Looking Back: A Bad Scheme with the Wrong Players

The Cowboys might still set NFL records for futility on defense, given the team’s inability to stop anyone on defense. This did not stop Jerry Jones from giving Monte Kiffin a firm vote of confidence after the Cowboys could not force a single punt against the Bears on Monday.

This led to a host of comments, including:

As an Eagle fan, I hope that Jerry lives forever.

A bit of a debate has now begun about whether the root cause is the lack of talent on defense or the scheme. A short summary of the arguments:

It’s the Players: The no-names on the defensive line do not provide enough pressure to make the Tampa 2 work. The team just is not getting enough pressure from the front four.

It’s the Scheme: The Cover 2/Tampa 2 has been going out of favor for several years because of how offenses have responded to it, and the Cowboys’ use of the scheme just proves how ineffective it’s become.

I don’t have an answer to why the defense is so bad, but this reminded me of coordinator hires in 2000 and 2002 that had similar results.

In 1999, the Cowboys finished 16th in the league in total offense while running Chan Gailey’s offense. Jerry decided to make a change in schemes and hired Jack Reilly to run the timing-based system that the Rams had used to win the Super Bowl in ’99.

With the team’s talent level taking a severe hit thanks to salary-cap problems, the Cowboys’ yards-per-game average sank from 302.5 in 1999 to 279.7 in 2000 and 275.1 in 2001.

The Cowboys still did not upgrade the offense in 2002 in any significant way, but Jerry decided the answer to the problem was to install the West Coast Offense. The team hired Bruce Coslet, who at one time was considered one of the leading minds regarding the West Coast system. However, the team did not have the talent in place to run that system, and teams at that point were already starting to move away from the way they had run the West Coast during the 1990s.

The result—the Cowboys averaged just 273.4 yards per game, continuing the trend of the offense averaging fewer yards than the year before. The team ranked 30th in the league in total yards and 31st in points. Only the ’60 and ’89 squads were close to as bad on offense. The Cowboys followed two 5-11 seasons with yet another 5-11 season.

Fast forward to the last few years on the defensive side of the ball. In Wade Phillips’ last full season in Dallas in 2009, the Cowboys allowed an average of 315.9 yards per game, which ranked 9th in the league.

The team fell apart in 2010, allowing 351.8 yards per game. Jerry hired Rob Ryan for the 2011 season, and the defense improved slightly by allowing 343.2 yards per game. However, in 2012, the team allowed 355.4 yards per game, and the problems on defense led Jerry to fire Ryan and turn to Monte Kiffin.

Without upgrading the defense in any significant way thanks to salary-cap problems, Jerry expected Kiffin to install the Tampa 2 to achieve  better results. The result has been that the team has allowed 426.8 yards per game, including four games where the defense has allowed more than 500 yards.

Does Jerry learn from mistakes? Of course not. This team that has been no better than mediocre for most of the past 18 years is once again mediocre and could be headed for yet another 8-8 season.

 

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Chicago 45, Dallas 28: Looking Nothing Like a Playoff Team

The Dallas Cowboys somehow still control their playoff destiny. If they win their remaining three games, they will win the NFC East.

If the Cowboys look anything like they did against the Chicago Bears, the team will not win another game.

The team brought the worst defense in franchise history—and one of the worst in NFL history—to Soldier Field to let the Bears do whatever they wanted.

Josh McCown threw for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns with a passer rating of 141.9. The Cowboys could not stop Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffrey. Matt Forte ran at will in the second half.

What was a 14-14 game with less than two minutes left in the first half quickly turned into a 24-14 Chicago lead at halftime. Although the Chicago touchdown was the result of a great individual play by Jeffrey in the corner of the end zone, the Cowboys had allowed the Bears to get into position to throw the touchdown late in the first half.

The Dallas defense had no clue how to stop the Bears in the second half, and eventually the Cowboys stopped trying.

The Cowboys gave up 498 total yards of offense and did not force a single punt. In fact, the only time the Bears left the field without scoring was because Chicago chose to kneel down to end the game.

Friends, this graphic shows just how bad this defense is:

Snapshot_1

Four teams had gained more than 500 yards against Dallas, and Chicago nearly became the fifth. The Bears became the third team to score at least 40 against Dallas this year.

Tony Romo threw for three touchdowns, including two in the first half. However, he was largely ineffective. The leading pass receiver for most of the game was tight end Gavin Escobar and his one reception for 25 yards (until he made another one late in the game).

DeMarco Murray ran well, but many of his yards also came during the first half and were rendered meaningless by the third quarter.

Dallas is now 7-6, while Philadelphia is 8-5. Unless the Eagles lose to either the Bears or Vikings, the Cowboys will have to beat the Packers and Redskins, setting up a season finale for all the marbles.

Sounds good, except the Cowboys will enter that game with this disgraceful unit called a defense. Not much room for optimism tonight.

* * *

The last time the Cowboys allowed three opponents to score 40 or more points in a single season was 1960. That was, of course, an 0-11-1 season and the first in franchise history.

* * *

Kyle Orton attempted his first  pass of the season. The last time he played was in 2012 against Chicago in another loss.

* * *

Joseph Randle and Cole Beasley both scored against the Bears. It was the second touchdown for both players, as Beasley had scored against the Broncos while Randle had scored against the Redskins.

 

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Cowboys Need to Hold Serve on Monday

For more than half of Sunday’s game between Philadelphia and Detroit, it appeared that the Lions and the weather were working in the Cowboys’ favor. With the Cowboys and Eagles tied in the standings at 7-5, a Detroit win would have given Dallas a big boost. With Detroit leading, I stupidly wrote this:

That did not last long. The Eagles erased a 14-0 second-half deficit and ran away with the game, beating the Lions 34-20. Philadelphia has games against the Vikings and Bears. Dallas needs to remain within at least a game of the Eagles to set up a season-ending matchup at AT&T Stadium for the NFC East crown. The Cowboys play the Packers and Redskins in the next two weeks following the game Monday night against the Bears. The Cowboys could also benefit from their division record. Dallas has a 4-0 record in the division, compared with Philadelphia’s 3-2 mark.

* * *

It’s looking as if Mike Shanahan may not be the Redskins’ coach when Dallas travels to Washington on December 22. According to some reports indicate that Dan Snyder may fire Shanahan before the of the season. Dallas may still be a must-win situation on December 22. Not sure whether the firing would be good or bad for the Cowboys. I know, however, that the Cowboys did not make a mistake by not pursuing Shanahan in 2010.

* * *

The Cowboys have played 78 games on Mondays. Most of those were on Monday Night Football. The team’s overall record on Mondays is 44-34. Dallas has faced Chicago twice on Mondays. Both were losses (34-18 in 2012 and 22-6 in 1996).

A Forgotten Tony Dorsett Highlight

Legends (37/365)

Tony Dorsett’s catch and run against the Bears in 1984 helped the Cowboys to a 23-14 win.

The 1984 season did not turn out to be one to remember for the Dallas Cowboys. The team finished at 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974.

Even for those who watched the team then, it’s easy to forget that the Cowboys began the year with a 4-1 record. With Gary Hogeboom leading the way, Dallas beat the Rams, Eagles, and Packers in the first four weeks of the season and had only lost to the Giants.

In week 5, Dallas traveled to Soldier Field to face the Bears. It was the first trip to Chicago for Dallas since 1973.

This game took place one year before the Bears became dominant. The teams played in 44-degree weather in late September.

The play I happen to remember from that game was a screen pass from Hogeboom to Tony Dorsett. The Cowboys set up the play perfectly, and Dorsett still had the speed that made him a legend.

Here is the play:

The Cowboys won the game 23-14 to improve to 4-1. However, the Hogeboom era did not last long. Dallas lost two straight to the Cardinals and Redskins. Tom Landry soon turned to Danny White again, but though the team finished with winning record, the Cowboys missed the playoffs.

* * *

The Cowboys have a 4-4 record overall at Soldier Field, including a win in the playoffs against the Bears in 1991.

During the 1960s, Dallas traveled to Chicago three times to face the Bears at Wrigley Field, and Dallas won two of those games.

The Cowboys lost their first game at Soldier Field in 1971 in an infamous game where Landry alternated between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton throughout the game.

* * *

The last time Dallas visited Chicago was 2007. The teams were tied at 3 at halftime, but the Cowboys pulled away in the second half to win, 34-10.

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Cowboys’ Defense Not on Track for Notorious Record

The Dallas Cowboys will almost certainly give up more yards in a season than any other team in franchise history. The Cowboys have allowed 5,059 yards in 12 games, which is just 569 yards behind the 16-game record set by the 2010 Cowboys’ defense.

The Cowboys will almost certainly set franchise records for futility on defense, but the Cowboys will probably not break the NFL record for yards allowed.

The Cowboys will almost certainly set franchise records for futility on defense, but the Cowboys will probably not break the NFL record for yards allowed.

How bad is this number? The 1960 Dallas Cowboys went 0-11-1  but only gave up 4,372 yards in 12 games. Yes, it was a very different era, but this defense is just utterly bad.

On the other hand, the Cowboys are not on pace to break the NFL record for most yards allowed in a season. The 2012 New Orleans Saints set the record by allowing 7,042 yards in 16 games, for an average of 440.1 yards per game.

The current Cowboys have allowed an average of 421.6 yards per game and are on pace to finish the season allowing a total of 6,728 yards. It’s certainly possible the Cowboys could allow opponents to gain more than 500 yards again this year, but the team would have to allow 495.75 yards per game to set a new mark.

Not likely, so we have that going for us.

* * *

Tony Romo has thrown every pass attempted by the Cowboys this year. If Romo continues to do so for the final four games, it will mark the second time during the Romo Era that this has happened. The other time was 2009, which was also the last time the Cowboys made the playoffs.

Romo is on pace to throw for 4,176 yards, which would mark the fifth time during Romo’s career he would throw for more than 4,000 yards.

He is also on pace to throw 32 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. It would be his best TD-to-Interception ratio in his career, topping 31 TDs and 10 Ints. set in 2011.

* * *

Dez Bryant needs 104 yards to reach 1,000 for the second year in a row. No other player is on pace to gain 1,000 rushing or receiving yards. However, DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 rushing yards by averaging 75.8 yards per game during the last four games. He has averaged 79.3 yards per game during the last three games.

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Dallas 31, Oakland 24: Thanks for Waking Up, Cowboys

A few posts and articles this week suggested that the Thanksgiving Day game against the Raiders could be a trap for the Dallas Cowboys. Not many believed Dallas would lose, though.

The blue-jersey curse only affected the first half of the Cowboys' game against the Oakland Raiders.

The blue-jersey curse only affected the first half of the Cowboys’ game against the Oakland Raiders.

The Cowboys found themselves down 21-7 near the end of the first half. The offense could not move the ball, and the defense had trouble stopping a receiver who spent time on the Cowboys practice squad in 2011 and 2012.

Fortunately, the Cowboys managed a drive late in the first half that resulted in a touchdown. Dallas took the momentum from that drive and dominated Oakland in the second half. The Cowboys’ 31-24 gives the team a 7-5 record and a half-game lead over Philadelphia for the lead in the NFC East.

After 12 seconds of play on Thursday, the Raiders had a 7-0 lead thanks to a fumble on the opening kickoff by Terrance Williams. Greg Jenkins, playing in his third career game, returned the fumble for a touchdown, and suddenly Dallas fans had reason to worry.

Those concerns lessened at the end of the first quarter when Kyle Wilbur recovered an Oakland fumble at the Dallas 2. DeMarco Murray scored to tie the game at 7.

The Cowboys once had a receiver named Andre Holmes, who had a total of 2 receptions in 7 games in 2012. He was also on the Cowboys’ practice squad.

He looked more like Tim Brown against the Cowboys, though. On the Raiders’ first drive of the second quarter, his 20-yard reception allowed Oakland to convert a third-down play. He later caught a 16-yard pass that set up a one-yard plunge by Rashad Jennings.

Later in the quarter, Holmes caught another pass on third down to extend a drive, and Jennings scored another touchdown. The nightmare: Oakland 21, Dallas 7.

Even worse: Dallas had just 53 yards of offense with 1:56 left in the first half. Former Dallas corner Mike Jenkins and others in the Oakland secondary did a good job stopping Dez Bryant, and none of the other Cowboys stepped up.

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Cowboys took the ball at their own 27 to try to mount a drive to end the first half. Thanks to plays by Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray, Dallas did not have to settle for a late field goal. Murray scored a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the half to cut the Oakland lead to 21-14.

Holmes was not the only player to have a career day on Thursday.

His former teammate, running back Lance Dunbar, had rushed for 75 yards in 2012 and 68 yards in 2013. He had never carried the ball more than 8 times in a game.

On the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half, Dunbar raced off left guard for 46 yards, putting the ball into Oakland territory. Six plays later, Bryant caught a touchdown pass from Tony Romo, and the Cowboys had tied the score at 21.

Dunbar wound up with 82 rushing yards, and Murray finished the game with three touchdown runs. The third of those runs came early in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys defense forced to three-and-outs by the Raiders.

Dallas extended its lead to 31-21 later in the fourth, and though the Raiders managed a field goal with less than a minute remaining, the Cowboys recovered the Raiders’ onside attempt.

It marks the second time this season that Dallas has won back-to-back games, and the Cowboys will finish the month of November with a 3-1 record. Dallas will not play again until Monday, December 9 against Chicago.

 

 

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Wearing Blue at Home

Some discouraging news this week: Despite clear evidence that the Cowboys’ normal blue jerseys bring bad luck (and you will just have to accept my conclusory statement as truth), the Cowboys are going to wear their regular blue jerseys on Thanksgiving Day. The team is doing so because the only other option would be to wear the silver helmets with the throwback uniforms from the early 1960s.

Not sure why the team could not figure out a way to use the silver helmets with the throwbacks, but that’s a different matter.

The Cowboys wore their original blue jerseys during the first four years of the franchise’s existence from 1960 to 1963. When the team changed uniforms in 1964, the Cowboys began their tradition of wearing white at home instead of blue.

The Cowboys first wore their current throwback uniforms in 2004. The Cowboys unveiled those jerseys on Thanksgiving Day against the Bears. Chicago wore orange jerseys instead of white, so the tradition of Dallas opponents wearing something other than white remained intact.

That tradition ended the following year, when Denver wore white jerseys at Texas Stadium while the Cowboys wore their blue throwbacks.

And, of course, what happened when the Cowboys wore those blue jerseys and let the Broncos wear white at Texas Stadium?

The Cowboys lost, that’s what happened! That is why, Jerry, the Cowboys do not wear blue at home!

(Just completely disregard the fact that the Cowboys have a winning record while wearing their throwback uniforms and allowing visiting teams to wear white. Work with me on this.)

(Immediate update: okay, so it’s not true that the Broncos were the first team to wear white while visiting Dallas. The Dolphins wore white when the Cowboys wore their “other” double-star “throwbacks” in 2003. But do you remember what happened in 2003? The Cowboys LOST!)

Anyway, the Cowboys will wear their normal blue uniforms at home. Trivia question: when was the last time the Cowboys wore their regular blue uniforms (not throwback uniforms) as the home team? Here’s a puzzle to help with the answer:

Yes, that was a trick question. In Super Bowl V, the NFL designated Dallas as the home team but would not let the Cowboys wear their white uniforms. That is why Dallas wore blue and Baltimore wore white. You should note immediately that the Cowboys lost Super Bowl V, and the loss is what gave rise to the blue jersey curse. (The 1980 NFC Championship Game did not help matters, either.)

* * *

As for the last time the Cowboys wore blue in a regular season home game in Dallas/Irving/Arlington, the answer is December 8, 1963, when the Pittsburgh Steelers visited Dallas in the penultimate game of the season.

And do you know what happened? Yes, Dallas LOST. Here’s a photo:

cowboys.steelers.1963.jpg

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The Cowboys opened the regular season in 1964 by hosting the St. Louis Cardinals. It marked the first time the Cowboys wore white at home in a regular season game.

Not a great photo, but here is a shot from that game:

cowboys.cardinals.1964

The game marked a new era for Dallas, as the team finally rid itself of the stars on the shoulders. The team would set new standards in the years to come, all while wearing white at home.

Just never mind that the Cowboys lost the game to the Cardinals 16-6. It was not because of the white uniforms. It was because the Cowboys opened their season on a Saturday instead of a Sunday.

C’mon, work with me on this.

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Dan Bailey’s Eight Game-Winners

Dan Bailey has been the Dallas kicker for less than three full seasons, but he has already hit more game-winning field goals (8) than Rafael Septien (7) did in nine seasons.

No kicker in team history has as many game-winning field goals as Dan Bailey.

No kicker in team history has as many game-winning field goals as Dan Bailey.

(Of course, the Cowboys were more often in the lead when Septien was kicker, but that’s a different point.) The list below summarizes Bailey’s game winners. Four of the kicks came in overtime.

September 18, 2011

Dallas 27, San Francisco 24 (OT) Bailey hit a 48-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime, then hit a 19 yarder to win the game.

September 26, 2011

Dallas 18, Washington 16 Bailey scored the final 9 points in the game. His 40-yard field goal with 1:52 remaining won the game for Dallas.

November 20, 2011

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT) After Graham Gano missed a 52-yard attempt in overtime, Bailey hit a 39 yarder to give Dallas the win.

November 24, 2011

Dallas 20, Miami 19 Bailey hit a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give Dallas the one-point win.

November 18, 2012

Dallas 23, Cleveland 20 (OT) Bailey hit three field goals in the game, including a 32 yarder to tie the game at the end of regulation. He nailed a 38-yard attempt in overtime to give Dallas the win.

December 9, 2012

Dallas 20, Cincinnati 19 Rival Josh Brown hit four field goals in the game, but Bailey’s 40 yarder as time expired gave the Cowboys a one-point win.

December 16, 2012

Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 24 (OT) The Cowboys intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in overtime, setting up Bailey’s 21-yard field goal, which gave Dallas the win.

November 24, 2013

Dallas 24, N.Y. Giants 21 The Giants erased a 21-6 Dallas lead in the second half, but the Cowboys drove the length of the field to set up Bailey’s 35-yard game winner.

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Dallas 24, N.Y. Giants 21: Clutch Overcomes Stupid

Jerry Jones refused to say so, but the Dallas Cowboys’ season was on the line on Sunday. A loss would have allowed the Giants to tie the Cowboys in the standings and given the Eagles a one-game lead in the division.

Dan Bailey's 35-yard field goal as time expired gave the Cowboys a 24-21 win over the New York Giants.

Dan Bailey’s 35-yard field goal as time expired gave the Cowboys a 24-21 win over the New York Giants.

The team did not look great in the first half but managed to take a 14-6 halftime lead. A 65-yard drive early in the third quarter ended with a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Jason Witten to give Dallas a 21-6 lead.

Up to that point, the Giants had moved the ball but could not punch it into end zone. On the drive before the Cowboys’ touchdown in the third quarter, the Giants had failed convert a 4th-and-6 play in Dallas territory.

The Cowboys could have buried the Giants on New York’s drive after the Dallas score. The Giants had the ball on the Dallas 27 but faced a 4th-and-3.

Eli Manning looped a pass to tight end Brandon Myers, who had only one score all season. Myers caught the pass near the 10 and fell down. The NFL rules are pretty clear that a defender needs to touch a downed runner, but neither Bruce Carter nor Jeff Heath bothered to look at Myers, who got up and ran in to complete a 27-yard touchdown. New York cut the Dallas lead to 21-13.

The Cowboys only managed a total of 57 yards on the next three drives. On one of those drives, Dez Bryant caught a pass that would have been a five-yard gain, but Bryant fumbled the ball, which rolled 20 yards in the other direction.

Yes, these are the stupid ways the Cowboys lose games.

The Dallas defense forced two punts, but the Giants managed a drive midway through the fourth quarter. Manning hit Victor Cruz on a 22-yard pass to convert a 3rd-and-5 play, and Manning found Louis Murphy for a 4-yard touchdown. Andre Brown ran the ball in on a two-point attempt to tie the game.

With the game and the season on the line, Dallas took over on its own 20. At that point, a few Cowboys redeemed themselves.

With the Cowboys facing a 3rd-and-7 from the Dallas 23, Bryant made a clutch catch for a 19-yard gain, giving Dallas another set of downs. Bryant later caught an 8-yard pass on a 3rd-and-5 play.

Miles Austin had not caught a pass since September, and he dropped an easy pass on the last drive. However, on the next play, he caught a 17-yarder over the middle to move the ball into field-goal range.

Bryant appeared to catch a pass that would have put the ball inside the 10, but the referees ruled he did not maintain possession. On the next play, though, Romo hit Cole Beasley, who was able to move down to the New York 15.

Two plays later, Dan Bailey nailed a 35-yard field goal to give Dallas a 24-21 win.

Dallas is now 6-5 and 4-0 in the NFC East. Dallas faces Oakland and Washington in the next two games.

* * *

Fun with church signs:

churchsign (1)

The win will allow Cowboys fans to forget the whiff by Carter and Heath that allowed the Giants to score.

In the first quarter, Heath made a heads-up play, snagging Cruz fumble out of the air and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown. His touchdown makes it a bit easier to forgive him for the mistake on the Myers score.

That was still dumb a play, though.

* * *

The Cowboys continue to have hamstring problems. Miles Austin and Morris Claiborne returned from hamstring injuries, but Claiborne could not finish the game because he hurt his again.

Dallas also lost returner and receiver Dwayne Harris to a hamstring, and the team had to play without linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant because of hamstring injuries.

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Are Miles Austin and Morris Claiborne Still Key Players?

We begin with fun with a Star Wars crawler generator:

 

The news this week has focused in part on the return of Miles Austin and Morris Claiborne, along with Jason Hatcher and J.J. Wilcox.

If Austin could return to his 2009/2010 form, this would be bigger news. Even his 2012 form would not be bad. However, after catching 10 passes in the season opener against the Giants, he has caught a total of five passes for 53 yards. He has not caught a pass since September 22, thanks mostly to his hamstring injury.

Claiborne is not even a starter, having lost his job to Orlando Scandrick. Advanced NFL Stats ranks Claiborne as the #74 cornerback in the league, while Brandon Carr ranks 6th and Orlando Scandrick ranks 35th.

Assuming those ranks (win probability added especially) have some meaning, 74th is not especially impressive.

The #73 corner is Green Bay’s Micah Hyde, a rookie fifth-round pick. Not exactly the same expectations that comes with the #6 pick overall.

As for the Cowboys’ other corners, some good news is that Carr outranks Joe Haden, who is widely considered the best cover corner in the league.

The bad news? Former Cowboy Terence Newman ranks third.

* * *

Here’s a great article by former Dallas columnist Gary Myers about why the Cowboys will not win with Jerry Jones running the franchise as general manager. This is disconcerting:

“As a general manager, he’s horrific. Just horrific,” said a former GM who once helped his team get to a Super Bowl. “What makes him bad is everything he does is based on perception, star power, making a splash. Fourth or fifth on the list is soundness. Everything revolves around him. He undermines his head coaches with his antics. They don’t have a lot of real harmony and he creates a lot of the storms.”

(Hat tip to Fred Goodwin at Dallas Cowboys Books Blog for the link.)

* * *

You might think that a 5-5 record is fairly common, but not for the Cowboys. Since the league added two games to give the league a 16-game schedule in 1978, the Cowboys have started at 5-5 only three times.

In 1997, the Cowboys started at 5-5. They won their 11th game against the Redskins, but a blowout loss at Green Bay caused a tailspin. Dallas finished at 6-10.

In 1999, the Cowboys saw a 3-0 start become a 5-5 record. Dallas beat Miami on Thanksgiving Day to improve to 6-5 as Chan Gailey beat former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson. Dallas continued to play mediocre football from that point on and finished at 8-8. However, thanks to a bunch of help, Dallas made the playoffs.

Dallas also started at 5-5 in 2012, losing to the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving en route to an 8-8 finish.

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