2014 Season

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Green Bay 26, Dallas 21: Sickening Call, Blown Chances

Thanks to one of the most frustrating rules in the NFL, Dez Bryant did not catch this pass.

Thanks to one of the most frustrating rules in the NFL, Dez Bryant did not catch this pass.

The replay of Dez Bryant’s incredible catch in the fourth quarter—which was subsequently overturned—will haunt every Cowboys’ fan this offseason just as much as Tony Romo fumbling the snap on the field-goal attempt in 2006 or Patrick Crayton failing to run the correct route in a playoff loss to the Giants in 2007.

The circumstance: Dallas faced a 4th-and-2 from the Green Bay 32 with 4:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas trailed, 26-21. Tony Romo threw a fade pass to Bryant, who jumped over Sam Shields to grab the ball. Bryant took at least three steps before beginning to stretch for the goal line. Referees initially concluded that Bryant had made the catch and marked the ball inside the 1.

However, the tip of the ball hit the ground and bounced up slightly. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and officials overrruled the call. Green Bay took possession, and the Dallas defense was unable to stop the Packers.

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21. Season over.

It was no guarantee that Dallas would have won, even if the Cowboys scored after the Bryant catch. Dallas made numerous mistakes during the game, and those mistakes had as much to do with the loss as the call.

The Cowboys led 14-7 in the second half and had a chance to increase the lead before halftime. However, facing a 3rd-and-1, the Cowboys tried a pass. Romo could not find a receiver, setting up a field-goal attempt.

Dan Bailey has been nearly automatic during his career, but he has not been automatic this postseason. He missed an attempt against Detroit last weekend, and he missed his first attempt on Sunday. He had a second chance, however, when officials waived off the play. Nevertheless, he missed the second try from 51 yards, as Green Bay appeared to tip the ball.

Green Bay managed to move the ball 33 yards in 30 seconds to set up a field goal, so instead of Dallas leading 17-7 at the half, it was 14-10.

Early in the second half, DeMarco Murray took the ball, and it appeared he might be off to the races. Instead, Julius Peppers stripped the ball, and Green Bay recovered. A Packer field goal cut the lead to 14-13.

The Cowboys answered with a touchdown drive. On the ensuing kickoff return, Reggie Cobb fumbled. However, James Hanna could not recover that fumble, and Green Bay retained possession.

Later in that drive, the Packers faced a 3rd and 15 from the Dallas 46. Aaron Rodgers found Davante Adams, who got behind Sterling Moore and made J.J. Wilcox miss. Adams’ touchdown cut the Dallas lead to 21-20.

The Packers took the lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game, and the overturned call killed any chance of the Cowboys coming from behind.

Another long offseason. This loss was sickening.



Dallas 24, Detroit 20: Redeemed at Long Last

redeemed_definition_bThe Dallas Cowboys overcame an early 14-0 deficit and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Detroit Lions in the wildcard round of the 2014 playoffs.

Several of those involved in the win were redeemed after some past failures.

Jason Garrett was the coach when the Cowboys blew two games (2011 and 2013) where Dallas should have beaten the Lions. On Sunday, Dallas trailed for much of the game, but Garrett made some calls that factored into the win.

Most notably, with the team facing a 4th and 6 from the Detroit 42, Garrett went for it. Tony Romo hit Jason Witten on a 21-yard gain.

Tony Romo’s playoff failures have largely defined his legacy in Dallas. On Sunday, he had trouble with the Lions’ pass rush all day.

But when it mattered most, Romo came through. Nine plays after he hit Witten on the fourth-down play, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-goal from the Detroit 8. Romo bought time in the pocket before finding Terrance Williams in the end zone for what turned out to be a game-winner.

It was Williams’ second touchdown of the game. His first came when the Cowboys needed it the most. Trailing 14-0, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-2 from their own 34. Williams was called for offensive pass interference, pushing Dallas back to its own 24.

Romo hit Williams on the next play, and Williams went off to the races. He split the Detroit defenders on his way to a 76-yard touchdown. The play cut the Detroit lead to 14-7 and largely kept the Cowboys in the game at that point.

The defense did not tackle well and had breakdowns in the secondary. The first breakdown occurred less than four minutes into the game, as Golden Tate took a slant pass and raced 51 yards for the first score of the game.

But after the Lions scored 14 points in the first 13 minutes of the game, the Dallas defense held its own. Detroit only scored six more points in the final 47 minutes.

Calvin Johnson abused Brandon Carr at Detroit last year, gaining 329 yards on 17 receptions.

In the playoff game, Johnson had five receptions for 85 yards, but he did not have the huge plays that killed the Cowboys last year.

The special teams did not have a special day. In the first quarter, Detroit faced a 4th-and-5 from its own 6 and had to punt. However, Dekoda Watson (playing in his first game as a Cowboy) ran into the Detroit punter, giving the Lions a first down.

The automatic Dan Bailey even missed a field goal.

However, Bailey nailed an important 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the Detroit lead to 20-17. A poor punt by Detroit’s Sam Martin also gave Dallas great field position for what turned out to be the game-winning drive.

Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence needed redemption as well. With the game nearing the two-minute warning, Anthony Spencer sacked Matthew Stafford, who fumbled. Lawrence picked up and tried to advance it, but he lost the ball and fumbled it back to the Lions.

Nine plays later, Lawrence sacked Stafford on a fourth-down play and forced yet another fumble. This time, Lawrence recovered the fumble, effectively ending the game.

* * *

The Cowboys will face the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs at noon on Sunday. This marks the seventh time the Cowboys and Packers have faced off in the playoffs, but only the second time they have played at Green Bay. The last time was the Ice Bowl in 1967.

* * *

Speaking of the Packers, in Tom Landry’s first playoff game as the Cowboys’ head coach in the 1966 NFL Championship Game, Green Bay jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Dallas came back to tie the game before the end of the first quarter but lost the lead before halftime. Dallas kept the game close but never finished the comeback.

In Jason Garrett’s first game as the Cowboys’ head coach, Dallas fell behind 14-0, and it took all game to come back. But unlike the ’66 championship game, Dallas finished the comeback.

* * *

People will remember the Cowboys’ first playoff win in five years—and second in the last 18—in wildly different ways.

Detroit fans will undoubtedly (and quite understandably) dispute a fourth-quarter play where Cowboys’ linebacker Anthony Hitchens was originally called for pass interference. The referees inexplicably picked up the flag, and Detroit faced a fourth down. Martin shanked the punt, giving Dallas great field position.

Great break for the Cowboys, but objectively speaking, it’s hard to understand why the referees waived off the penalty. If that happened to the Cowboys, we would be utterly furious.

Just being fair.

Dallas 44, Washington 17: Wrapping Up an Unforgettable December

celebrateThe NFL released its 2014 schedule in late April. We all saw the slate of December games—at Chicago, at Philadelphia, vs. Indianapolis, at Washington.

Would Dallas go 1-3? 0-4? Would the Cowboys even have anything to play for in December?

Instead, the Cowboys scored 40 or more points in three of those four games. Dallas went undefeated in December for the first time since 1991.

Dallas heads to the NFC playoffs with a full head of steam. Jason Garrett not only played starters against the Redskins on Sunday but also went for the win.

A long catch-and-run by DeSean Jackson gave Washington the early lead, but it did not last. Dez Bryant had his own catch-and-run for a 65-yard touchdown to give Dallas the lead in the first. Another Bryant touchdown later in the first extended the lead to 17-7, and Dallas never looked back.

After Dallas added a field goal early in the second quarter, Garrett approved an onside kick attempt. The Cowboys recovered and scored on the ensuing drive, bringing the Dallas lead to 27-7.

Washington cut the lead to 27-17 in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys quickly ended any thought of a serious Washington comeback.

A 51-yard pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams set up another field goal.  Two plays later, Terrell McClain sacked Robert Griffin III, who fumbled. Anthony Spencer recovered and scored his first career touchdown. Joseph Randle later completed the scoring on a 65-yard run during mop-up duty.

DeMarco Murray surpassed Emmitt Smith to set the franchise’s single-season record for rushing yards with 1845. Bryant broke Terrell Owens’ record for receiving touchdowns in a season with 15.

This marks the first time since 1995 that the Cowboys have had a 12-4 record. The team will discover its playoff schedule depending on the outcome of the afternoon games on Sunday.

Dallas 42, Indianapolis 7: Trouncing Their Way to the NFC East Title

For the first time during the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys are heading to the playoffs.

For the first time during the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys are heading to the playoffs.

Before Saturday, the Cowboys knew they had to beat Indianapolis to give them a chance to win the NFC East. This presumed Dallas needed to beat Washington next week as well.

The reason for this presumption? Surely the Eagles would beat the Redskins and Giants in the final two weeks of the season. Right?

Wrong. Philadelphia made numerous mistakes on Saturday and wound up falling to Washington, 27-24, on a late field goal.

So on Sunday, the Cowboys needed to beat a Colt team with little motivation to win. Indianapolis had already clinched its division title and could not improve its playoff seeding.

Dallas put the game away soon after most people found their seats. Tony Romo threw touchdown passes in the first quarter to Terrence Williams and Dez Bryant, followed by a third touchdown early in the second quarter to Cole Beasley.

A touchdown run later in the second by DeMarco Murray increased the lead to 28-0. The Colts barely put up a fight, and the game’s outcome was not in question during the entire second half.

Murray gained 58 yards on 22 carries while playing with his surgically repaired left hand.

Romo was nearly perfect, completing 18 of 20 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns. When he threw a touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the third quarter, Romo surpassed Troy Aikman as the team’s all-time leader in passing yards. Romo now has 32,971 yards compared with 32,942 for Aikman.

The Cowboys could possibly earn a bye in the first-round of the NFC playoffs, but Dallas would need Seattle to lose or Green Bay and Detroit to tie. The more likely scenario is that the Cowboys will have the #3 seed and host a playoff game in two weeks.


Dallas 38, Philadelphia 27: A Signature Win

Dez Bryant was nearly unstoppable, catching three touchdown passes in the Cowboys' 38-27 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dez Bryant was nearly unstoppable, catching three touchdown passes in the Cowboys’ 38-27 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

In October last season, I wrote a post noting how I had completely lost faith in Jason Garrett. Dallas had just lost a game to the Detroit Lions even though Dallas had the ball in Detroit territory with less than 90 seconds remaining in the game.

It looked as if the Cowboys might add another signature loss to Garrett’s resume. Dallas had a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter but watched that lead evaporate. When Darren Sproles scored with 5:42 left in the third quarter, the lead was gone.

What Dallas did on the ensuing drive after the Sproles touchdown could be a defining moment of the season. In four plays, Dallas moved the ball into Philadelphia territory. From the Eagle 44, DeMarco Murray made a tough run off left tackle and rumbled 21 yards to the Eagle 23. Tony Romo then hit Dez Bryant down to the 2, and Murray scored from there. The Cowboys did not trail again.

It was Murray’s second touchdown of the game. The Eagles contained him for the most part, but he made some critical runs when they mattered most.

The real hero on offense, though, was Bryant, who scored two touchdowns in the first half. After J.J. Wilcox recorded an interception in Eagle territory on the final play of the third quarter, the Cowboys were again in scoring position. Bryant scored his third touchdown to increase the Dallas lead to 11.

The Eagles never gave up and cut the Dallas lead to 35-27 on the next drive before holding Dallas to a three and out.

It looked as if Philadelphia had made a first down on the next drive, but tight end Brent Celek lost the ball on what was first called a first-down reception. The replay showed that he fumbled the ball. The Cowboys could not score a touchdown after taking the ball in Eagle territory again, but Dan Bailey’s field goal gave the Cowboys a 38-27 lead.

Bruce Carter put the game away by intercepting a Mark Sanchez pass with less than two minutes remaining.

At 10-4, Dallas controls its destiny. Wins over the Colts and Redskins guarantee an NFC East title. We need not discuss right now what happens if Dallas loses either of those games.


Dallas 41, Chicago 28: 8-8 No More

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys' 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys’ 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

I have made no secret that I thought the Cowboys would go 3-13 this season. Had I been right, the Cowboys would have traveled to Chicago tonight with nothing on the line.

Instead, Dallas remains in the playoff hunt. And the team needed a win against the Bears to help its chances in that playoff hunt.

The result: Dallas jumped out to a 35-7 fourth quarter lead and held on to win 41-28. The win was the Cowboys’ ninth of the season and guarantees the first winning season since 2009.

DeMarco Murray was amazing, touching the ball 41 times. He rushed for 179 yards and added another 49 receiving yards. He scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

Receiver Cole Beasley only caught three passes, but two of them were touchdowns, and he was tackled at the half-yard line on the other. He also recovered an onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys have had problems holding on to leads during the Jason Garrett era, and it appeared that Dallas might struggle to hang on to its 28-point fourth-quarter lead.

Chicago scored early in the quarter. The Bears scored again, then recovered an onside kick when Gavin Escobar could not hang on to the ball. When Jay Cutler rushed for a touchdown with just over six minutes left, the Dallas lead was only ten at 38-28.

But Dallas recovered the next onside kick attempt, then drove the ball inside the Chicago 20. A field goal gave Dallas a 13-point lead.

The Bears nearly scored again late in the game, but Orlando Scandrick picked off a Cutler pass in the end zone, effectively ending the game.

Dallas is off for 10 days before playing the Philadelphia Eagles a week from Sunday.

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10: No Thanks

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Last Sunday evening, the Giants tore through the Dallas defense to take a 21-10 lead. The Cowboys might have had a much more difficult time coming back had Barry Church not picked off an Eli Manning pass in the third quarter, after which Dallas scored to take the lead. Of course, Dallas won the game after a clutch drive in the final two minutes.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles made it look even easier to run through the Dallas defense. With the Eagles leading 23-7 in the third quarter, it looked like Dallas got another big break in the form of a turnover. The Cowboys stripped LeSean McCoy from the ball and recovered at the Philadelphia 13. DeMarco Murray then gained nine yards on first down, giving Dallas a 2nd-and-1 from the Philadelphia 4.

A touchdown would mean the Cowboys would cut the lead to 9 with about 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. That would have been a manageable deficit.

Instead, the Cowboys lost a total of six yards on the next two plays and had to settle for a field goal. The deficit was still 13.

And the Dallas defense still could not stop the Eagles. On the next drive, Philadelphia went 80 yards on six plays, capped off by a 38-yard touchdown run by McCoy. The touchdown extended the Eagle lead to 30-10 and ended the competitive phase of the game.

Romo played his worst game of the season, throwing for less than 200 yards with two interceptions. The Eagles contained the entire Dallas offense, holding Murray to 73 rushing yards and Dez Bryant to 73 receiving yards. McCoy outgained their combined yardage total with 159 rushing yards.

The loss drops Dallas (8-4) to second place in the NFC East with four games remaining. In the wildcard race, the Seahawks and Lions both have 8-4 records as well. Dallas would win the tiebreaker with Seattle because of the Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks earlier this season. Detroit, however, has a better conference record than Dallas.

Even worse, Seattle looks like it is on a roll, winning two straight without giving up a touchdown. The Lions ended a two-game losing streak by beating Chicago today, and Detroit faces Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago during the next three weeks.

Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 28: A Spark from Another Unlikely Source


Cole Beasley caught two critical passes in the Cowboys' 31-28 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.

Cole Beasley caught two critical passes in the Cowboys’ 31-28 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.

For the second time this season, the Cowboys relied on an unlikely source to provide a spark to beat the New York Giants.

In October, that player was tight end Gavin Escobar, who caught two touchdown passes in the Cowboys’ 31-21 win.

On Sunday, that player was receiver Cole Beasley.

Dallas trailed 21-10 at halftime and was having all sort of problems stopping the Giants. This was especially true on third down. During the game, New York converted 11 of 16 third downs.

With the score still 21-10 with about seven minutes left in the third, Dallas finally forced a punt. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 45 before Tony Romo found Beasley on a short route. Beasley did the rest of the work, weaving through four defenders and racing for the touchdown to cut the New York lead to 21-17.

Following a key interception by Barry Church deep in Dallas territory, the Cowboys regained the lead at the end of the third quarter on a touchdown from Romo to Dez Bryant. It looked as if the Cowboys could take control of the game in the fourth quarter, but with Dallas leading 24-21, a Cowboys drive stalled, forcing a punt. The Giants then took the ball 93 yards for a score to regain the lead at 28-24.

Dallas had exactly three minutes to score. Romo used Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Jason Witten to move the ball near midfield. But it was another pass play to Beasley that pushed the Cowboys into Giant territory. Beasley’s 21-yard reception gave the Cowboys the ball at the Giant 36.

Two passes to Bryant covered those 36 yards. The offensive line gave Romo more protection than he has ever had as a starting quarterback. On two plays, Romo had more than seven sections to find Bryant. The second play was a 13-yard touchdown to give Dallas the lead.

The Giants had one more chance with a minute left, but Dallas forced a fourth down. It appeared that the Giants had converted the 4th-and-2, but a replay showed that Eli Manning’s pass to Rashad Jennings had not covered the distance. Dallas killed the clock to secure the team’s eighth win of the season.

Dallas remains tied with the Eagles at 8-3. The teams face one another on Thanksgiving Day.

* * *

A huge part of the Cowboys’ problems tonight was receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Among his amazing catches was a one-handed grab on a bomb early in the second quarter. No matter if we hate the Giants or not, that was worth a standing ovation, as I doubt any of us will see too many catches as impressive.

Wow. Just wow.

Wow. Just wow.

* * *

Only some children of the 1960s/1970s might know this reference:

Cole Beasley’s hair is what I might have expected on Mrs. Beasley. But as it turns out, Cole has more hair than Mrs. Beasley.

Cole's hair.

Cole’s hair.

Mrs. Beasley’s hair.

Dallas 31, Jacksonville 17: Redemption Was Across the Pond

Today belonged to Dez Bryant, who hauled in six receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Today belonged to Dez Bryant, who hauled in six receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looked for a little while that a complete change of scenery for the Dallas Cowboys—of course, meaning a trip to London—may not have cured the Cowboys of their problems during the past two games.

Tony Romo missed a wide open Jason Witten on the Cowboys’ opening drive, and Dallas had to settle for a 54-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

Then the Dallas defense had trouble stopping Jacksonville. Denard Robinson ran free on a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against a Dallas defense that has struggled. The 1-8 Jaguars had an early 7-3 lead and then forced the Cowboys to punt on the next possession.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, the Jaguars were 1-8 for a reason. Ace Sanders muffed a punt, and the Cowboys recovered. Two plays later, Romo did not miss Witten in the end zone, and the Cowboys regained the lead—for good.

The Cowboys never looked back in the second quarter thanks to The Dez Bryant Show.

Bryant took a short pass on a crossing route and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown. Then, with 31 seconds remaining in the half, Bryant hauled in a bomb and ran it in the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown. The halftime score of 24-7 was just what the Cowboys needed.

Joseph Randle added another nice looking 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and the Cowboys were able to run the clock out for their seventh win of the season.

Dallas could take another half-game lead in the division if Philadelphia loses on Monday night to Carolina. Dallas has a half-game lead over Green Bay and Seattle in the NFC.

Arizona 28, Dallas 17: Without Romo, “We Done”

Brandon Weeden did what he could to make Tony Romo look irreplaceable/

Brandon Weeden did what he could to make Tony Romo look irreplaceable.

Rookie cornerback Tyler Patmon returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ game against Arizona on Sunday.

Less than seven minutes later, the Cowboys extended that lead to 10-0 thanks to a 52-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

The rest of the game was nearly unwatchable for Cowboys fans. The Cardinals scored twice in the first half to take the lead, and they never looked back in a 28-17 win for Arizona.

Even Bailey missed a kick when Arizona’s Justin Bethel blocked a field goal attempt at the end of the first half.

Backup QB Brandon Weeden filled in for an injured Tony Romo. It won’t be long before we start chanting, “We Done.” Get it?

Weeden completed a 40-yard screen pass to Lance Dunbar in the first quarter. For the rest of the game, Weeden had trouble hitting anyone.

Dez Bryant did not catch a pass until the very end of the game, despite 10 targets.  Weeden was able to get Jason Witten involved, hitting the tight end on six passes for 62 yards.  However, one of Weeden’s attempts in Witten’s direction wound up in the hands of Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu during the third quarter, killing a Dallas drive in the red zone.

The Cardinals extended a 14-10 lead to 21-10 in the fourth quarter. On the next drive, Weeden threw another pick, which led to another Arizona touchdown.

Game over.

DeMarco Murray’s streak of 100-yard games ended at eight, as he gained on 79 yards on 19 carries.

With Philadelphia’s win over Houston on Sunday, the Cowboys fell into second place in the NFC East. The Cowboys travel to London to face Jacksonville next week. Whether Tony Romo can play will be a question all week.