards came when the Redskins were playing off the ball thanks to the huge lead.
The Cowboys finish their season at 4-12. It’s the worst finish since 1989, when Dallas went 1-15. The 275 points for the season were the fewest since 2002, when Dallas went 5-11.
It was the same old story. Dallas went three-and-out on its first two possessions, and Washington scored its first touchdown after the second Dallas possession.
The Cowboys picked up a first down on its third possession, but quarterback Kellen Moore threw an interception. Washington scored again.
Dallas then fumbled on its fourth possession. Washington scored again.
Here’s the highlight posted on ESPN after the first quarter:
The Cowboys are down 21 points at the end of the first quarter, the first time that’s happened to them at home since December 3, 1961 against the Browns. Jim Brown scored a first-quarter touchdown that day for Cleveland.
Yes, Moore ended up throwing for 435 yards and 3 TDs, but the game was over long before Moore started putting up stats.
Dallas once again lost the turnover battle, 4-0. That marks the ninth game this season where Dallas has failed to force a single turnover.
For the season, the Cowboys turned the ball over 33 times, including 22 interceptions and 11 lost fumbles. The defense forced a total of 11 turnovers—8 interceptions and 3 fumble recoveries.
At least twice during the game, color commentator Ronde Barber was openly questioning what the Dallas defensive coaches were thinking. Both were touchdown plays, including one where Rashad Ross was all alone on a 71-yard touchdown pass from Colt McCoy.
Rod Marinelli may have a great reputation, and perhaps he deserved all the credit he received last year, but his defense this year sure made him look like the head coach who went 0-16 with Detroit.
Fire Jason Garrett
Yes, Tom Landry won his first Super Bowl in his 12th season as head coach. Yes, the team suffered through five losing seasons before the young franchise started winning.
Maybe that is what Jerry is thinking about retaining Garrett despite all the mediocrity.
Or maybe Jerry just doesn’t mind the mediocrity, given that he still sells the stadium out.
I have no reason to think that Garrett will lead this team to a championship, and I would think that the time is now to move on.
Jason Garrett took over a 1-7 Dallas Cowboys team in 2010 and turned things around a bit.
Garrett was much more articulate than predecessor Wade Phillips. As a Princeton graduate, Garrett must be much smarter than Phillips. Garrett preached process, and the immediate results (5-3 during the second half of the 2010 season) were promising.
Members of the local press called for Phillips to be fired when Dallas lost to the Giants in the playoffs after going 13-3 in the regular season in 2007. (Um, Jean-Jacques Taylor?) Even more people called for Phillips’ head after Dallas lost to the Eagles in the season finale in 2008, ending the team’s chances of making the playoffs by going 9-7. (Um, Jean-Jacques Taylor?)
The critics were silenced for a while when Dallas went 11-5 in 2009 and won a playoff game, but Jerry Jones had little choice but to fire Wade when the team stumbled and fumbled its way to the 1-7 record in 2010.
As the permanent head coach, Garrett’s message remains pretty much the same. Preach process; must review the tape before commenting on anything else.
Well, here’s the process in Garrett’s fifth year as the permanent head coach: fight hard early in the game; keep the game close; miss opportunities on offense; make mistakes at the worst possible times; watch defense fall apart in the second half.
And lose the game.
Dallas did all of the above against the 6-8 Buffalo Bills.
The Dallas defense held Buffalo to less than 10 points for nearly the entire game. In fact, Dallas managed to force two turnovers, increasing the team’s total to 11 for the season.
Keep game close
The Dallas offense was not great, but the Cowboys did manage to kick two field goals in the first half. The game was tied 6-6 at the half.
Miss opportunity; make mistake at the worst time
With the Cowboys trailing 9-6 in the third quarter, Dallas moved the ball to the Buffalo 26. But a pass intended for Brice Butler bounced off his hands and into the arms of AJ Tarpley. Dallas never came close to scoring again.
Watch defense fall apart
Buffalo took possession of the ball with 6:53 remaining in the game and a 9-6 lead. The Bills rather easily moved the ball to the 50, when a running back named Mike Gillislee raced 50 yards down the right sideline for the game-clinching score.
The Cowboys are now 4-11 and in danger of finishing with the team’s worst record since 1989. Dallas needs a win next week against Washington to tie the records achieved by all three teams coached by Dave Campo.
What an unmitigated disaster, yet the members of the press who regularly demanded that Jerry fire Wade are rather silent when it comes to firing Garrett. (Um, Jean-Jacques Taylor?)
Well, it’s time to start demanding that Jerry fire Garrett. Almost no other coach would have survived three consecutive 8-8 seasons where season-ending losses to division rivals killed the team’s playoff chances. And even fewer coaches would survive a 4-12 season just one year after the team went 12-4.
Chances are, however, that Garrett will clearly articulate the reasons why his process will work, and Jerry will not fire him.
And this mediocrity will continue.
In 55 years as a franchise, the Dallas Cowboys have had many years of ups and a few years of downs. The past 20 years have seen the Cowboys find all sorts of ways to remain mediocre.
Given this history, it is difficult for the Cowboys to do something truly unprecedented. This 2015 Dallas team can do just that—something that no other team has done in franchise history.
Dallas has gone 0-11-1, 1-15, 3-13. Of course, Dave Campo’s Cowboys went 5-11 three straight years.
But no Dallas team has ever gone 4-12.
This current squad has the potential to do that after finding yet another way to lose a game despite holding a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Dallas once again lost the turnover battle as Dallas quarterbacks threw four total interceptions. Kellen Moore replaced Matt Cassel in the first half, and though Moore threw three of those interceptions, his touchdown pass to Dez Bryant near the end of the first half gave Dallas a 10-9 halftime lead.
The Cowboys moved the ball to the New York 6-yard line with 5:25 remaining in the third quarter. However, for the second time in two weeks, a pass intended for Dez Bryant wound up in the hands of the opponent inside the red zone.
Thankfully for Dallas, Terrance Mitchell picked off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass just two plays later. The Dallas offense could not move the ball, so the Cowboys settled for a field goal.
The Dallas defense did what has become common—let the team stay in the game until the fourth quarter. True to form, the Dallas defense did a nice job overall but gave up a 70-yard touchdown drive that gave the Jets a lead with 8:58 remaining.
Moore led the Cowboys on a drive that resulted in a field goal, tying the game at 16.
But the defense once again failed to stop the opponent when it mattered the most. The Jets drove the ball 58 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.
Yet again, this Cowboys team has no idea how to win a game.
A 4-12 record would have been impossible before 1978, when the NFL expanded the schedule to 16 games. In the 1960s, the Cowboys recorded records of 4-10 and 4-9-1, but no Dallas team since the expanded schedule has gone 4-12.
We have every reason to believe it will happen this year. What a complete and utter failure.
We are five days away from the new Star Wars movie, so let’s roll out some Star Wars lines.
A long time ago…
The Cowboys traveled to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys were a competitive bunch. In fact, that Cowboys team had reached the playoffs and had even won a playoff game.
That game in the distant past occurred in 2014. Only some of our older readers might recall that year.
Anyway, Dallas actually led that playoff game heading into the fourth quarter. Dallas also might have won the game but for a reversed call on a reception by Dez Bryant near the goal line in the fourth quarter.
This is the present though.
To be fair to the defense, Dallas was not out of tonight’s game until late in the second half. Green Bay controlled the ball for much of the first half, but the Packers’ lead was only 14-0 going into halftime.
At the midway point of the third quarter, Dallas had even cut the Green Bay lead to 14-7. The Dallas defense forced punts on four straight possessions.
Had Dallas been able to mount more offense, the Cowboys could have been in a position to win this game.
But this is the 2015 Cowboys, who have utterly no clue how to win a game.
After gaining 80 yards on four plays to score their only touchdown of the game, the Cowboys managed a total of 55 yards on their next five possessions.
Dallas still had some chance in the fourth quarter, but the defense needed to make another stop. Instead, the Packers moved the ball 84 yards on 12 plays.
The worst play of the drive occurred on a 3rd and 9 from the Dallas 48. A stop would have forced a Green Bay punt. Instead, Aaron Rodgers broke an arm tackle and ran 11 yards for a first down.
Five plays later, James Starks broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run that all but put the game away.
Jerry can spin this season all he wants, but the bottom line is that this season has been a failure.
At 4-9, Dallas is not fully eliminated from the playoffs, but it would take monumental failures by the Eagles, Redskins, and Giants for the Cowboys to win the NFC East. It’s not going to happen.
Moreover, failures this year are solely the result of Tony Romo being injured. These have been team losses with failures at one time or another by every part of this team.
If the Dallas Cowboys had failed to win another game in 2015, Jason Garrett’s coaching record would (fittingly) fall to an even, perfectly mediocre 44-44.
With a few exceptions, the Cowboys played against Washington as if they might have wanted this to happen.
For example, with the Cowboys trailing 9-6 in the fourth quarter, Matt Cassel completed a 42-yard pass to Dez Bryant to get the ball to the Washington 3. A touchdown would give Dallas a fourth-quarter lead.
But who needs a lead when the team can tie the game with another field goal? Dallas moved the ball to the 1, but Darren McFadden lost a yard on 3rd-and-goal, meaning that Dallas tied the game with a Dan Bailey field goal.
A few minutes later, the Redskins did their best to give Dallas the win. More specifically, DeSean Jackson tried to give the game away by running backwards on a punt return and then fumbling the ball.
Dallas recovered at the Washington 15 with less than two minutes remaining. A first down by the Dallas offense would mean the Cowboys could run the clock down to nothing, setting up a probable game-winning attempt by Bailey.
But who needs to take the path leading to a sure win when you can give the opponent a chance to tie the game again? Well, McFadden ran out of bounds on first down to stop the clock, then rushed for a touchdown on second down. That meant Dallas led 16-9, but it also meant that Washington had 1:14 to tie the game-winning score.
To help the Redskins with a comeback attempt, Dallas gave up a long kickoff return, and J.J. Wilcox was called for a facemask. This gave Washington the ball at the Dallas 43.
Four plays later, Kurt Cousins hit Jackson on a 28-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
Really stupid game management. And we’ve seen this before during the Jason Garrett regime. Please remember the possibility of a 44-44 record.
Well, Garrett will continue to have a winning record after this year because Lucky Whitehead returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards, and Cassel moved the Cowboys into field-goal range for a 54-yard attempt by Bailey. The kicker nailed the kick, and Dallas improved to 4-8.
It was a strange win, but even stranger is that most of the other cards fell into place. The Eagles, Giants, and Redskins each have 5-7 records, so Dallas is only one game out of the division lead. This race somehow is not over.
Sean Lee was a monster tonight. He finished with a total of 13 tackles, including two for losses, plus a sack.
Other defenders had good games as well. This Washington team scored 47 points against the Saints less than a month ago, but Dallas shut down the Redskin offense for much of the game.
With five receptions, Jason Witten now has 1,003 for his career. He not only surpassed the 1,000-catch mark but he also moved into the top 10 on the all-time list for receptions. With 22 more receptions this year, he’ll surpass Isaac Bruce.
Once upon a time (2010), I owned a fantasy team in a league on Yahoo. Jay Cutler was my starting quarterback. I needed something like seven points to win that week, and Cutler and the Bears were playing the Giants on Sunday Night Football.
Cutler was typically good for 15 to 20 points per game, so I should have had this one. Instead, Cutler threw for only 42 yards with an interception and a fumble lost. He was sacked nine times and was injured near the end of the first half. He did not play the rest of the game and finished with -3.32 fantasy points. To my knowledge, it is the only time during the past 18 years of playing fantasy football that I had started a quarterback who finished with negative fantasy points.
Anyway, I originally drafted Tony Romo in one of my fantasy leagues and then drafted Cutler, of all people, as a backup. When Romo went down with an injury, I was somehow able to acquire Carson Palmer, so I have only had to play Cutler once. I cut Romo but picked him up in time to have him on my roster for the playoffs.
My only football-related thanks on Thanksgiving? I did not start Romo against the Panthers. His three-interception dud left him with -1.76 fantasy points before he left the game with another clavicle injury.
It marked the second time in Romo’s career that he ended up with negative fantasy points. The first occurred in 2005, when as a backup, he knelt on the ball twice in a 33-10 win over the Eagles. That gave him -0.2 points, but that hardly counts given that it was his first appearance in an NFL game.
So in 127 career starts, yesterday marked one of the worst performances of his career and easily the worst fantasy performance of his career.
Here’s a summary of five of his worst games (taking into account both on-field performance and fantasy performance). Note that fantasy points are based on standard scoring on NFL.com.
2015: Carolina 33, Dallas 14
11-21, 106 yds., 0 TD, 3 Int.
-1.76 fantasy points
2007: Philadelphia 10, Dallas 6
13-36, 214 yds., 0 TD, 3 Int.
4.06 fantasy points
2008: Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6
21-39, 183 yds., 0 TD, 1 Int.
4.42 fantasy points
2008: Pittsburgh 20, Dallas 13
19-36, 210 yds., 1 TD, 3 Int.
6.0 fantasy points
2009: Denver 17, Dallas 10
25-42, 255 yds., 0 TD, 1 Int.
6.20 fantasy points
To be sure, he had plenty of dishonorable mentions. For example, he played part of the season finale against the Redskins in 2007 in a 27-6 loss. He posted only 1.44 fantasy points. Few games, however, match yesterday’s performance in terms of futility.
During the Dallas Cowboys’ seven-game losing streak, Tony Romo’s abilities became almost mythical. The quarterback who had a record of 25-28 between 2010 and 2013 was going to return from a clavicle injury and lead Dallas to seven consecutive wins and a run to the Super Bowl.
Much of this talk focused on how well the Cowboys did in 2014, plus the team’s first two wins in 2015. After all, the team was 2-0 when Romo went down with his injury.
Of course, we have chosen to forget that Romo was just one piece of the puzzle that caused Dallas to finish with a 12-4 record in 2014. The running game took pressure off Romo, and the Dallas defense played well over its head after horrible showings in 2012 and 2013.
We chose to forget that Cowboys probably should have lost to the Giants in week 1 in 2015 and only won because of some poor mistakes by the Giants and the referee. Yes, Romo led the game-winning drive, but the drive would not have occurred had the Giants and referees not made mistakes before that drive.
We also chose to overlook Romo’s two interceptions in the win over Miami last week. Romo was bound to be rusty, and he did manage to throw two touchdown passes in the win. However, he took plenty of hard shots from the Miami defensive line and did not look especially sharp.
We lastly overlooked what has tended to happen during Romo’s career when he has tried to do to much on his own. For instance, a Dallas quarterback has thrown five interceptions in a single game seven times during the past 56 years. Romo has done that twice.
Anyway, the Romo myth helped to make the Cowboys favorites against the undefeated Panthers on Thanksgiving. It became evident that it might be a long day when Kurt Coleman picked off a Romo pass less than a minute into the game and returned the pick for a touchdown.
Dallas never really recovered. Romo threw another pick-6 when Luke Kuechly snagged a pass intended for Jason Witten and returned it 32 yards for another score. By that point, the Panthers led 20-3.
A third Romo interception led to another Graham Gano field goal, giving the Panthers a 23-3 halftime lead. It was the worst halftime deficient on Thanksgiving Day in the history of the Cowboys.
And yes, it could get worse. On the final play of the third quarter, Thomas Davis sacked Romo, and Romo immediately grabbed his left collarbone. It was fairly obvious that he re-injured his clavicle, and the team sent him in for x-rays.
Whether he returns in 2015 does not seem to matter, though. The defense succeeded in forcing field goals against the Panthers, but the idea that Dallas has a playoff-caliber pass rush with Greg Hardy and others is another myth. Dallas did manage one sack of Cam Newton, but far too often, Dallas never came close to creating pressure.
Ah, yes, the Kraken. The legendary sea monster…who tries to swim inside a line of Panthers and suddenly becomes invisible.
Carolina did not have a huge rushing today, but Jonathan Stewart regularly managed three, four, or five yards on first down. Carolina was able to win the time of possession by holding the ball for more than 35 minutes.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys were supposed to have The Best Offensive Line in Football such that any running back would easily duplicate what DeMarco Murray did last year.
Darren McFadden has had his moments, but his performance on Thursday made The Best Offensive Line in Football story look like yet another myth.
During the past 10 years, the Cowboys (and their fans, including me) have made the mistake of talking about the Super Bowl, even though the team has not shown the ability (or resolve, or talent) to win more than a single playoff game, if that many. The current Cowboys are talking about making a playoff run when the team could not win a single game for two months and now cannot win more than one game in a row.
The Panthers showed they are elite right now. The Cowboys should start thinking about 2016.
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant set a team record on Sunday by connecting on their 50th touchdown. This mark broke the previous high of 49 set by Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
Here is a look at the highest number of touchdown connections in team history, organized chronologically by quarterback.
Eddie LeBaron (1960-1963)
LeBaron threw 45 touchdown passes during his career in Dallas, connecting 21 times to Frank Clarke.
Don Meredith (1960-1968)
Meredith had 135 touchdown passes during his career from 1960 to 1968. He connected with Bob Hayes on 36 of those.
Craig Morton (1965-1974)
Hayes was also at the top of Morton’s list. Of Morton’s 80 touchdown passes as a Cowboy, 21 went to Hayes.
Roger Staubach (1969-1979)
Two receivers had 27 touchdown receptions from Staubach. Both Billy Joe DuPree and Drew Pearson had 27 touchdown receptions from Staubach, who had a total of 153.
Danny White (1976-1988)
White threw two more touchdowns than Staubach, finishing with 155. He connected with Tony Hill on 31 of those.
Steve Pelluer (1984-1988)
No, Pelluer does not belong on this list. He connected with Irvin on four touchdowns, but the player who caught the highest number of Pelluer’s 28 touchdown passes was Ray Alexander. Remember that name?
Troy Aikman (1989-2000)
Aikman connected with Irvin for 49 touchdowns between 1989 and 1999.
Quincy Carter (2001-2003)
Another one who I could omit, but I included him anyway. He connected on five touchdowns with three different players, including Antonio Bryant, Terry Glenn, and Joey Galloway.
Drew Bledsoe (2005-2006)
Bledsoe threw 30 touchdown passes with Dallas. He connected with Jason Witten on six of those.
Tony Romo (2003-present)
Romo shattered the team record for touchdown passes, as he has thrown for 247. In addition to the 50 touchdowns to Bryant, Romo has also connected with Witten 37 times and Terrell Owens 34 times.
During their seven-game losing streak, the Dallas Cowboys found plenty of possible ways to lose.
They squandered opportunities. They blew leads. They ruined comebacks. Anyone reading this blog knows all of this.
On Sunday, the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to an interception return for a touchdown by Rolando McClain and a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams. Despite bad field position for much of the first half, the Cowboys looked like they would go into halftime with a two-touchdown lead.
But during the celebration following Williams’ touchdown, he and Dez Bryant were called for taunting, forcing Dan Bailey to kick off from the 20. His squib kick was poor, giving the Dolphins the ball at the Miami 46.
Four plays later, Miami had cut the lead to 14-7.
To make matters worse, Miami tied the game midway through the third quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills.
It was this type of sequence of events that haunted the Cowboys for two months. In the past seven games, Dallas would have found a way to lose this game.
But not today. And perhaps Romo can provide a spark that leads Dallas back into this race.
With the game tied 14-14, Romo and the Cowboys took over at their own 20 and promptly marched 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Romo hit Bryant for the score, marking the 50th time Romo and Bryant have hooked up for touchdowns. That is a franchise record.
The Dallas defense had failed the team several times during the losing streak. But not today. Miami not only failed to score for the remainder of the day, but the Dolphins also managed only one first down during the entire fourth quarter.
Romo was not great. He threw two interceptions, including one in the red zone in the first half. But he also made just enough plays to give the Cowboys a chance.
His touchdown pass to Williams was exciting, and he kept Bryant involved even with Bryant battling injuries.
Darren McFadden was solid again. He carried the ball 29 times for 129 yards, including a 35-yarder in the second half to help set up a touchdown. McFadden also had a critical 15-yard run on a 3rd-and-14 play to keep a drive alive as the Cowboys were trying to kill the clock late in the fourth quarter.
New running back Robert Turbin was a pleasant surprise. He ran hard and gained 35 yards on 7 carries.
Dallas held the ball for 38:50, running 68 plays compared with 41 for the Dolphins.
With the Redskins and Eagles losing today, the 3-7 Cowboys are only two games out of first place in the NFC East. The Giants are 5-5, while the Eagles and Redskins are both 4-6.