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Dallas 14, Philadelphia 13: What Might Have Been in Week 1

QB Stephen McGee threw for only 127 yards on Sunday, but he hit the game-winner to Jason Witten.

The Cowboys have been haunted all season by their opening-game loss to the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys did everything they could that night to give the game to Washington, and in the end, Alex Barron’s holding penalty on the final play negated what would have been the game-winning touchdown from Tony Romo to Roy Williams.

You know the story since that time—the line has been a weak link all year; Romo has been out since week 7 thanks to a broken collarbone; the team’s kicker, David Buehler, has been consistently inconsistent; and the secondary has been awful.

Against the Eagles on Sunday, all of these negatives were once again factors in the game. With Romo and Jon Kitna out, Dallas had to start third-stringer Stephen McGee. The Cowboys were in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but Buehler pushed the ball right on a 53-yard attempt. Kevin Kolb didn’t destroy the Dallas secondary, but backup receiver Chad Hall caught a 48-yarder after smoking Terence Newman in the fourth quarter, and the play set up a field goal that gave Philadelphia a 13-7 lead. This was the same deficit the Cowboys faced when they tried to come from behind against Washington.

Dallas got the ball at its own 32 with seven minutes left, and the team immediately went backwards. Dallas had to punt the ball from its own 22 after a three-and-out, and it looked like the Eagles might be able to run the clock out, much like they did against Dallas on December 12.

Thankfully (I suppose), however, the Eagles weren’t playing with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, or Jeremy Maclin. Philadelphia only picked up one first down, and when Anthony Spencer sacked Kolb with just over three minutes left to play, Dallas had a chance. Sav Rocca’s punt only traveled 29 yards, giving Dallas the ball at its own 46.

It looked like the game might end right there. Dallas got a bad spot on a second-down play, and the team failed to convert from third-and-inches. Fullback Chris Gronkowski managed to move the pile enough to get the first down, and after a spike, McGee hit Jason Witten for a 33-yard gain to the Philadelphia 11. On 3rd-and-3 from the 4, McGee again found Witten, who ran to the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the same area where Williams had caught the touchdown pass in week 1, but this time, Barron wasn’t on the field to negate the play.

Of course, the Cowboys still had to figure out how to play defense to secure the win. But unlike previous weeks, the Cowboys didn’t make heroes out of the Eagle backups. DeMarcus Ware finished a great game by picking up his third sack on first down. The Eagles did not move the ball, and Newman picked up his second interception of the game to put the game away.

There are going to be plenty of people who are upset that the Cowboys’ meaningless win may ruin their draft position. Six teams finished with records of 5-11 or worse, and Dallas is among seven teams with 6-10 marks. The Seahawks would make eight teams if they lose to the Rams tonight.

There were some positives, though, in addition to the simple W. Ware and Spencer looked like the forces they were from a year ago, with the two combining for five sacks. Ware also scored a touchdown after Spencer forced Kolb to fumble in the second quarter. Up to that point, Dallas trailed 7-0 and had not done much to make a game of it.

Felix Jones rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Marion Barber and Tashard Choice were non-factors, though, with Barber doing nothing on short-yardage situations and Choice dropping at least one pass he should have caught.

Witten was held in check for much of the game, but he came alive at the right time. Miles Austin hauled in two long passes, including a nice play on a bubble screen, and his 62 yards put him over 1,000 yards for the season.

And if nothing else, we don’t have to spend the entire off-season being reminded of a 44-6 loss to the Eagles on the final game of the season.

Arizona 27, Dallas 26: Every Stupid Mistake, Revisited

Our friend Jerry had a "gut feeling" that David Buehler was the right choice as the team's kicker. One of many, many, many stupid mistakes in 2010.

Our dumb-as-manure Dallas Cowboys put up a fight against the 4-10 Arizona Cardinals, who were playing with their third-string quarterback and who were coming off an ugly 19-12 loss to Carolina. Commentators suggested that the Cowboys had been healed from their early-season woes and would win this game easily.

So, did you think that the Cowboys’ receivers had quit letting balls bounce off their hands and into the hands of defenders?

Did you think that the Cowboys’ secondary would stop making heroes of otherwise nobody quarterbacks?

Did you think that surely, no member of the Cowboys would be called for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring a touchdown?

Did you think that David Buehler would actually make all of the important kicks for the rest of his year?

Did you think that when the defense could win the game with one more stop that the Doomed Defense would make that stop?

Did you think the Cowboys wouldn’t ruin two of our holidays with last-second losses this year?

If you answered yes to all of the above, you would be wrong. One by one, let’s take a look:

(1) The Cowboys were down 14-0 after seven minutes had elapsed thanks to two interception returns for touchdowns by the Cardinals. On the first, Miles Austin slipped, allowing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to snag the pick and return it 32 yards for a touchdown. On the second, Jon Kitna threw behind Roy Williams, who tipped the ball in the air and into the hands of Greg Toler, who returned it 66 yards for a score.

(2) Rookie QB John Skelton didn’t look great all night, but he extended the Cardinal lead to 21-3 when he hit Andre Roberts, who had run past Mike Jenkins (who interfered with Roberts on the play). Roberts ran 74 yards for a score. Skelton also made the plays at the end of the game to set up the game-winner.

(3) Marion Barber had a couple of great runs, including a 24-yard touchdown in the third quarter. However, he surely drew the ire of every person who even mildly likes the Cowboys by tearing off his helmet on the field, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Jason Garrett says that Barber knows better and that “it’s not going to happen again.” Really, Jason? Really?

(4) Kitna was injured late in the first half, and he did not play at all in the second half. Stephen McGee played a decent game, though Dallas played very conservatively for much of the time. McGee’s biggest play was a 37-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin with less than two minutes left.

And then…

David Buehler clanked the extra point off the left crossbar. Of course, that extra point was the difference in the game.

(5) The Doomed Defense could have effectively won games against the Bears, Titans, Vikings, Saints, and Eagles. In each game, the opponent found a way to put together drives to win each of the games.

Arizona got the ball at its own 24 with 1:41 left, and the Cardinals had to get into field goal range with their rookie QB. At one point, the Cardinals faced a 4th-and-15. Dallas rushed three and dropped eight. Skelton at that point hit Larry Fitzgerald, who was camped out between linebacker Keith Brooking and in front of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Fitzgerald gained 26 yards on the game.

Needless to say, the game slipped away from there. Dallas decided to blitz on  2nd-and-10 from the Dallas 44, and Skelton hit Max Komar for a 19-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal.

(6) The Thanksgiving loss to New Orleans was sad. This one was just funny.

Bah! Humbug!

Anyway, here’s some “good” news: The Cowboys are on a good position now to have a pick in the top eight. In fact, when the Cowboys are absolutely destroyed by the Eagles in Philadelphia next week, the Cowboys will finish with a 5-11 overall record and a conference record of 3-9.

Dallas 33, Washington 30: Still Defenseless, but Not Gutless

Jon Kitna is now 4-4 as the Dallas starter. He threw for 305 yards with two TDs in the Cowboys' 33-30 win.

If Dave Campo wanted to make sure this year’s Dallas team will finish worse than his three 5-11 teams a decade or so ago, his secondary is helping him out.

For just over two quarters, the Cowboys looked like they would run away with this game. With 12:06 left in the third quarter, Tashard Choice’s touchdown gave Dallas a 27-7 lead. Up to that point, the Redskins had not stopped the Cowboys, and the Cowboys were containing Rex Grossman and the Washington offense.

What we can expect from this Dallas team, though, is that the defense will be unable to protect any lead. On the first play after the Dallas score, Anthony Armstrong ran right past Terence Newman an snagged a pass on a deep post pattern for a 47-yard gain. Three plays after that, the Redskins easily scored when Alan Ball barely covered Santana Moss at the slot, and Moss ran right through Ball for a score.

From that point until near the end of the game, the Dallas secondary had no answers for Grossman the Great, while the Dallas offense was able to produce a field goal in the third quarter but little else.

With the Cowboys leading 30-14, Washington went on two drives and scored both times. Moreover, the Redskins managed to convert two-point conversions after both touchdowns. Amazingly—or perhaps not—the game was tied with 7:37 remaining.

The Dallas offense had to punt after making one first down. Fortunately, Mat McBriar’s second punt of the game landed inside the 10 and died. Washington had to take over at its own 4.

The Redskins picked up one first down, and it looked like Grossman would hit Moss on a huge gain when Mike Jenkins fell down while Moss was running a go route. However, Moss dropped the pass. From there, Orlando Scandrick and Victor Butler sacked Grossman, forcing a Washington punt.

Dallas took over at its own 48 and moved the ball 31 yards to set up a David Buehler field goal from 39 yards out to give Dallas a 33-30 lead.

The Redskins had one more chance, but with less than 10 seconds left, Newman redeemed himself by grabbing a pick on an out route, securing the Dallas win.

The Cowboys raced out to its big lead thanks to good field position in the first half. In the first quarter alone, Dallas started drives at the Dallas 46 (Bryan McCann kickoff return), the Washington 30 (McCann punt return), the Washington 27 (Gerald Sensabaugh interception), and the Washington 35 (McCann punt return). However, Dallas only managed 13 points on those drives thanks to some shaky play in the red zone.

Kitna had a very solid day, completing 25 of 37 for 305 yards with 2 TDs and no picks. Jason Witten looks like an All-Pro again, catching 10 passes for 140 yards with a score. Dallas did not turn the ball over.

The defense picked up five sacks, including two by DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys forced  three turnovers, on two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Thanks to the sacks, the Cowboys only gave up 341 yards. Dallas had given up at least 400 yards in each of the last three games and in six of the last eight games.

The Cowboys are now tied for last place in the NFC East with the Redskins, as both teams are now 5-9. Washington has the tiebreaker edge, though, thanks to a 4-7 conference record compared with the Cowboys’ 3-7 conference record.

Philadelphia 30, Dallas 27: Cowboys Fight But Can’t Overcome Their Own Secondary

It took the Eagles about three seconds to pick on poor Terence Newman.

Two things we know about the Dallas Cowboys since Jason Garrett took over as head coach:

1. The team will fight like it never did under Wade Phillips in the first half of the season.

2. This God-awful secondary will find some new way to look completely lost on the field.

With regard to #2, I might suggest that if you have a receiver on your fantasy team and that player is facing the Cowboys, you ought to play that receiver. However, my Eagles receiver was Jeremy Maclin, who only caught one pass all game. The real Cowboy killer was DeSean Jackson, who became the second consecutive receiver to gain more than 200 yards receiving against Dallas.

On the first play from scrimmage, Michael Vick rolled left after a play-action fake. Jackson made Terence Newman look like a 41-year-old and ran right by the old man en route to a 60-yard gain. That set up the Eagles first touchdown, which was a one-yard run by Vick.

Back to point #1: Dallas didn’t fold. The Cowboys drove 77 yards in 10 plays and tied the game when Jon Kitna hit Jason Witten on a one-yard touchdown. Both teams struggled to move the ball until Vick again hit Jackson for 37-yard gain down to the Dallas 2.  Vick threw a touchdown pass to an eligible lineman to give Philadelphia a 14-7 lead.

On the next drive, Kitna tried to hit our volleyball king Miles Austin, who tipped the pass in the air. Quintin Mikell came down with the ball in Philadelphia territory.

Again, recall point #1: On the next possession, Vick tried to hit Brent Celek on a post, but Gerald Sensabaugh picked off the pass. Dallas turned around from there and set up a 50-yard field goal by David Buehler.

Dallas kicked another field goal early in the third, and on the next drive, Maclin did his best Austin impression and tipped the ball straight up in the air. Bradie James came down with the ball in Eagle territory. Felix Jones took a screen pass from the Philadelphia 37 and moved the ball to the Eagle 2. Jones scored two plays later to give Dallas a 20-14 lead.

Philadelphia tied the game on two field goals. Dallas had trouble moving the ball and played for field position. Early in the fourth, Dallas pinned the Eagles inside the 9.

Okay, take a look at point #2 now: On first-and-ten from the Eagle 9, Vick threw and out route to Jackson. Mike Jenkins drove to try to tip the ball away, but Jackson was able to haul it in. The Cowboys were on an all-out blitz, and there was nobody to catch Jackson, who ran 91 yards for a touchdown.

Here’s a clip:

You might notice that Sensabaugh and Alan Ball were somewhere near Jackson when he caught the ball, but neither was in a position to tackle him.

Shocked?

Why? They haven’t been in position more than two plays in a row all damn season.

The Eagles increased the score to 30-20 before the Cowboys scored to cut the lead to 30-27. Yes, point #1 still applied in the fourth quarter.

Nevertheless, once the Eagles took possession with 4:22 remaining, the Cowboys never touched the ball again. LeSean McCoy ran right up the gut on several plays in a row, and the Cowboys had no clue how to stop him.

And so the Cowboys can celebrate a well-fought loss and the team’s first losing record since 2004. Awesome.

Dallas 38, Indianapolis 35: Redemption, New Heroes, and Nail Biting

Rookie LB Sean Lee came up huge, picking off two passes against the Colts. His second pick set up the game-winning field goal.

When the schedule first came out for the 2010 season, most had great concerns that the Cowboys had to face the Saints and Colts in back-to-back weeks. When Dallas lost to New Orleans on Thanksgiving Day, it looked like it might be the end of the short honeymoon period for Jason Garrett as interim head coach.

Few gave the Cowboys much of a chance to win at Indianapolis, with many blogs and forums just wondering about what next year’s draft might bring or just asking some of the same questions. After the Cowboys came away with a 38-35 win over the Colts, perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to the rest of this otherwise dreadful year.

The heroes in the past few weeks have been the likes of rookies Dez Bryant and Bryan McCann. Bryant had a long kickoff return called back because of a holding penalty, and he otherwise did little against the Colts. He broke his ankle on kickoff return early in the fourth quarter, and he will be out for the rest of the season.

McCann very nearly became Goat (complete with the capital G) when he fumbled a kickoff return with the score tied at 35 and less than 30 seconds remained. Fortunately, running back Lonyae Miller was there to pick up the ball deep in Indianpolis territory. Miller had been promoted from the practice squad late last week because Marion Barber was out.

Miller was just one of several Dallas heroes today who were either redeemed for past failures or who came from nowhere to make key plays.

Consider:

Alan Ball before today: Perhaps the worst safety in the NFL.

Alan Ball today: Picked off Payton Manning on the Colts’ first drive of the game. The Cowboys scored a field goal on the ensuing drive.

Orlando Scandrick before today: Weak nickle corner who has regressed since looking strong as a rookie in 2008.

Orlando Scandrick today: Extended the Dallas lead to 17-0 with a pick-6 early in the second quarter. It was his first interception of the season.

Tashard Choice before today: Third head of a three-headed monster chiuaua at the running back spot.

Tashard Choice today: Gave the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead on a nice 20-yard TD run in the first quarter. He finished with 100 yards on 19 carries. Marion Barber would not have made those plays.

Roy Williams before today: Goat of the Thanksgiving Day game thanks to a late fumble.

Roy Williams today: With the Cowboys facing a 2nd-and-19 from their own 46 in the third quarter, Williams caught a slant and then used his blockers effectively on his way to a 22-yard gain. The play helped to set up a field goal that extended the Dallas lead to 20-14. Williams also caught a two-point conversion that gave the Cowboys a 35-28 lead.

Sean Lee before today: Underwhelming second-round pick at linebacker.

Sean Lee today: Came up with two huge interceptions. He returned the first 31 yards for a touchdown to extend the Dallas lead to 27-14. His second came in overtime and put the Cowboys in position to drive 16 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

David Buehler before today: Undependable (even if strong-legged) kicker.

David Buehler today: Still undependable, giving that he missed a field goal late in the first half. But he was great on kickoffs, averaging 73.8 yards per kick and causing four touchbacks on eight kicks. He nailed the game-winner from 38 yards to give Dallas the win.

This was exactly the kind of game that the Cowboys have managed to lose all year. Dallas jumped out to a 17-0 lead only to watch Payton Manning start to pick apart the Dallas secondary. Dallas only led 17-14 after the Colts drove 80 yards in just 1:07 early in the third quarter.

It would be natural to expect the Cowboys to fold there, but Dallas extended its lead to 27-14 thanks to a strong defensive effort for the remainder of the third quarter, along with Lee’s interception return for a touchdown.

Late in the third quarter, the Colts faced a 3rd-and-12 from the Indianapolis 46. The Cowboys could have forced their third consecutive punt, but Manning found Blair White for the first down. On the next play, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a 40-yard gain down to the Dallas 1. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Colts scored to cut the Dallas lead to 27-21.

Dallas went three-and-out, and on the Dallas punt, Taj Smith blew right past Jesse Holley to block Mat McBriar’s kick. Smith recovered the ball and scored (not really, but Dallas didn’t challenge the play), giving the Colts a 28-27.

Okay, so this is where the Cowboys will fold. Right?

Nope. Dallas went on an unbelievable 19-play, 78-yard drive. The Cowboys had a first-and-goal at the Indianapolis 1, but Dallas could not punch it in. However, on Buehler’s field goal attempt with 3:36 left, the Colts were called for illegal leverage, resulting in a first down for Dallas. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on third down with 2:43 left, and when Kitna hit Williams for the two-point conversion, Dallas had a seven-point lead.

Had the Cowboys stopped the Colts in the next drive, the entire defense might be redeemed. However, Manning had no trouble finding Reggie Wayne on five completions on the ensuing drive, and Javarris James’ two-yard touchdown with 29 second left tied the game.

Dallas had all three timeouts, but McCann fumbled the ball on the kickoff. With 21 seconds left and Dallas sitting at its own 24, Garrett elected to sit on the ball.

Once again, the Cowboys had no momentum, and it was only natural to think that the Colts would march right down the field yet again in overtime. However, Wayne dropped a third-down pass on the Colts’ first possession, and Indianapolis had to punt. Dallas went nowhere, but McBriar nailed a 65-yard punt that put the Colts back at their own 27.

On 3rd and 4, Manning tried to hit Jacob Tamme, but Mike Jenkins tipped the ball in the air, and Lee grabbed the ball off the deflection. Dallas gained 16 yards on the ground, setting up Buehler’s game winner.

New Orleans 30, Dallas 27: Snatching Another Defeat

Jesse Holley helped to set up a touchdown by stripping Reggie Bush on a punt return in the third quarter.

With 3:20 remaining in today’s game against New Orleans, Roy Williams caught a slant pass from Jon Kitna and raced 47 yards to the Saint 11-yard line. Had Roy gone down there, the Cowboys would have had a four-point lead at 27-23 with three minutes to kill on the clock. New Orleans at that point had only one timeout remaining.

Instead, Malcolm Jenkins stripped the ball from Williams and recovered the fumble. The Dallas defense that had not broken since allowing 17 points in the first quarter fell apart. New Orleans easily went 89 yards and scored what would be the game-winning touchdown when Drew Brees hit Lance Moore on a 12-yard touchdown.

Teams like Buffalo and Detroit just find ways to lose games they should win. Dallas is in that category of teams.

It certainly didn’t look like the Cowboys would be in a position to find a way to lose this one at the end. Within two minutes of the opening kickoff, the Cowboys were down 7-0. By the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys trailed 17-0, and Dallas was having trouble moving the ball. Early in the second quarter, the Cowboys moved to the New Orleans 21 but failed to convert on a fourth-and-one play. The Dallas defense managed to tighten, though, and the Cowboys kicked two field goals before halftime. The second of those was a 53-yarder by David Buehler as time expired.

The field goal gave the Cowboys some momentum, and on the second play of the second half, Miles Austin found an opening on the sideline on a reverse and raced 60 yards for a touchdown the cut the score to 20-13.

Two plays by Reggie Bush later in the third quarter gave the Cowboys an even better chance. On a third-and-seven play from the Dallas 10, Brees hit Bush on an angle route, but Bush dropped the ball, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal. When the Cowboys had to punt on the next possession, Jesse Holley forced Bush to fumble, giving Dallas the ball at the New Orleans 15.  Six plays later, Marion Barber scored from a yard out on a fourth-and-goal play from the one, cutting the New Orleans lead to 23-20.

Dallas could have attempted a 52-yard field goal with 11:08 remaining, but Jason Garrett decided to punt instead. Mat McBriar, though, dropped the snap and was forced to kick the ball illegally off the ground. Still, the Saints were pinned inside their 20.

Three plays later, Brees tried to hit Jimmy Graham near midfield, but Graham tipped the ball in the air, and Gerald Sensabaugh came down with the interception. The Cowboys again drove to the New Orleans 1, and Dallas punched it in from there to take a 27-23 lead.

The defense stepped up with a big stop, punctuated by Jay Ratliff’s sack on a third-and-seven play. The Cowboys got the ball back inside their own territory, but they had the momentum, and only four minutes remained. On third-and-six, Williams made a sharp cut inside on a slant, and cornerback Patrick Robinson fell down. Williams ran right up the center of the field, but Jenkins caught up to Williams and stripped Williams of the ball.

We’ve seen something like this before…

Brees to Marcus Colston for 22…

Two Dallas stops set up a third-and-10, but…

Robert Meachem burned Terence Newman along the right sideline for a 55-yard gain…

And on the next play, Moore ran right in front of Mike Jenkins for the game-winner.

Dallas moved to inside Saint territory thanks to three consecutive passes to Jason Witten. From there, though, Dallas could not move past the 41. On fourth-and-ten from the 41, Garrett sent Buehler to attempt a 59-yarder, but his kick sailed left.

At 3-8, the Cowboys are guaranteed their first non-winning record since 2004. Dallas has to win two of its final five to match Dave Campo’s 5-11 teams from 2000, 2001, and 2002. The way that Campo’s secondary played today, those two wins aren’t guaranteed.

Dallas 35, Detroit 19: The Savior, Bryan McCann

Bryan McCann's 97-yard punt return gave Dallas the spark it needed in a 35-19 win over Detroit.

Until the Lions lined up for a punt with 9:38 left in the third quarter, the game between Dallas and Detroit looked like so many of the other losses this season. The Cowboys had done enough early to earn a lead but then made some dumb mistakes to lose the lead and face the possibility of another maddening loss.

The Cowboys’ first big mistake was Felix Jones fumbling deep in Dallas territory with less than a minute left in the first half. The fumble set up a Detroit touchdown that gave the Lions a 10-7 lead heading into halftime. The generally positive mood in the stadium turned very sour, as some booing rained down as the player walked off for intermission.

Second, the Cowboys shot themselves in the foot yet again when Leonard Davis was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. Detroit 12, Dallas 7. The Lions had moved the ball better than Dallas at that point, and 15-7 or 19-7 seemed very possible. Fortunately, the Dallas defense came up with a stop before the Lions could cross midfield.

When Detroit’s Nick Harris lined up to punt at the 9:38 mark, the Lions had already downed two punts inside the 5.  Dez Bryant lined up to receive the kick, but he let he ball sail over his head. Detroit’s John Wendling saved a touchback by tipping the ball back into play before the ball landed in the end zone.

At that moment, Bryan McCann made the play of the game. He retrieved the ball off a bounce and headed to his left, and he promptly ran right past five Detroit players. After that, the only players left were Detroit’s Maurice Morris and about six white jerseys. McCann raced for a 97-yard touchdown, and the Cowboys did not trail again.

Two plays later, rookie linebacker Sean Lee forced the first fumble of his career, and defensive end Jason Hatcher recovered. The Cowboys quickly moved 19 yards for the score to take a 21-12 lead.

The Cowboys had a few plays to forget on Sunday, and when Nate Burleson ended up behind the Dallas secondary on what turned out to be a 58-yard gain, his play set up a Detroit touchdown. Once again, the Cowboys found a way to let momentum slip away.

But the Cowboys rebounded to mount a drive, moving 69 yards on 16 plays on a drive that exhausted nearly eight minutes. Jon Kitna’s third touchdown of the day went to Miles Austin, who scored his second TD of the day.

David Buehler had kicked better on Sunday, averaging 72.5 yards per kickoff and nailing four of his five kicks into the end zone. The fifth kick, though, wound up out of bounds, giving Detroit the ball at the Lion 40. Detroit moved into Dallas territory, but on a 3rd-and-7 play from the Dallas 35, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware sacked Shaun Hill, forcing a punt.

Dallas turned around and drove from its own 20 to the Detroit 29. Most expected Dallas to go for the field goal to increase the lead to 31-19. However, on a 4th-and-1, Kitna pulled off a great bootleg. His fake to Marion Barber sucked in the entire right side of the Detroit line. Kitna was all alone around the end, and thanks to a downfield block by Doug Free, Kitna was able to walk in for the final score.

Detroit outgained Dallas 338 to 265 as the Cowboys only managed 131 passing yards. Dez Bryant caught an early touchdown pass but was unable to duplicate his effort from last Sunday as he caught only three passes for eight yards. Miles Austin scored twice, but both were on short passes near the goalline.

The Dallas defense again rushed fewer players and played more zone. Dallas seldom rushed more than four, but Dallas was able to generate enough pressure to help out the secondary.

Eleven months after Dallas upset the Saints in the Superdome to ruin New Orleans’ run for a perfect season, the Saints come to town on Thanksgiving. New Orleans is now 7-3 thanks to a win over the Seahawks today.

Dallas 33, N.Y. Giants 20: More Than Just a Pulse

Dez Bryant makes an incredible catch in the first quarter to give Dallas an early lead against the Giants.

The Cowboys could have shown they had some life in them just by playing a competitive game against the red-hot Giants. Even the most optimistic fan had to start thinking, “Here we go again,” when the Giants kept making a game of it on Sunday. Even if New York had won, most would have praised Jason Garrett for the team’s fight in an uphill battle.

But every time the Giants looked like they would assert their dominance over Dallas, the Cowboys responded. The Cowboys played their most inspired football since beating the Texans in week 3, and Dallas came away with the improbable 33-20 win.

The highlights:

1st Quarter: The Cowboys held the Giants on New York’s first drive, but then the Dallas offense stalled. The Giants drove for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead, and it was hard to forget how the Cowboys laid down in the past couple of weeks. Instead, Jon Kitna threw deep to Dez Bryant and hit the rookie receiver on a 45-yard play. One play later, Bryant made a sensational catch in the front corner of the end zone to haul in a 13-yard touchdown that gave Dallas a lead the team would not relinquish (even when David Buehler saw his extra point attempt tipped).

2nd Quarter: The Cowboys held a 9-3 lead thanks to a Buehler field goal, but the Cowboys’ offense had been stalled inside the one. In the wake of the Cowboys’ missed opportunity, the Giants drove down for what appeared to be the go-ahead score. Instead, on third-and-goal from the 2, Eli Manning looked for Hakeem Nicks on the slant only to find rookie free agent corner Bryan McCann, who jumped the route and picked the pass off one yard in the end zone. McCann had nobody in front of him, and he raced the distance for a touchdown. It was a 14-point turnaround in what turned out to be a 13-point game. Losing Mike Jenkins to injury suddenly became much less of a concern.

Later in the 2nd Quarter: The Cowboys increased their lead to 19-3, but it was hard to forget that Dallas held a 20-7 lead against the Giants just three weeks ago. The Giants drove to the Dallas 7 with less than two minutes left in the half, but Dallas held and forced a field goal. It was still a 19-6 game at halftime.

3rd Quarter: The Cowboys opened the second half with two plays that went nowhere. Dallas failed to convert a third down in the first half, but on third-and-10, Kitna threw a nice screen pass to Felix Jones. The Giant defense stacked to the Cowboys’ right, and Jones had a seam to the left. He darted up that seam and went 71 yards for a touchdown to increase the Dallas lead to 26-6.

Midway Through the 3rd Quarter: The Dallas kickoff team yet again gave up a long kickoff return, giving the Giants the ball at their own 42.  Nine plays later, it was a 26-13 game. All season, Dallas has folded in these circumstances. The Dallas team that showed up on Sunday drove 85 yards for a touchdown. Key play #1 was a 46-yard pass to Bryant. Key play #2 was a 27-yard completion to Roy Williams on 3rd-and-22. One play later, Kitna found Miles Austin for a 24-yard touchdown that increased the Dallas lead to 33-13.

Holding on to the Lead: The Giants struck again quickly. A pass interference penalty on McCann gave the Giants the ball in Dallas territory. Manning then hit a wide-open Kevin Boss on a 35-yard touchdown.  There was still 5:19 left in the third quarter, and it was once again a 13-point game at 33-20. Early in the fourth quarter, the Giants drove to the Dallas 42 but faced a 4th-and-1 (thanks to a nice catch in coverage by Boss on a 3rd-and-20). New York ran left with Brandon Jacobs, but the Dallas line got a push, and Bradie James crashed right into Jacobs to make the stop.

Overcoming Mistakes: It looked as if the Cowboys might put it away on the next drive when Kitna appeared to hit Bryant inside the New York 10. However, the Giants challenged the play, and it was reversed. Kitna was eventually picked off in the end zone. On the next drive, Manning hit Nicks on a deep pass that would have cut the Dallas lead to 6. The play was called back because of a hold, though, and on the next play, Manning couldn’t grab a low snap, and Dallas recovered. Dallas was ready to increase the lead to 16 points, but Buehler pushed the kick to his right.

Big Stop: The Giants still needed two touchdowns even after Buehler’s miss. New York drove to the Dallas 17, but on 3rd-and-10, Manning misfired over the middle, and Alan Ball came up with his first career interception to seal the win for Dallas.

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Most interesting comment I heard on the postgame show: Kitna referred to Bryant as a “violent” receiver. He may not have started tonight and only had three receptions, but Bryant certainly looked more like a #1 receiver than Miles Austin has recently.

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That burst that Felix Jones showed on his touchdown reception has been missing all year. He and Marion Barber combined for 97 yards. This isn’t great, but its much better than recent efforts. As for Tashard Choice… ?

* * *

David Buehler needs to be released. Period. Sure, his extra point was tipped at the line, but he badly missed on a 34-yard field goal that would have all but secured the win for Dallas. Oh, he’s a kickoff specialist? In nine games, the average length of his kickoffs is 61.4 yards, ranking 30th among those with at least 25 kickoffs this season. His average in 2009 was 67.4 yards. The league leader in kickoff yardage is former Dallas kicker Billy Cundiff, who has averaged 72.4 yards per kickoffs and who has recorded 25 touchbacks this season for Baltimore. Buehler has six.

Green Bay 45, Dallas 7: Dead on Arrival

Alan Ball displays his principal coverage technique.

Kristi Scales of the Cowboys Radio Network interviewed a very sarcastic Jerry Jones before tonight’s game. She asked what might have changed between last week’s game and tonight’s game. His response: “Well, we’re playing in Green Bay. That’s a change.”

His comment had quite a bit of truth to it. The Cowboys displayed the same game plan they had against Jacksonville—can’t go anywhere and can’t stop anyone.

This was never really a game, and I don’t think anyone needs a reminder that Dallas has the dumbest team in the history of the NFL. Even when Jay Ratliff blocked a long field goal attempt by Mason Crosby, Terence Newman accidentally kicked the ball, drawing a 10-yard penalty.

With the Dallas offense capable of doing next to nothing, it was just a matter of time before Aaron Rodgers would start destroying the terrible Dallas secondary.

No need to go into details, as no member of the Dallas secondary shows any ability to cover a pass. It’s bad enough when Orlando Scandrick looks much worse than Jacques Reeves used to look. It’s another matter when Mike Jenkins looks like he belongs on the practice squad. Also needless to say is that Alan Ball is the worst safety in the league.

On offense, Dez Bryant gave everyone something to cheer about with two nice receptions late in the first half. This included a two-yard touchdown reception. Bryant caught nine passes for 86 yards with the score.

Of course, Bryant joined in on the stupid mistakes. With the score 45-7, Bryant decided to field a punt that was sailing over his head. The ball went right through his hands, and Green Bay recovered.

Those other Dallas weapons? Jason Witten had 3 receptions for 44 yards. Miles Austin caught 2 for 16. Roy Williams had 1 for 6.

Um, weapons?

The rushing game was a comedy. Until Dallas started running  a little bit more in the fourth quarter, Felix Jones and Marion Barber had combined for five yards on six carries. The Cowboys thus had a shot to break the record of one rushing yard set in the season finale against Washington in 2007. Before that, the record was 8 yards, set against New Orleans in 1998. The Cowboys finished with 39 rushing yards, making this the third consecutive game that Dallas has rushed for 50 yards or fewer.

Can’t wait for Jerry’s comments after this one.

Jacksonville 35, Dallas 17: So Many Levels of Incompetence

We had more than a bit of envy towards those who were attending the World Series tonight rather than the mess at Cowboys Stadium.

Believe it or not, watching the 2010 Cowboys play live is more painful than watching it on television. I guess the option of hitting the “Off” button is tempting at home but isn’t available at Cowboys Stadium.

To make matters worse, the walk from Cowboys Stadium through the Rangers parking lot to where we parked felt like some sort of bizarre walk of shame. I’m not sure why that was the case, but the only shame is that I didn’t sink all the money I put towards the Cowboys into trying to find World Series tickets.

Enough talk about talent on this Dallas team. I bet I could count 20 instances during the pregame and postgame radio shows where someone mentioned talent. Wade Phillips even mentioned it in his postgame press conference. This defensive secondary may have a couple of talented individuals, but this is not a talented secondary. The fact is that this team does not have a talented unit, even if some players have been pretty good as recently as last year. The offensive line is in shambles and couldn’t move the Jacksonville defense a single inch at what was probably the only critical juncture of the game. Receivers gained yards but also bobbled passes, causing three interceptions. The defensive front seven seldom generated pressure and could not stop the run.

This team has the talent of a 4-12 football team, and that assumes that the Cowboys can go 3-6 in their final nine games. I’m not sure they can.

Dallas needed a strong jump out of the gate. The Cowboys took a 3-0 lead before the special teams and defense showed their stuff. Jacksonville returned the Dallas kickoff  to the Jaguar 37. Five plays generated 10, 2, 23, 23, and 10 yards, with the last gain giving Jacksonville a 7-3 lead. The Jaguars would not trail again.

The Cowboys moved the ball into Jacksonville territory on the next drive thanks to a 29-yard pass from Jon Kitna to Dez Bryant. On the next play, Kitna surprised Felix Jones by hitting Jones right the numbers, and defensive lineman Terrance Knighton caught the ball on the deflection.

Jacksonville drove from the Jaguar 39 to the Dallas 15, but Victor Butler was able to get to David Garrard and caused Garrard to fumble. It was a very close play, but when it was upheld on replay, it should have given the Cowboys a spark. Dallas moved the ball to the Jacksonville 21, but rookie guard Phil Costa was called for holding, backing Dallas up to the 29. On the next play, Miles Austin saw a pass bounce off his hands, and Derek Cox caught the ball off the deflection. Goodbye momentum.

Four plays later, the score was 14-3 thanks to a 42-yard TD pass from Garrard to Marcedes Lewis, who burned Bradie James on a deep seam pattern.

The Cowboys weren’t quite out of it, but a sequence at the end of the first half ruined any chance for a comeback. Dallas moved the ball to the Jacksonville 18. On a third-and-seven, Kitna hit Bryant on the sideline, and a review later revealed the Bryant caught the ball at the 9. Kitna appeared to hit Austin for a touchdown, but Austin couldn’t get his second foot down. On second down, Kitna scrambled to his left and nearly scored, getting the ball inside the one.

The Cowboys had two plays to get less than a yard. In fact, the Cowboys needed literally a few inches to score on the second play. Dallas went to Marion Barber, who gets paid for this type of run. After failing on a third-down run, Dallas tried a run up the middle again on fourth down. Kitna turned the wrong way and ran into Barber, left tackle Doug Free was knocked on his butt, and the Cowboys didn’t gain an inch. The Cowboys thus went into halftime without scoring any more than the first three points.

Six minutes into the third quarter, the score was 28-3. Kitna saw another pass bounce off a receiver’s hands, as Roy Williams’ hands failed him and the ball fell into Cox’s hands. Meanwhile, Jacksonville easily scored on touchdown drives of 83 and 33 yards. The Dallas secondary hardly provided any resistance, and the game frankly wasn’t worth watching. In between the boos were chants of “Let’s Go Ran-gers!”

Garrard is not an efficient quarterback. Against Dallas, though, he was other-worldly, completing 17 of 21 passes for 260 yards and 4 TDs. That’s a QB rating of 157.8, which is the highest rating any quarterback has ever had against the Cowboys. Maurice Jones-Drew gained 135 yards in 27 carries. Mike Sims-Walker caught eight passes for 153 yards.

Some of the Cowboys had decent stats, but these stats were largely meaningless. Austin’s drop that led to a pick was far more costly than his 117 receiving yards were helpful. That three-headed rushing attack that needed to come to life? Felix Jones led the team with 22 yards on eight attempts. Overall, Dallas had 50 yards on the ground.

This team isn’t going to beat the Packers or the Giants in the next two weeks. And I hardly look forward to seeing the team play the Lions on November 21, though at least we won’t have to be worried about being heckled by Ranger fans.