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:

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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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If the Cowboys Miss the Playoffs Again…

With the Eagles’  24-16 win over the Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys at 5-5 now sit a half-game out of first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys are also a full game behind the 49ers, Bears, and Cardinals for the last wildcard spot. Even if Carolina loses to New England tonight, the Panthers would still have a 6-4 record.

9013775-largeDallas now has to travel to the Meadowlands for a rematch with the resurgent Giants, who have won four straight. In fact, none of the remaining games are going to be easy for the Cowboys, and it is possible that Dallas will have to beat the Redskins on the road and Eagles at home in the final two weeks of the season to reach the playoffs.

On the positive side, that is exactly what the Cowboys did in 2009, the last year the Cowboys made the playoffs.

On the negative side, should the team fail, the Cowboys will have the third-longest playoff drought in franchise history.

The longest period where the Cowboys missed the playoffs was the first six years of the team’s existence from 1960 to 1965.

The next longest period was the five years from 1986 through 1990, which included the final Landry years and the first two years under Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones.

The current Cowboys have missed the playoffs three straight years. That was the same number of years the franchise missed the playoffs under Dave Campo.

Yes, the current Dallas Cowboys could have a longer streak of missing the playoffs than the teams led by the rotating of quarterbacks that included an aging Troy Aikman, an aging Randall Cunningham, Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, and Chad Hutchinson.

Jerry gave more money to Tony Romo last off-season than any other player in team history, yet one more season without the playoffs means that the Quincy Carter (et al.) era may start looking better than what we are seeing now.

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Drafting a Tight End in the Second Round and Expecting a Different Result

Overused quote of the afternoon:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Well-respected DMN columnist Rick Gosselin on Monday noted that Cowboys use of a second-round pick to take Gavon Escobar is already haunting the team. I would much rather take a week off from worrying about the Cowboys’ decision-making about anything, but this one just bugs me.

Here’s one reason: the 2006 NFL Draft.

Here’s a second: the 2008 NFL Draft.

Let’s review.

In 2006, the Cowboys missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The aura surrounding Bill Parcells was much less impressive, but the Cowboys could make some strides with another solid draft.

The team needed help in its secondary, especially at the safety position. It needed a receiver, given that it had two over the age of 32 (Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens).

Let’s stress this point: Tight end was not a need.

The team’s first pick was linebacker Bobby Carpenter. Not a good start, but that’s a story for a different day.

With their second pick, the Cowboys could have had safety Bernard Pollard. Or cornerback Tim Jennings. Or a returner named Devin Hester, who helped the Bears to the Super Bowl as a rookie.

Instead, Dallas took tight end Anthony Fasano with the 53rd overall pick. He was supposed to complement Jason Witten, but the Cowboys barely used him.

Two years later, the Cowboys traded Fasano and Akin Ayodele to the Miami Dolphins for a 4th round pick. Yes, the Cowboys traded a second-rounder from 2006, along with a starting linebacker, in exchange for one 4th round pick.

The result: Fasano caught 177 passes for 2104 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Dolphins over the next five years. Ayodele wasn’t great, but he started 18 games for Miami.

Dallas took that 4th round pick in 2008 and traded it to Oakland for a 4th rounder and a 7th rounder. Oakland used the pick to take Tyvon Branch, who has started 63 games.

I honestly can’t even summarize what happened after that. The Cowboys kept trading picks for more picks and more picks in deals with Cleveland and Jacksonville. The result: the Cowboys wound up with running back Tashard Choice, who lasted just over two years in Dallas.

Before the Cowboys showed their expertise in trading picks for picks and more picks, the Cowboys had a second-round pick in 2008 that they did not trade away.

The Cowboys needs in 2008? Offensive line. Safety. Wide receiver. Perhaps even another running back.

Let’s stress this point: Tight end was not a need.

The Cowboys, however, decided to take a tight end, Martellus Bennett. Yes, there was some theory that Bennett would be more like a receiver. But as everyone probably already knows, Bennett did less and less in his four years in Dallas, winding up with 846 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in 4 years. In less than 2 full seasons since leaving Dallas, he has caught 9 touchdown passes.

Who did the Cowboys pass up to take Bennett? Cornerback Terrell Thomas, who started 34 games in his first three seasons with the Giants. Safety Charles Godfrey, who has started 74 games with the Panthers. Running back Jamaal Charles, who is just a bit better than Felix Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2008. Guard Jeremy Zuttah, who has started 69 games with Tampa Bay.

No, these are not big-time names, but any one of them would have been more valuable to the Cowboys than Fasano and Bennett were.

By the time Bennett left after the 2011 season, the Cowboys had wasted two second-round picks and STILL had needs in their secondary, and on their offensive line, and at the receiver position.

So we come to the 2013 NFL Draft. The Cowboys still had not resolved their problems at safety. The team still needed offensive line help. The team needed defensive line help.

Let’s stress this point: Tight end was not a need.

And so what do the Cowboys do with their second-round pick?

Take another tight end! And as Gosselin’s piece points out, the team knew Escobar could not block, so when he proved to be less effective as a receiver, the team had to know it had wasted yet another second-round pick on a tight end.

It’s perhaps a bit early to say how good the players taken after Escobar will be, but several teams found starters in the second and third rounds. And yes, the Cowboys found a gem in Terrance Williams, but that does not excuse wasting a pick on another tight end.

It is what it is (and I hate that phrase): insane.

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First-Down Trivia

The Dallas Cowboys are setting all sorts of dubious records on defense and could very well break the single-season record for most yards allowed, set last year by those Saints.

The Saints recorded first downs at will in their 49-17 win over the Cowboys.

The Saints recorded first downs at will in their 49-17 win over the Cowboys.

Last night while playing bad ball (oh, thanks for clearing that up, Monte Kiffen), the Cowboys became the first team in NFL history to allow 40 first downs. The New York Jets had the previous high mark of 39, set against the Miami Dolphins in 1988.

For the Cowboys, it marked the eighth time in franchise history that the Cowboys had allowed 30 or more first downs to an opponent. As one would expect, the results in those games has not been favorable, as the Cowboys’ record is 1-7 when allowing 30 or more first downs.

This happened four times during the team’s first 51 years in existence. Since 2011, it has happened another four times, including twice in 2013.

Hence, the “Can’t Stop Anyone” defense.

Year – Opp. First Downs – Opponent – Result

2013 – 40 – New Orleans – L 17-49

2013 – 34 – Denver – L 48-51

2012 – 33 – New Orleans – L 31-34 (OT)

2011 – 31 – Philadelphia – L 7-34

1996 – 32 – Washington – L 10-37

1995 – 32 – Oakland – W 34-21

1991 – 33 – Houston – L 23-26 (OT)

1983 – 31 – L.A. Raiders – L 38-40

* * *

The Cowboys have recorded 30 or more first downs in several games. The most came during a 26-21 loss to the Detroit Lions in 1985, when the Cowboys had 33 first downs. Dallas turned the ball over 5 times, contributing heavily to the loss.

* * *

The Cowboys only managed 9 first downs against the Saints. It marked the fewest first downs since the team had only 7 in a 27-6 loss to Washington to end the 2007 season.

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New Orleans 49, Dallas 17: A Defense as Effective as Air and Gravity Alone

Nobody can really dispute whether the 2013 Cowboys have the worst defense in franchise history. After 10 games, this unit has won the prize.

The Cowboys' former defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, did not lead a defense as bad as the 2013 version. In fact, nobody has led such a bad defense.

The Cowboys’ former defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, did not lead a defense as bad as the 2013 version of the Cowboys’ defense. In fact, nobody has ever led such a bad defense.

Yes, the unit has suffered injuries, and nobody knows the names of the defensive linemen. But the results have been just incredibly bad, no matter what the reasons or excuses are.

So the Cowboys had to take the worst defense in franchise history to New Orleans to face one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.

And how did Monte Kiffen et al. decide to slow down Drew Brees and the Saints? Our best guess is that the brain trust decided the defense would rely on air and gravity.

The problem? The Saints play their games in a dome, meaning the air did not have much of an effect. That left gravity.

Of course, gravity wouldn’t stop Brees, who effortlessly threw for 392 yards and 4 TDs.

On the other hand, gravity has helped just about every other team to slow down Mark Ingram, the former Alabama running back who had never rushed for 100 yards in a game.

Er, Ingram had never rushed for 100 yards in a game until the Saints played the Cowboys. Ingram rushed for 145 yards, averaging 10.4 yards per carry.  Jim Brown in his day did not run through the Cowboys as easily as Ingram did on Sunday.

The Cowboys were actually in the game for part of the first half. When DeMarco Murray scored on a 7-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, the Cowboys had a 10-7 lead.

But on the first play after the Dallas touchdown, Sean Lee suffered a hamstring injury. From that point on, the Cowboys had no chance.

Brees led the Saints on a 14-play drive that resulted in a Pierre Thomas touchdown that allowed New Orleans to regain the lead.

Dallas did not manage a single first down for the rest of the first half. The Saints managed to score two more touchdowns to take a 28-10 lead at halftime.

The Cowboys obviously decided to commit to the run, and Murray had a good first half. However, Romo did nothing in the air, completing just 3 of 9 passes for 20 yards in the first half. He completed all three passes to tight ends, including two to James Hanna. Yes, Terrance Williams dropped some passes, but the passing game never really got on track.

It would be easy to say blame the defense’s performance on Lee’s injury, but this is a team that has given up just under 4,400 yards in ten games. The team will break the Saints’ NFL record for most yards allowed in a season if the Cowboys allow more then 2,644 yards in their final six games. That will require the Cowboys to give up about 441 yards per game.

The Eagles beat the Packers today, so both teams now have 5-5 records. Dallas has a bye, while the Eagles will face the Redskins. It is very possible that the Cowboys could be in second place when they play again on November 25.


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Photo Trivia: Cowboys Rocked by the Saints in 2006

I asked this in a post from yesterday, but here is more about the unknown fullback who scored three times against the Cowboys in 2006.

The Saints would eventually head to the NFC Championship Game in 2006 thanks to stars such as Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, and Marques Colston. Heading into this game, both teams were 8-4 and riding hot streaks.

The Cowboys had to figure out how to slow down these skill players to have any chance to beat New Orleans.

The problem was that when the Saints got down inside the 5 on more than one occasion, the Cowboys forgot to cover the fullback. This fullback scored twice in the first half and yet another time in the third quarter. The Saints won in a blowout, 42-17.

Here’s a puzzle with the player:


provided by flash-gear.com


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Cowboys Will Play Their 22nd Game on Sunday Night Football

Somehow, "I Hate Myself for Loving You" became "I've Been Waiting All Day for Sunday Night." Sigh.

Somehow, “I Hate Myself for Loving You” became “I’ve Been Waiting All Day for Sunday Night.” Sigh.

Hard to believe that football returned to NBC seven years ago as NBC Sunday Night Football. The Dallas Cowboys played in the second regular season game on this program, beating the Washington Redskins 27-10 on September 17, 2006.

The Cowboys will appear on Sunday Night Football for the 22nd time on November 10. It is also the third time this season for Dallas to play in primetime.

Including the two previous games this year, the Cowboys have a combined record of 12-9 in the previous 21 games. Here are a few trivia items about those games:

  • The Cowboys have played division opponents on Sunday Night Football 15 times, including 5 games against the Redskins, 4 games against the Eagles, and 6 games against the Giants.
  • The only AFC team the Cowboys have faced on Sunday night since 2006 were the Jets in 2011.
  • The Cowboys had a 10-2 record on Sunday night between 2006 and 2009. However, after the Cowboys lost to the Redskins to open the 2010 season, the Cowboys lost 7 straight between 2010 and 2012.
  • The Cowboys’ first loss on Sunday night was against the Saints, who the Cowboys play this Sunday. That was a matchup between Bill Parcells and his former assistant, Sean Payton. New Orleans destroyed Dallas, 42-17.
  • ESPN (and for some time, TNT) aired games on Sunday night from 1987 through 2005. The Cowboys appeared on Sunday night 17 times during those years and had a total record of 5-12.

* * *

In the Saints’ win over the Cowboys in 2006, one player for New Orleans scored 3 touchdowns.

In his career, this player scored a total of 7 touchdowns.

Who was it?


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Cowboys Set a Low Mark in Rushing Attempts

Many teams like to run the ball. The Cowboys, in fact, used to like to run the ball. They didn't on Sunday.

Many teams like to run the ball. The Cowboys, in fact, used to like to run the ball. They didn’t on Sunday.

The Dallas Cowboys abandoned the run on Sunday like they never have before.

During the time that Tom Landry coached the Cowboys, the team never had fewer than 16 rushing attempts in a single game. Between 1960 and 1988, the Cowboys played 64 games in which they ran the ball 25 or fewer times. The team’s record in those games was 11-53.

Since 1989, the Cowboys have played 24 games in which they rushed 15 or fewer times in a game. Until Sunday, the team had a combined record of 0-23 in those games. Thanks to Sunday’s game, the team’s record in those games is 1-23.

The team’s previous low in rushing attempts was 10, set in 1989 in a 28-0 loss to New Orleans and again in 2011 in a 34-7 loss to Philadelphia.

Dallas became the second team in 2013 to have only 9 rushing attempts. The other team was Baltimore, which ran the ball 9 times for 24 yards in a 23-20 loss at Buffalo. Teams that have ran the ball 15 or fewer times have a combined record of 4-16. The Cowboys’ previous low this year was 14 attempt in the 51-48 loss to Denver.

Here is a chart showing games in which Dallas has ran the ball 15 or fewer times:

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The Cowboys had only 36 rushing yards on Sunday. That number did not set a franchise low, however.

Dallas has rushed for 36 or fewer yards in 15 games. The team’s combined record in those games is 2-13.

The previous win game in 1987, when Dallas ran the ball 24 times for 26 yards in a 33-24 win over the New York Giants. Tony Dorsett had one of the worst games of his career, gaining just 3 yards on 14 carries. He lost his starting job two weeks later.


* * *

If Jerry was going for the creepy-old-man look, he nailed it next to Selena Gomez, who will perform at halftime on Thanksgiving.


A trivia question I could not answer: name one song that Selena Gomez sings.

Of course, my daughter might watch football on Thanksgiving this year. Thanks, Jerry!


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Dallas 27, Minnesota 23: Scoffing at Win-Probability Analysis

The Dallas Cowboys appeared to do everything they needed to do on Sunday to lose a game to the 1-6 Minnesota Vikings. A loss would have been very difficult for the team to overcome, both in the standings and in terms of rebounding emotionally.


Dwayne Harris dove into the end zone with less than a minute remaining to give the Cowboys a 27-23 win over Minnesota on Sunday.

The Vikings had an 89% chance of winning the game with 4:21 remaining. Minnesota led 23-20 and had just picked off Tony Romo in Dallas territory. Minnesota needed less than 10 yards to get into field-goal range.

The Dallas defense that could not stop Adrian Peterson on Minnesota’s previous drive, which resulted in the go-ahead touchdown, held tight. The Vikings punted the ball to Dallas with 2:44 remaining and pinned the Cowboys at their own 10.

The Cowboys needed Romo to play the role of hero, driving the team 90 yards for the game-winning score. He did just that.

Dallas receivers had problems with drops all game  but did not during this drive. He threw passes to Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Dwayne Harris. With 1:30 remaining and the Cowboys holding the ball at their own 45, Romo hit Dez Bryant across the middle, and Bryant was able to weave his way through the Viking secondary for a 34-yard gain.

Romo completed two more passes to get the ball down to the Minnesota 7. With 42 seconds left, Romo threw the ball underneath to Harris, who dove into the end zone to give Dallas the lead. The Vikings’ last ditch effort to come back failed, giving Dallas the 27-23 win.

Bryant put the Cowboys in position to win the game, but this will not be a game for him to remember fondly. He dropped a couple of passes that would have put the Cowboys in position to score touchdowns.

Bryant later lost his cool, possibly costing the Cowboys a chance at a field goal late in the third quarter. With Dallas leading 20-17, the Cowboys moved the ball to the Minnesota 29. However, Lance Dunbar lost five yards on a run, setting up a 3rd-and-15 play. Romo tried to get the ball to Bryant, who was called for offensive pass interference. He argued with the referees and removed his helmet in the process, drawing a 15-yard penalty. It forced the Cowboys to punt.

Jason Witten had his best game of the season, catching 8 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. His score came early in the third quarter and gave Dallas a 13-10 lead.

Seconds later, George Selvie stripped the ball from Christian Ponder in the end zone, and Nike Hayden recovered in the end zone to increase the Dallas lead to 20-10.

However, just when it appeared that the Cowboys would run away with the game, the Minnesota offense rebounded, marching 77 yards in just over 3 minutes to cut the Dallas lead to 20-17.

The first half is hardly worth mentioning. The Cowboys played as if they were hung over from last week’s loss to Detroit. A touchdown run by Ponder gave the Vikings a 10-6 halftime lead.

The win allowed Dallas to remain in first place in the NFC East. The Eagles improved to 4-5 with a 49-20 win over Oakland, while the Redskins (now 3-5) beat the Chargers in overtime, 30-24.

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