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The news on Saturday night about Tiger Woods was that his late push had put him in position to challenge for the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He fell far short, shooting a three-over 75 to finish 11 shots behind the winner, Phil Mickelson.
The Cowboys’ angle for this story was that Woods teamed up with amateur golfer and Dallas QB Tony Romo. There was some chatter about Woods and Romo being in the hunt early. However, the two could only manage to finish tied for 17th among the pairs.
One of Romo’s comments was oddly funny to me:
I had no strategy today.
An immediate comeback: that’s what we thought you’d say after the Giants game that ended the season.
No, not fair at all.
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It has to be the offseason. That’s the only explanation for a story about the newest member of the Allen Wranglers, Terrell Owens.
One of his comments about the Cowboys:
I definitely thought that I probably would have retired a Cowboy but that didn’t happen, and you know, things happen in life and you just got to move on.
I just can’ t recall anything negative he did that would cause the Cowboys to move on without him. I’m sure it will come to me with more time.
I do hope for the Wranglers’ sake that Owens can bring a few more people to the games. Take a look at the empty seats in this highlight reel:
Recall, please, that when the Cowboys drafted Felix with the 22nd overall pick in 2008, they were taking a player who was not a full-time starter in college.
Apparently, the off-season discussion of whether Jerry Jones should step down as general manager has died down a bit. The fact that the Cowboys could have and should have beaten and eliminated from playoff contention the team that won Super Bowl XLVI probably cements in his mind that he really knows what he’s doing (even with 50 concussions or so).
To remind ourselves of how bad it’s been in terms of personnel decisions, we could just look at the 2009 draft.
Oh, that’s too easy.
Let’s instead again consider the 2008 draft. I’ve already written that it may go down as a bust, but an idea presented on ESPN Dallas makes matters worse.
A piece written by Calvin Watkins features the opinion of former scout Bryan Broaddus. According to the article, the Cowboys should consider trading Felix Jones. Here’s the quote:
The Cowboys should explore whether a fourth-or fifth-round pick is available for the former first-round pick. The team doesn’t trust Jones to become a 20-down back in the NFL.
Recall, please, that when the Cowboys drafted Felix with the 22nd overall pick in 2008, they were taking a player who was not a full-time starter in college. I realize that the team brought him here to complement Marion Barber, but I would think results would be far more important than vague notions of potential by a franchise that traded away its first-round pick the following year.
If you need a reminder, which other running backs were available after Felix Jones in 2008?
Rashard Mendendall (23rd overall by the Steelers)
Chris Johnson (24th overall by the Titans)
Matt Forte (44th overall by the Bears)
Ray Rice (55th overall by the Ravens)
Jamaal Charles (73rd overall by the Chiefs)
Meanwhile, Dallas has a running back who might become trade bait for 5th-round pick.
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By the way– I know, I know, I know. Dallas made up for it by taking DeMarco Murray in 2011. I think Broadus is probably right about the direction the Cowboys should head, but it just illustrates how bad those decisions in 2008 turned out to be.
ESPN is running a poll featuring players who would excel during any NFL era. The Cowboys weren’t left out.
Coming in at #12 is OLB DeMarcus Ware. He joins James Harrison, Patrick Willis, and Brian Urlacher as the other linebackers announced so far.
ESPN will announce the final four players on Friday.
The story about Ware included quotes from former stars Darrell Green, John Randle, and James Lofton. Here is Randle’s quote:
There are some guys, linebackers and defensive ends, in today’s game who can run, but they can’t dip their shoulder or maneuver around those corners using their hands, but DeMarcus is a great linebacker, but he’s also a great pass-rusher. And he’s a great defensive lineman because he has the speed and the ability to take on blocks and to take on double teams.
It’s hard to believe that TE Jason Witten won’t show up on this list. We’ll find out tomorrow.
If you picked up the Dallas Morning News today, you might have ended up feeling a bit better about our Dallas Cowboys.
Rick Gosselin’s take is that nobody expected more than an 8-8 record from the Cowboys, so we shouldn’t consider them to be underachievers.
For the optimists with a subscription to the DMN, here is Rick Gosselin’s take. “Garrett took an average team into the season, and despite that horrific finish — four losses in the last five games — there are arrows pointing up for 2012.”
Here’s his point:
[T]he Cowboys didn’t overachieve. Nor did they underachieve. Philadelphia underachieved given the expectations. So did San Diego and Tampa Bay. But not the Cowboys.
Garrett took an average team into the season, and despite that horrific finish — four losses in the last five games — there are arrows pointing up for 2012.
First off, the Cowboys needed to get younger. And they did. With an average age of 26.21, this was the youngest roster the Cowboys fielded since 2007 and the youngest starting lineup (26.90) since the mid-1990s. In a salary-cap world, youth is a good thing.
Second, Cowboys director of college and pro scouting Tom Ciskowski was a finalist this off-season for the Indianapolis general manager position. As unappreciated as Ciskowski and his staff may be locally, there is respect around the league for what they have done lately in the area of player procurement.
In the last two drafts, the Cowboys have added Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray , Sean Lee and Dez Bryant — four potential blue-chip pieces in a championship equation. The Jimmy Johnson Cowboys taught us in the early 1990s you win in this league with blue-chippers.
Ciskowski’s staff also culled the undrafted masses last April and discovered Bailey and center Kevin Kowalski, then this fall claimed fullback Tony Fiammetta off the waiver wire and signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson off the streets. All are keepers, and all will be a year older and a year better in 2012.
Third, the rebuilding started on offense last season. An aging, underachieving, overpaid blocking front that badly needed to be overhauled was. Smith will flip from right tackle to left this fall, and the Cowboys should be set at the blocking edge positions for the next five years.
On the same day, Jean-Jacques Taylor attacked some of the very same points that Gosselin made.
For the pessimists, I present JJT’s take on the Cowboys. “The NFL conference title games showed us the Dallas Cowboys aren’t close to being a championship-caliber team.”
JJT isn’t always my favorite columnist, but when I feel like complaining, I more typically agree with him. Here is his main point:
The NFL conference title games showed us the Dallas Cowboys aren’t close to being a championship-caliber team.
Of course that wouldn’t be so bad if you had confidence the Cowboys could draft the right players, sign the proper free agents or properly evaluate their own talent, considering they signed Gerald Sensabaugh to a five-year deal in December.
All of this means you have no idea when the Cowboys’ era of mediocrity will end since we’re at 15 years and counting.
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Meanwhile, another columnist that I don’t always like, Randy Galloway, wrote a piece that I found compelling. This one focuses on Jerry’s practice of revising history, at least according to Galloway.
Jerry repeatedly counters the critics by saying his same iron hand has been in place for 23 seasons, meaning he was calling the football shots as the Dynasty Days team was built and the Super Bowls followed.
This is not true. Any of us, media-wise, who have covered the Cowboys since 1989, know it was not true. So does anyone who worked for the Cowboys in those days.
There is a lengthy thread at CowboysZone covering Galloway’s piece.
The Cowboys generated a few news items worth noting this week.
With the hiring of Bill Callahan as offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett suggested that he might delegate play-calling duties. However, he has waffled on this point, and nobody is sure what will happen.
In other news, the Cowboys returned to babysitting duties with Dez Bryant. When they weren’t doing that, they were considering whether to allow Doug Free to move back to right tackle and switch Tyron Smith to left tackle.
Here is the story line:
Nearly two years ago, I wrote a piece focusing on the comparisons between former Broncos/Bills/Cowboys coach Wade Phillips and former Bears/Redskins/Oilers coach Jack Pardee. Here was the introduction:
Pro-Football-Reference has a page that allows users to sort through coaching records, including playoff wins, champions, and so forth. According to this list, a total of 80 coaches have coached at least four playoff games during their career. Among those 80 coaches, Dallas coach Wade Phillips’ career record of 1-5 is tied for 78th in terms of winning percentage.
The other coach with a 1-5 playoff record? Um, that would be former Chicago, Washington, and Houston coach Jack Pardee. That doesn’t bode well for Wade.
In Pardee’s final season, the Oilers limped to a 1-9 start, which led to Pardee’s dismissal. Phillips’ head-coaching career in Dallas also didn’t last long enough for him to improve his 1-5 playoff record, as the Cowboys fired him after a 1-7 start in 2010.
The Pardee firing led immediately to the hiring of Jeff Fisher, who once served as a special-teams player and reserve defensive back for the Bears in the early 1980s. The Oilers didn’t improve in 1994 under Fisher, going 1-5 and finishing with a 2-14 record.
Plenty of changes occurred after that with the team drafting a franchise running back in Eddie George and a franchise quarterback in Steve McNair. The team also moved from Houston to Tennessee and became the Titans. Many remember that Fisher led the team to its only Super Bowl appearance and that he lasted 16 seasons with the Oilers/Titans after the team removed the interim label from his title. That record explains why several called for Jerry Jones to try to hire Fisher rather than Jason Garrett, the high-paid offensive coordinator who once served as a backup QB with the Cowboys and Giants.
There is a bit of irony that St. Louis ended up hiring Fisher. That was the same team that pursued Garrett in January of 2009 even after the Cowboys completely fell apart in a loss to the Eagles that ended the 2008 season. Garrett didn’t impress commentators in St. Louis at the time, with one noting that Garrett hadn’t shown much leadership in his role as offensive coordinator. Here’s a quote (and keep in mind that this was in 2009):
Garrett might well one day become a great head coach and a compelling leader, but he isn’t one now. Not even close. I see a young coach who has shown some very obvious and disturbing signs that he is unable to handle the rough stuff that a leader must cope with inside a locker room.
Because Garrett remained with the Cowboys, he is now in precisely the same position that Fisher was in after taking over for Pardee in 1994. We need to hope that the results are better, because I am not sure how many Dallas fans have the patience to wait four or five more seasons for the Cowboys to be constant winners.
Consider Fisher’s early records—
I know there is always a story behind a record, but there was nothing noteworthy about any of those teams other than that they were mediocre. The Titans remained in the playoff races during those 8-8 seasons until late in the year, but the team did not make enough of a late surge to finish with a winning record or a playoff berth in any of those seasons.
I think we all are fully aware of Garrett’s 8-8 record in his first full season with Dallas. That brings his overall mark to 13-11, which is better than Fisher’s 8-14 overall record after his first full season.
Fisher’s Titans improved to 13-3 in 1999 and reached the Super Bowl. Between 1999 and 2010, he had five seasons with at least 11 wins, and he compiled an overall playoff record of 5-6.
It’s certainly not bad, and it’s certainly better than what the Cowboys have done during the same time period. The problem is, however, that Cowboys fans not only can’t wait several more seasons before the team returns to the heights of a 13-3 record, but the fans probably wouldn’t settle for a coach who would fail to win a single Super Bowl during a 17-year period.
So I suppose that causes the dilemma—we want a coach who can turn around a franchise like Jeff Fisher did, and we want a coach who could have long-term success like Jeff Fisher eventually did. But we don’t want to wait for that success to occur, and we want the head coach to have even more success than Fisher actually had.
Have I mentioned that these offseasons are awfully long?
We all remember very well that the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007 and had the top seed in the NFC playoffs. And we all remember that the team came out rather sluggish against the Giants, who beat Dallas 21-17 en route to a Super Bowl title.
NFL Films might have named the annual highlight film for the 2007 Cowboys as “So Close, Yet So Far Away.”
Four years later, NFL Films could have recycled the same title, but for different reasons.
It’s hard not to think of those 2007 playoffs after watching both of the divisional playoff games this weekend. The Giants once again traveled to Green Bay to take on a favored Packers team, and once again, the New York defense rose to the occasion to give the Giants the upset win.
On Saturday, the 49ers sat in a position similar to the 2007 Cowboys. Like the Cowboys, San Francisco hasn’t been especially relevant in the NFC for quite some time. The 49ers posted a 13-3 record, just like the 2007 Cowboys, and San Francisco hosted its first playoff game in nine seasons. Recall that the Cowboys hosted their first playoff game in nine seasons when they took on the Giants.
The Saints didn’t emerge from nowhere like the Giants did in 2007. It was hardly a big surprise when, with less than two minutes left in the game, Drew Brees found Jimmy Graham on a seam route near mid-field. Graham was able to split two defenders and run for a touchdown. A two-point conversion gave the Saints a 32-29 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
In 2007, the 13-3 Cowboys trailed the Giants by four points but got the ball back with less than two minutes left. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 23, but thanks to a poor route by Patrick Crayton on one play and an ill-fated desperation pass on fourth down, Dallas could not pull out the last-minute win.
The 2011 49ers did almost exactly what the 2007 Cowboys couldn’t. Of course, San Francisco only needed a field goal to tie the game, but the 49ers went for the win. Rather than agonizing for years about someone like Patrick Crayton hesitating on his route, the 49ers can remember Vernon Davis catching a 47-yard pass, which helped to set up his awesome 14-yard touchdown reception that gave San Francisco the win.
The 2011 Cowboys should be shaking their heads with the knowledge that the Giants and 49ers are playing for the NFC title, even without regard to the parallels with the 2007 Cowboys.
After the second week of the season, there was reason to believe that these 2011 Cowboys might be a force in the NFC when an injured Tony Romo’s efforts erased a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit and produced a 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco.
That’s the type of victory that can give a team a great boost. From there, Dallas was scheduled to face the likes of Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, Seattle, Buffalo, Miami, and Arizona over the next ten weeks. Even if Dallas had lost to the Patriots and Eagles (which happened, of course), there was a good chance that Dallas could be 9-3 heading into its final four games.
As it turned out, the Cowboys were close with a 7-5 record after a loss to the Cardinals, but it wasn’t the Cowboys who took off after their win at San Francisco. Instead, the 49ers won eight straight, including wins over Washington, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and the N.Y. Giants.
Some have liked to point out that the 49ers had a relatively easy schedule in 2011, but it really wasn’t notably easier than the Cowboys’ schedule. Rather, San Francisco simply won the games it should have won (save for a loss at Arizona), whereas the Cowboys won a few games they should have lost and lost a few games they should have won.
Of course, Dallas still had a great chance to capture the NFC East, needing only to hang on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants on December 11. Instead, the Dallas defense fell apart when it mattered most, and after Tony Romo and Miles Austin failed to convert on a play that could have ended that game, the Cowboys watched the game fall from their grasp and their season spiral into a failure.
“So Close, Yet So Far Away” isn’t limited to 2007 and 2011, either. We could consider the 2008 season, when Dallas had a chance to earn a wildcard berth by beating the Eagles. Philadelphia won in a 44-6 blowout, of course, and the Eagles wound up in the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in nine years.
We could also consider the 2009 playoffs, when the Cowboys caught fire late in the season, only to run out of gas against the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Thus, for the fourth time in five seasons, Dallas fans get to watch an NFC Championship Game with the thought that our team could be competing for the conference title. Instead, we put on our faces of resignation and repeat—so close, yet so far away.
Here are several of the Dallas Cowboys stories of the week.
The worst part of the Cowboys losing last week was that I figured I wouldn’t pay much attention to the games this weekend. To my surprise, I watched every single one of them, though I continued to think that I’d prefer not to given that the Cowboys won’t play again in a meaningful game for another eight months.
Okay, so given that I watched the games both being mad at the Cowboys as a franchise and being equally disappointed that we weren’t still watching them, here is what I thought the Cowboys might have learned from the four games played this weekend.
Houston 31, Cincinnati 10
Even the most vocal critics of Wade Phillips admitted that he was a good defensive coordinator. He now has as many playoff wins as the Texans’ defensive coordinator as he did as the Cowboys’ head coach.
What did the Texans do that the Cowboys under Phillips didn’t? The defensive playmakers made plays.
What did the Texans do that the Cowboys under Phillips didn’t? The defensive playmakers made plays. Defensive end Antonio Smith had a sack and three tackles for losses. Defensive end J.J. Watt had an awesome interception that he returned for a touchdown. The Texans frustrated Andy Dalton, who threw three interceptions after throwing only 13 during the regular season.
Houston also showed that a dominant rushing game can win in a playoff game. DeMarco Murray showed that he can be as good as Arian Foster, who rushed for 153 yards and 2 TDs against Cincinnati. The threat of the run helped rookie QB T.J. Yates, who now has as many playoff wins as Tony Romo.
As for the Bengals’ performance, the Cowboys learned that as bad as Terence Newman and Alan Ball can be, Dallas should not miss Pacman Jones. Jones was burned badly by Andre Johnson on a 40-yard touchdown.
New Orleans 45, Detroit 28
Dallas once had an offensive genius named Sean Payton on its staff. He left to become head coach of the Saints. Jerry Jones brought in an alleged offensive genius in Jason Garrett, who later became the Cowboys’ head coach.
There is simply no comparison in the results. The Saints only managed 10 first-half points but then blew up to score 35 in the second half. Payton now has a playoff record of 5-2.
The most dominating player on the field played for the Lions. Calvin Johnson caught 12 passes for 211 yards with 2 TDs. New Orleans simply couldn’t stop him. Dallas has a player in Dez Bryant who was sometimes compared with Johnson. Dez sometimes disappears in games, and he has only one 100-yard performance in two years. Bryant needs to improve for the Cowboys to take a step forward next year.
N.Y. Giants 24, Atlanta 2
Perhaps the Cowboys shouldn’t feel as bad for struggling against the Giants defense, which was very good against the Falcons today. Atlanta scored more than 40 in two of the final three weeks of the season but could only manage a safety today.
Then again, it was hard to avoid thinking that the Cowboys could have been playing the Falcons today. Whether the Dallas defense could have had the success that the Giants had is a good question.
Many consider Mike Smith to be a solid head coach. However, he is having playoff problems in Atlanta that one might expect in Dallas. And when smart-ass bloggers remind everyone that Tony Romo has only one playoff win, Romo can respond by pointing to Matt Ryan, who has not won a single playoff game.
Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23
Good news: the Cowboys and Steelers are still tied with eight Super Bowl appearances apiece, and that record won’t change this year.
Bad news: Tim Tebow has as many playoff wins as Tony Romo. Ahem.
Nothing about the Broncos really compares with the Cowboys, other than both having mediocre regular-season records. But here is one similarity: Pat Bowlen has often been compared with Jerry Jones in that both ran their own shows.
Bowlen has reportedly suffered short-term memory loss, and health concerns have caused him to relinquish major decision-making to such “football guys” as John Elway, the greatest QB in that franchise’s history. Sure, this was not an impressive overall season by the Broncos, but Denver is heading to New England with a chance to continue a playoff run.
No, I don’t want Jerry to suffer health problems so that he relinquishes control of the team to a real football guy. I just want him to relinquish control to a real football guy.
There was one positive surprise tonight. The Cowboys didn’t quit.
Most of the rest of this review is negative. Long before the Cowboys showed some fight, the Giants had already scored 21 first-half points.
This defense was just terrible, even with some improvements in the second half. Terence Newman should have played his final game as a Cowboy. He missed a key tackle in the second quarter when a tight end hurdled him. He whiffed trying to cover Victor Cruz, who raced up the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown. The Giants never trailed again.
The Giants picked on Newman several more times in the first half. Eli Manning later turned his attention to Alan Ball and Orlando Scandrick, and Cruz and Hakeem Nicks managed to burn both of them as well.
Almost Anthony Spencer committed two costly offsides penalties. He had chances to make tackles and record sacks. He missed several of those opportunities and did not record a sack.
The Cowboys had chances to recover two Giant fumbles in the first half, but neither Ball nor Gerald Sensabaugh could grab the ball.
The Cowboys had a drive that appeared to go deep into Giant territory. However, Romo’s apparent 22-yard pass to Dez Bryant inside the red zone was negated because Romo crossed the line of scrimmage before he threw the pass. Dallas moved the ball into Giant territory late in the half, but Dan Bailey missed a 52-yard field goal attempt.
By halftime, Dallas trailed 21-0. The game appeared completely over.
The Dallas defense came to life for much of the second half. The offense also did its part, but not without more mistakes. After the Cowboys cut the lead to 21-7, Romo threw an interception. However, the defense stopped the Giants on fourth down, giving the Cowboys another chance.
Still trailing by 14, Dallas drove to the Giant 10 and faced a 4th and a long 1. On a strange play, Romo tried a QB sneak, which came up short.
But the defense held, and a good punt return by Dez Bryant followed by a penalty on New York gave Dallas the ball at the Giant 26. Dallas scored three plays later to cut the New York lead to 21-14.
The Cowboys had a good chance with just one more stop. The Giants faced a 3rd and 7 at their own 28. Dallas pressured Manning, but Manning threw deep to Cruz, who caught the ball in front of Scandrick.
Finally, from that point on, it was over. The Giants kicked a field goal, held the Cowboys, and then drove for a touchdown.
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There is no simple solution for this team, nor is there clear reason to be optimistic. This team’s current legacy is to start losing late in the season and to fall apart in the most important games. Jerry and Jason can say all they want that what has happened to previous teams doesn’t matter, but plenty of very committed fans are so far beyond fed up with this franchise folding when the games really matter.
In other words, we can’t look past:
2003: Dallas travels to Carolina to play in the Cowboys’ first playoff game since 1999. Carolina 29, Dallas 10.
2006: Tony Romo fumbles a snap on a field goal attempt that would have given the Cowboys a late lead. Seattle 21, Dallas 20.
2007: The Cowboys’ late comeback attempt falls short as the Giants ruin the Cowboys’ 13-3 record. N.Y. Giants 21, Dallas 17.
2008: Dallas travels to Philadelphia with a playoff berth on the line. Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6.
2009: Dallas wins its first playoff game in 13 seasons and then travels to play the Vikings. Minnesota 34, Dallas 3.
2011: The Cowboys travel to New York with a playoff berth on the line. N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 14
Of course, then there’s the 6-10 season in 2004, the 9-7 season in 2005, and the 6-10 season in 2010. The positives–winning some games in November and beating the Eagles in the playoffs in 2009–don’t make up for the constant disappointment we’ve had to put up with for quite a long time.