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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.
The Cowboys fans I know the best are not optimistic about Sunday’s game against the Giants. I am not optimistic about the Sunday’s game against the Giants. I expected plenty of others to feel the same way.
Most commentators, including nearly everyone with NFL Network and ESPN, have picked the Giants.
As it turns out, though, both of the major Internet simulators have picked the Cowboys to win, albeit by narrow margins.
In Accuscore simulations, Dallas won 51% of the games by an average margin of 25.5 to 25. Tony Romo slightly outperformed Eli Manning, helping the Cowboys to overcome a poor rushing performance.
What If Sports’ simulations were even more favorable, with Dallas winning 53.5% of the games by an average margin of 25-23.
Here is the summary:
So who wins the right to represent the division in January? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Cowboys come out on top 53.5 percent of the time by an average score of 25-23.
The regular-season finale of the 2011 campaign promises to be must-see theater, as the winner of Sunday night’s soiree between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants is granted admission to the postseason. Apropos, then, that this matchup doubles as the WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
To say the Cowboys enter Week 17’s tilt with swagger would be a misnomer, as Dallas limps in losing three of their past four contests, with one of the defeats coming in heart-breaking fashion to the G-Men in Week 14. Rookie kicker Dan Bailey, who had been automatic in the first 11 ball games of the season, has missed three of his last eight attempts. Fellow neophyte DeMarco Murray was having a standout freshman year, only to succumb to a season-ending ankle injury. Head coach Jason Garrett’s decision-making has been suspect in December, leading many pigskin pundits to question if he’s the right man for the job. Worse, field general Tony Romo injured his throwing hand against the Eagles on Christmas Eve. While Romo is expected to suit up, it’s another headache the team harbors heading into Sunday.
Not that New York is riding a big way of momentum into MetLife Stadium. Although the Giants knocked off their Gotham City rival in Week 16, as well as their aforementioned conquest of Dallas three weeks ago, Tom Coughlin’s squad has lost five of their last seven games. Thanks to injuries in the backfield, the once-proud New York ground game is last in the league, managing a paltry 88.1 yards per outing. The Giants defense has not been immune to the health bug, with their depleted defense’s performance illustrating this sentiment, as New York is surrendering 381.5 yards per outing, fifth-highest in the NFL.
Plagued by a plethora of problems, how did both franchises find themselves fighting for a playoff position? The aerial assaults for the Cowboys and Giants are two of the more paramount attacks in the NFC. Eli Manning’s 305.8 yards per game is good for third in the conference, while Romo’s 102.2 QB rating is fourth-best in the league. While the cannons of Romo and Manning have been called erratic, many rosters around the NFL would jump at the prospect of implementing either arm under center.
Of course, it helps to have a talented base of receivers at your disposal. The Cowboys brandish dexterous quartet in Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson and Miles Austin, while the Giants boast two 1,000-yard wideouts in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, as well as the services of tight end Jake Ballard. Along with the Packers and Saints, the two NFC East adversaries flaunt two of the more endowed arsenal of targets in football.
So who wins the right to represent the division in January? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Cowboys come out on top 53.5 percent of the time by an average score of 25-23.
Players on the current version of the Cowboys don’t have nicknames like Too Tall, Hollywood, Mr. Cowboy, or the Dodger. Instead, the team has such original nicknames as TNew and DWare. There are plenty of variations of Tony Romo’s name, but that’s a different matter.
The most appropriate nickname for anyone on this team is Almost Anthony Spencer. The former first-round pick has a nose for the football and is often seen near the play. However, he is more well-known for near misses, as in “Spencer almost made it to the quarterback there, but he grabbed nothing but air.”
In 2009, after a 17-10 loss to Denver, I wrote, “If we could reward players for almost making plays, Spencer would be a Pro Bowler. Instead, he nearly gets sacks and nearly gets interceptions but never quite gets there.”
One week later, after a 26-20 overtime win over the Chiefs, I added, “Until further notice, Spencer will be known as Almost Anthony. He had two tackles and three quarterback hits, but he still has not recorded a sack.”
Spencer had two sacks against the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day, and those were his only two sacks for the entire season after 13 weeks.
Dallas had to win their final three games to have a shot at the playoffs. It was during those three games that Spencer temporarily shed the Almost Anthony name. Consider these stats:
vs. New Orleans: 6 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 3 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery.
vs. Washington: 5 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 2 QB hits.
vs. Philadelphia: 5 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble.
Spencer added another sack in the team’s wildcard win over the Eagles, which still stands as the team’s only playoff win in the past 15 years. He even had a solid game in a loss to the Vikings, recording 9 tackles and a sack.
Fast-forward to 2011. Spencer has 6 sacks again this year, but none of them have come in the last three games. His most noteworthy play during that time was his complete whiff while trying to sack Michael Vick. Spencer wound up with Vick’s facemask on a key play that led to the Eagles’ first touchdown.
If teams knew they had to slow down both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, this is a dangerous defense. However, Ware is the only playmaker between the two, and when he doesn’t pressure the quarterback, there is not a good chance that anyone else will.
Sure, Jay Ratliff can get there from time to time, but he’s inconsistent. And it’s true that Spencer has coverage duties and doesn’t always rush the passer. However, there have been plenty of plays where the team has rushed both Ware and Spencer, and Spencer has come up short, even though he doesn’t receive anywhere near the focus that Ware does.
Plenty of things need to go right for the Cowboys to win on Sunday, but a sudden resurgence by Almost Anthony would be a good start.
We are entering Week 17 of “I still don’t understand that hype surrounding the Ryan brothers.”
Rex Ryan’s Jets might have made two consecutive AFC title games, but after a loss to the Giants, his 8-7 team is nearly out of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Rob Ryan just has to be the most overrated defensive coordinator in the league. Granted, if the Cowboys beat the Giants (and it will require a strong effort on defense to do so), Ryan will be the defensive coordinator on a playoff team for the first time in his career. That’s not impressive, but I will retract my overrated statement of the team can pull it off.
Both Ryan brothers are blowhards. They entertain the press by making obnoxious statements, and their teams have had just enough success that most think they are winners.
Remember a statement by another coach named Ryan? Something like, “You’ve got a winner in town.” That was, of course, Buddy Ryan when he was introduced as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
However, an 8-8 team is not a winner. That was his record in 1994 with Arizona. Nor is a 4-12 team a winner, and that was the Cardinals’ record the year he was fired.
His overall record as a head coach was 55-55-1. He never won a playoff game as a head coach.
He made his name as a defensive coordinator, though only half the teams he coached as defensive coordinator finished with winning records.
Not a terrible overall record, but it was nothing to brag about. His sons apparently thought their father established a fine blueprint, though, because both continue to run their mouths even when their teams can’t back up what they are saying.
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I don’t really care about Rex Ryan right now, other than to mention that his team backed up none of his talk in a game that the Jets (and our Cowboys) needed. I really do care about Rob Ryan’s mouth, because the Cowboys have rarely backed up anything he’s said all year.
And in today’s Dallas Morning News, Darren Woodson shared some thoughts about the team’s defensive personnel. This is consistent with what several fans have said this year.
One thing about Rob Ryan – and I know he’s trying to say all the right things as far as the personnel that he has – but let’s face it: the personnel that he has right now is not the personnel that he wants. There are certain guys up front – DeMarcus Ware’s a guy you definitely want. But as a whole, in his scheme, he puts you on islands at times where you have to make a play. He wants to bring the house and allow his corners to cover man-to-man. He doesn’t have that security in his corners right now, he doesn’t have that belief in his corners to just allow them to be out there in one-on-situations. So his hands are tied. He’s trying to do whatever he can to help his corners out, even to the fact of where, when you watch the game and you see it on tape, there are times when the safety is aligned 30 yards deep. … And that’s simply because he’s trying to eliminate a big play. But that’s not his style. His style is that he wants nine guys on the line of scrimmage, bringing guys from different angles. But he understands that “Right now, my corners are getting beat, and I’ve got to find a way to help these guys out.”
Woodson also questioned whether Terence Newman has the athletic ability to remain a viable option at corner. According to Woodson, Newman appears to have lost his closing speed, meaning that he’s having to give a bigger cushion to avoid giving up big plays.
Curious to see whether Rob has any influence over the team’s grocery shopping for next year. Then again, he might just move on, and we might just get to watch one more season with Jenkins, Newman, Scandrick, and Ball give up one 20-yard play after another.
Next Sunday’s game against the Giants is going to bring reminders of the 1993 finale in which the Cowboys won the NFC East and wrapped up home-field advantage by beating the Giants at the Meadowlands. The similarities—Giants, at New York, vs. Dallas, NFC East title on the line.
Nothing else is similar. That 1993 team had lost four games. Two of those losses came when future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith had held out to start the season. Another loss came when future Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was injured. The final loss came on Thanksgiving Day when snow and ice covered Texas Stadium for the only time in the stadium’s history.
In 2011, the running back is injured and is only a starter because a superior rookie back was previously lost for the season. The quarterback puts up fine numbers, but he hasn’t much of a clue about leading the team to wins in big games and won’t be anywhere close to earning the votes to make it to the Hall of Fame. And the team’s new stadium has a retractable roof, so unless some malfunction occurs, it isn’t going to snow in there.
We don’t need to rehash it all, but the Cowboys have already had chance (vs. Jets) after chance (vs. Detroit) after chance (vs. New England) after chance (vs. Arizona) to win this year, only to find ways to lose. Oh, and the team would have wrapped up this division already had the team held on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants just two weeks ago.
That 1993 team was a team of destiny, and most of felt it then.
This 2011 team? Here’s an analogy—the Eagles kicked a field goal with about 4:30 remaining in the third quarter yesterday. Dallas trailed 17-0 at that point. A guy in our section started screaming, “If your gonna win this thing, you’d better start playing now!” Nobody joined in his chant, and I think the collective thought (or at least my thought) was, with a puzzled look and a long exhale, win this thing?
I really want to think that this could be like 1993. Along those lines, this could be like 1979, when the Cowboys beat the Redskins to take the division title. In fact, this could be like 2009, when Dallas beat Philadelphia in the season finale to win the division and earn the right to host the Eagles during the following week.
But like the comparison between 1993 and 2011, there is little that is similar to 1979 or 2009. In 1979, Dallas was 8-5 after losing to Houston on Thanksgiving. But wins over the Giants and Eagles gave the Cowboys some momentum, and Roger Staubach had enough left in him to lead Dallas to a come-from-behind win.
In 2009, you might recall, Dallas had beaten the previously unbeaten Saints on the road and then beat the Redskins to secure a playoff spot. And Dallas had already beaten the Eagles earlier in the season.
The Cowboys have no such momentum right now. Their only win in December was against a Tampa Bay team that more recently lost 48-16 to the Carolina Panthers. The defense has been a weakness all year, and the defense that played the Eagles yesterday gave up 293 passing yards and forced one turnover only because Jason Avant tried to stretch the ball over the pylon on what was first called a touchdown.
What I fear is that this game might turn out to be something more like the season finale against the Eagles in 2008. One week earlier during that season, my son and I had watched the Cowboys play the Ravens in the last game at Texas Stadium. A Dallas win would have given the Cowboys a playoff spot, but the defense fell apart at the worst possible time. We took a long walk back to the car in the cold, feeling as if the season was over. The Cowboys had a chance to go to the playoffs by beating the Eagles in week 17, but Dallas gave a performance that words can’t quite describe. Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6.
After yesterday’s loss, my son and I took another long walk in the cold (for Texas, at least) to the parking lot after the game, feeling as if the season was all but over. It’s going to take a few more days and a lot of convincing to believe it will turn out otherwise after Sunday night next week.
My son and I left the parking lot to head to Cowboys Stadium just after the Giants had kicked a field goal to trim the Jets’ lead to 7-3 in the first half. It still looked like the day would bring quite a treat—a Jets win, meaning that the Cowboys would have their chance to wrap up the division at home with a win over the Eagles.
By the time we got to the stadium to stand in the security line, we could see that the Giants were ahead 10-7. Someone at some point said that the Giants had scored on a 99-yard play (Eli Manning to Victor Cruz, as it turned out).
It was 10-7 for quite a while. The stadium monitors would occasionally show highlights from the game, but not often. However, we were aware that the Giants had taken a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter.
It was 20-7 when the stadium monitors showed a Jet drive deep into Giant territory. On 3rd-and-goal from the 1, Mark Sanchez forgot to grab the ball, which squirted into the end zone for a touchback. Even though the Jets narrowed the score to 20-14 less than two minutes later, the mood at Cowboys Stadium was somber.
No way for the Jets to win, so the Cowboys-Eagles game essentially meant nothing.
Several around us repeated that statement in the minutes leading up to kickoff. The Cowboys turned around and played as if they believed the game meant nothing. It felt more like preseason game for much of the late afternoon.
Dallas had no answers for the Eagles, even if the score wasn’t 34-7 like it was on October 30. On the sixth play of the game, Almost Anthony Spencer almost sacked Michael Vick. Instead, Spencer grabbed Vick’s facemask, but Vick still spun around and flung the ball downfield. Riley Cooper made a nice catch, and the penalty on Spencer for the facemask move the ball into the red zone. Vick threw a 13-yard touchdown to Brent Celek to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
Really, Philadelphia didn’t need more than that.
Felix Jones had a nice 10-yard run to open the game, but he only carried the ball four times. Tony Romo attempted two passes. On the second, his hand hit the helmet of an Eagles’ defender. Few in the stands realized that Romo would be out for the game, and in fact my son had to tell me that Stephen McGee had gone in.
Dallas decided to rest some starters who had suffered through a few injuries, and though Romo might have been able to play, head coach Jason Garrett indicated that the team wasn’t going to take any chances.
The strangest sight today was seeing Jerry and Stephen Jones (along with a third person) bolt onto the sideline after Romo had gone to the locker room for tests. Jerry went directly to Garrett, apparently to tell the head coach about the quarterback’s injury. Just imagine that circumstance happening in any other sport with any other team—the owner/general manager bolting onto the field to tell the head coach about an injury to a player.
Ah, yes, there was more football to be played. Dallas moved the ball to the Philadelphia 32 in the second quarter. A holding penalty on Tyron Smith pushed the Cowboys out of field goal range.
The Eagles should have scored on their next possession, but (per the replay booth) Jason Avant fumbled the ball as he reached out to try to let the ball cross the plane of the goal line.
Dallas turned around and moved the ball back to the Eagle 30. Garrett called for a pitch to Sammy Morris, but the whole play was flubbed. Morris lost 9 yards, and even if he had made the first down, Dez Bryant was called for an illegal shift. So Dallas ended up out of field goal range.
Philadelphia took control at its own 13 with 55 seconds left in the first half. The Eagles had just one timeout remaining. Any guesses what might happen?
22-yard pass. 33-yard pass. 27-yard pass. Five-yard touchdown pass. Philadelphia 14, Dallas 0.
The second half was a series of three-and-outs by the Cowboys and time-killing drives by the Eagles. Dallas had one long drive in the fourth quarter, but McGee’s fourth-down attempt to Martellus Bennett in the end zone went sailing wide.
The only reason Dallas scored was that rookie Bruce Carter blocked a punt, setting up a touchdown pass from McGee to Miles Austin.
So next week is for all the marbles. It’s going to take a few days to start believing this team has any chance to win.
The Cowboys face the Eagles at 3:15 tomorrow at Cowboys Stadium. By then, we will know whether the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win. Should the Jets beat the Giants and the Cowboys beat the Eagles, then Dallas would take the division title.
Of course, a Giant win means that the division title will be up in the air until week 17, no matter who wins between Dallas and Philadelphia. The Eagles need the win to keep their slim hopes alive, but that would only happen if the Giants lose to the Jets.
Below are some key stories:
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Finally took a tour of Cowboys Stadium. Here is one clip from our visit:
This was going to be the game where the Cowboys played so flawlessly that I couldn’t get angry. When Dallas took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, I told my young son that Dallas would score 50 tonight.
By the end of the second quarter, I was half-right. Dallas led 28-0 thanks to three Tony Romo touchdown passes and a Romo touchdown run. At that point, the Buccaneers had only managed one first down, and that came on the opening drive of the game. One play after that first down, Josh Freeman fumbled the ball, which set up the first Dallas touchdown.
At halftime, Deion Sanders said there was no way the Cowboys would suffer another second-half collapse. After all, he said, Tampa player had all but quit.
Friends, this is the Cowboys we’re talking about. The Cowboys had not held a halftime lead of at least 28 points since 1994. But that is irrelevant. This is the 2011 Cowboys we’re talking about. These Cowboys know exactly how to ruin any lead, no matter the margin and no matter the time remaining.
So just think what could happen when the Cowboys received the second-half kickoff. Feed Felix Jones early and often, helping my fantasy team? Throw very safe passes to Jason Witten and Miles Austin, moving the ball just a bit and eating up the third quarter?
Maybe that was the plan. But a nine-yard run by Felix Jones was wiped out by a holding penalty on Tyron Smith. That backed the Cowboys up to their own 10. Two plays later, Dallas faced a 3rd-and-19 from the 11.
What could possibly happen? Lots of things, which is why much of the pregame focused on such highlights as Romo throwing two picks returned for touchdowns by the Lions, which put the Lions back in the game on October 2.
So what should we all think and feel when Romo protects his 28-point lead by trying to keep a 3rd-and-19 play alive, rolling to his right, getting hit and stripped of the ball by Adrian Clayborn? And what should we believe when Dekota Watson scoops up the ball and runs in for the score, cutting the Dallas lead to 28-7?
I couldn’t even get mad. This team is so clueless about how to win a game that I had little doubt that Tampa would make a game of it after all.
Dallas did go on a drive that ate up 7 minutes and led to a Dan Bailey field goal. That was promising.
But the defense turned around and gave up a long drive that resulted in a touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion. With 23 seconds left in the third quarter, Dallas led by only 16 points, and the Buccaneers could have tied it with two touchdowns and two more conversions.
Let’s borrow from Baylor’s Robert Griffin III: It was unbelievably believable that the Cowboys had no idea up to that point how to put the game away.
Dallas moved into field goal range, only to suffer a sack that put the team out of range. Mat McBriar has faltered in a few situations this year, and when the team could have used a punt downed inside the 20, he kicked the ball into the end zone.
Tampa moved the ball back into Dallas territory. The worst play was a 4th-and-9 play from the Tampa 44. Kregg Lumpkin took a pass over middle, but Sean Lee was right there. However, the best tackler on the team missed the tackle, allowing Lumpkin to pick up the first down.
Fortunately, that drive stalled with just under six minutes left. Dallas killed some clock, and McBriar had another opportunity to pin Tampa Bay deep. Another touchback.
The Cowboys held on the final drive, giving Dallas its eighth win of the year after the offense ran out the clock.
Again, the story of the game should have been the first half. Romo finished the game with a QB rating of 133.9, and most of his damage came before halftime. He threw touchdown passes to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Laurent Robinson. A big positive is that Austin looks like he has returned to form, but Romo continues to look in the direction of Robinson.
Two other positives were the play of Jones and his new backup, Sammy Morris. The latter picked up 53 yards on some tough runs throughout the game.
The defense also played a nice first half. The second half wasn’t terrible, but it was troubling to see DeMarcus Ware on the bench during several series in the second half. By the end of the game, Ware and Anthony Spencer were on the bench, and Dallas went with Victor Butler and rookie Alex Albright.
(Someone explain this: Tampa double-teamed Albright on a few of the plays late, and Dallas still couldn’t manage a sack.)
Anyway, the win is a positive. The first half had many other positives. But the feeling that this team really hasn’t learned anything is glaring.