Atlanta 19, Dallas 13: Just Enough Mistakes to Lose

Jason Garrett (Princeton graduate, left) tries to remind Mike Smith (East Tennessee State University graduate, right) about the value of an Ivy League degree on an NFL sideline.

When the schedule came out for the 2012 season, most (including me) looked at December, because that’s when the Dallas Cowboys usually implode.

Then we looked at the middle of the schedule—three straight road games against the Giants, Falcons, and Eagles. The pessimists said the Cowboys would lose all three. After tonight’s loss to the Falcons, Dallas is two-thirds of the way there.

[Correction (11/5): Dumb mistake on my part. The Cowboys play three road games in four weeks, but the Giants game last week was at home. The other road game was at Carolina.]

Yes, the Cowboys played the only unbeaten team in the league very tough. Yes, the Cowboys could have had a chance to win with just one more defensive stop with less than five minutes remaining.

But this is the modern-era Cowboys. We should know better.

With a 16-13 lead, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-6 from their own 24 with just under 4 minutes left. Matt Ryan threw to Jacquizz Rodgers in the flat. Orlando Scandrick just had to make a tackle to force a punt. Rodgers instead broke the tackle and raced 31 yards past midfield.

Three plays later, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-8.  The Cowboys appeared to force an incomplete pass, but the referees called Scandrick for defensive holding.

From there, Atlanta ran the clock down and kicked a field goal. There were no miracles in store for the Cowboys, who fell to 3-5 with the loss.

At least the second half was a bit lively. The first half featured a total of four field goals. Dallas drove into the red zone twice in the first quarter before stalling and having to settle for field goals. The Falcons then tied the game with two of their own in the second quarter.

The Cowboys moved into Atlanta territory on the first possession of the second half, but the drive stalled. The Cowboys did not manage to move into Atlanta territory until midway through the fourth quarter.

By then, the Falcons had built a 16-6 lead thanks to a Michael Turner touchdown and a Matt Bryant field goal.

The Cowboys came to life thanks to a quick drive that lasted just 2:28. Tony Romo hit Kevin Ogletree on a 21-yard touchdown to pull the Cowboys to within a field goal. However, the defense could not hold the Falcons when it mattered most.

The Cowboys didn’t turn the ball over, marking the first time that has happened all season. However, the Cowboys did not force a turnover, so Dallas still has a turnover ratio of  minus-11.

Dallas also only had 7 penalties for 50 yards. However, Atlanta had only 2 for 15 yards, and the Cowboys’ penalties came at the worst times.

This felt like a solid defensive effort, but the Cowboys gave up some yardage. Turner had more than 100 yards on the ground, while both Julio Jones and Roddy White had more than 100 receiving yards each.

The Cowboys are still a half-game from the division cellar thanks to the Redskins’ loss to the Panthers on Sunday. If the Eagles lose to the Saints on Monday, the Cowboys will be tied with Philadelphia entering into next week’s matchup at Lincoln Financial Field.

 

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Few Give Dallas a Chance to Beat Atlanta

 

The Cowboys struggled to win in nearly every simulation.

Jerry Jones and Rob Ryan think the Cowboys will find a way to play a perfect game and end Atlanta’s unbeaten streak. Some fans think the same thing.

Not many others agree. Every simulation has the Falcons coming away with a win, with most predicting that both teams will score more than 20 but less than 30 points.

Here’s a list:

What If Sports: Atlanta 27, Dallas 20

AccuScore: Atlanta 28, Dallas 24

Number Fire: Atlanta 25, Dallas 22

TeamRankings: Atlanta 25, Dallas 23

Madden (via ESPN): Atlanta 31, Dallas 21

 

Among ESPN commentators, only Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski predicted a Dallas win. Even fewer in Dallas think the Cowboys will win as seven of eight reporters with the Dallas Morning News picked Atlanta to win.

 

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A Look Back: Dallas at Atlanta in 1974

Jethro Pugh (75) and the Dallas defense shut out the Atlanta Falcons during the opening week of the 1974 season.

The Cowboys first faced the Atlanta Falcons during Atlanta’s inaugural season in 1966. Dallas won in a 47-14 blowout.

Blowouts were the norm in the early part of this series, as Dallas won the first five games by a combined score of 145-38. The teams played three of these five games at Atlanta.

The last of the five games took place in 1974 during the opening week. The Cowboys had little trouble with the Falcons that day, taking a 17-0 halftime lead on the way to a 24-0 win.

Here is a video with highlights:

It was a nice way to open the season for Dallas, but the weeks that followed were less than great. Dallas lost four in a row and wound up finishing at 8-6. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since 1965.

The Cowboys lost to the Falcons for the first time in 1976, and the teams have been a bit more even in the series after the early domination by the Cowboys. Dallas holds a 16-8 edge in 22 games, including two playoff wins.

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Romo Has a Record-Breaking Day, but Not in a Good Way

No Tebowing in Dallas, but if there were Romoing, it would look something like this.

Tony Romo set a record for passing attempts on Sunday against the Giants and came close to setting a few more. However, nobody will want to remember these numbers. The stat line was as follows:

  • 62 attempts (team record)
  • 36 completions (2nd highest total in team history)
  • 437 yards (3rd highest total in team history)
  • 4 interceptions (tied for the second highest total in team history)
  • 22,907 career yards (now the second highest total in team history, surpassing Roger Staubach)

It stands to reason that the Cowboys have not fared well when quarterbacks have thrown multiple interceptions. However, in the history of the Cowboys, days with big passing yards have also been bad.  Consider these statistics:

Attempts

Only three Dallas quarterbacks have had at least 50 passing attempts in a game. This includes Romo, Troy Aikman, and Vinny Testaverde. The Cowboys’ record in those games: 1-7. Here’s a look:

Passing
Rk Player Age Date Opp Result Att ?
1 Tony Romo 32-190 2012-10-28 NYG L 24-29 62
2 Troy Aikman* 32-005 1998-11-26 MIN L 36-46 57
3 Tony Romo 29-229 2009-12-06 NYG L 24-31 55
4 Troy Aikman* 31-023 1997-12-14 CIN L 24-31 53
5 Troy Aikman* 30-318 1997-10-05 NYG L 17-20 52
6 Tony Romo 30-151 2010-09-19 CHI L 20-27 51
7 Tony Romo 27-170 2007-10-08 BUF W 25-24 50
8 Vinny Testaverde 40-304 2004-09-12 MIN L 17-35 50
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/29/2012.

Completions

Romo is the only Cowboys quarterback with at least 36 completions in a single game. He holds the team record with 41, set in 2009 against the Giants. The result in both games? Losses, of course.

This is the fifth time that Romo has completed at least 34 passes. His record in those games is 1-4. Aikman completed 34 passes twice and lost both games. Jon Kitna completed 34 passes in 2010, and the Cowboys lost.

Yardage

Romo, Aikman, and Don Meredith are each on the list of QBs with 400 yards passing in a game. Their combined record: 1-4.

Passing
Rk Player Age Date Tm Opp Result Yds ?
1 Don Meredith 25-214 1963-11-10 DAL SFO L 24-31 460
2 Troy Aikman* 32-005 1998-11-26 DAL MIN L 36-46 455
3 Tony Romo 32-190 2012-10-28 DAL NYG L 24-29 437
4 Tony Romo 30-172 2010-10-10 DAL TEN L 27-34 406
5 Don Meredith 28-217 1966-11-13 DAL WAS W 31-30 406
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/29/2012.

Interceptions

Not surprisingly, the Cowboys have a terrible record when QBs have thrown at least four interceptions. Romo has now done it three times and has a 1-2 record in those games.  The Cowboys’ historic record when QBs have thrown at least four picks is 5-19.

Danny White had the most games with at least four picks with six. Strangely, though, he had a 4-2 career record in those six games.

Staubach’s Numbers

No surprise that Romo surpassed Staubach in passing yardage.

The comparisons end there. Period.

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N.Y. Giants 29, Dallas 24: The Middle-Finger Game

Dez Bryant’s middle finger helped cost the Cowboys a win over the Giants on Sunday. There were plenty of middle fingers to go around.

Cowboys’ fans are not likely to remember today’s game against the Giants very fondly. Sure, Dallas overcame a 23-point deficit to take a lead in the second half, but this is the modern-era Cowboys, who find ways to make the dumbest mistakes at exactly the wrong times.

But if Dallas (or New York fans, for that matter) want to remember this game, we might call it the Middle-Finger Game.

Of course, this refers more directly to Dez Bryant‘s middle finger. With the Cowboys trailing 29-24 with about 10 seconds remaining in the game, Bryant caught what was first called a touchdown that would have almost certainly have given Dallas the win. Instead, replays showed that Bryant’s finger(s) landed on the back line, thus negating the touchdown.

Tony Romo had two more chances. On the final play with time expired, Romo threw the ball 10 yards out of the back of the end zone.

That was one of many instances to direct a middle finger at Romo, who was awful for much of the game. True, he threw for 432 yards by completing 36 of 62 passes. However, his four interceptions helped the Cowboys to commit a season-high six turnovers.

The last interception came at the end of yet another bone-headed drive with time running out. Two weeks after the team blew a chance to upset the Ravens thanks to mind-boggling decision-making, the Cowboys did it again.

With 1:27 remaining and the score 29-24, Dallas had moved the ball to the New York 28. Romo hit Jason Witten for nine yards.

One play later, the Cowboys ran another play to Witten, who dropped the ball on an out pattern near the sideline.

3rd-and-1. That’s one yard to gain a first down with 1:23 remaining. Most teams would make sure to pick up a first down.

Not Dallas. The Cowboys decided to go for the end zone, with Romo throwing to Kevin Ogletree on a fade route. This is the same Kevin Ogletree who had not caught a single pass all day. He didn’t catch the fade pass.

4th-and-1. Dallas lined up in the shotgun, and Romo looked as if he was going to Witten. However, the Giants double-teamed the tight end, and Romo had no second option. He pathetic pass was picked off by Stevie Brown.

Dallas got the ball back, but the final drive failed after the referees negated Bryant’s apparent touchdown.

There were many middle fingers to go around in the first half.

Romo threw interceptions to end the first two offensive drives. Bryant did his part in the debacle by fumbling a punt after trying to catch it over his shoulder.

With 13:14 remaining in the second quarter, Romo dug a hole as deep as he could when he threw his third pick. Jason Pierre-Paul picked off a screen pass and ran it in for a touchdown from 28 yards out. The Giants led 23-0 at that point.

The Cowboys actually looked good for the rest of the first half and for much of the third quarter.  Dallas cut the lead to 23-10 at the half and then to 23-17 in the third quarter. Romo’s touchdown pass to John Phillips with 3:50 left in the third quarter gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game.

The defense appeared to do its part when Danny McCray grabbed an interception after the ball fell out of the hands of Victor Cruz. Dallas had all the momentum at that point, but a sack by former Cowboy Chris Canty helped to kill the momentum.

Dallas punted, and the Giants drove for a go-ahead field goal. On the ensuing drive, Felix Jones fumbled, setting up another Giant field goal.

From there, the Cowboys bumbled their way to yet another loss.

* * *

The online simulators rarely predict a score as accurately as the five simulators did for this game. Here were the predicted scores from my post the other day:

What If Sports: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23

AccuScore: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 25

NumberFire: N.Y. Giants 25, Dallas 24

Team Rankings: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23

Madden (ESPN): N.Y. Giants 29, Dallas 24

 

The Madden simulation not only predicted the score but also predicted that the Giants would lose a lead only to regain it late in the game.

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Giants Have Slight Edge in Every Simulation

Miles Austin caught a touchdown in the Madden simulation of Sunday’s game, but Dallas still fell to the Giants.

There should not be any question that Jerry Jones is a Sean Lee fan. Jerry was not willing to consider this team as anything less than a Super Bowl contender until the Cowboys lost Lee for the season. Jerry now says the team is “going to have to adjust for him” and that he may have lower expectations.

Even with the injuries, most simulations have the Cowboys giving the Giants quite a game. However, none of the simulations predict a Dallas win. Here’s a summary:

What If Sports: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23

AccuScore: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 25

NumberFire: N.Y. Giants 25, Dallas 24

Team Rankings: N.Y. Giants 26, Dallas 23

Madden (ESPN): N.Y. Giants 29, Dallas 24

* * *

Very few commentators think the Cowboys will win. Of 12 commentators on ESPN, 10 think the Giants will win. One of the two who think the Cowboys will manage an upset was Nate Newton. Michael Irvin also predicted a Dallas win on the NFL Network’s pregame show.

* * *

Tony Romo’s name showed up on a poll of NFL players about the league’s most overrated player. Romo was tied for second by receiving 8 percent of the votes.

The leader was Tim Tebow, who received 34 percent of the votes. Michael Vick and Ray Lewis also received votes.

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A Very Short History of 3-3 Records

A button stripped from the suit of Jerry Jones.

The Cowboys are off to a 3-3 record for the second year in a row. According to at least one story, Dallas has about a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs with this start.

(Losing Sean Lee certainly doesn’t help. In fact, I think the Cowboys’  chances of recording another turnover this season just fell from 50% to 5%. I’ll keep you posted.)

The Cowboys don’t have a deep history with 3-3 records. Including the 2012 season, Dallas has started only eight seasons with 3-3 marks.

The really bad news: the Cowboys managed a winning record in only one of those previous seven seasons, and that was thanks to a boost that Tony Romo gave the team in 2006. Here is a summary:

1961: Start 3-3, Finish 4-9-1. Dallas finished the year with an 0-6-1 record.

1962: Start 3-3-1, Finish 5-8-1. Dallas finished the year with a 1-5 record.

1987: Start 3-3, Finish 7-8. Thanks to the replacement players, Dallas started the season at 3-1. It did not end as well.

1997: Start 3-3, Finish 6-10. Barry Switzer’s swan song did not end well as the Cowboys lost their last five games.

2002: Start 3-3, Finish 5-11. Dave Campo’s swan song did not start or end well.

2006: Start 3-3, Finish 9-7. Lost to Seattle in the playoffs. The Cowboys had a 3-3 record when Romo officially took over for Drew Bledsoe. Dallas improved to 9-5 but finished at 9-7.

2011: Start 3-3, Finish 8-8. The Cowboys became world-beaters in November before having yet another December to forget.

 

By the way, don’t look at this year’s December schedule. It isn’t cause for optimism.

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Dallas 19, Carolina 14: Not a Feel-Good Win

Anthony Spencer and the Dallas defense mostly contained Cam Newton throughout the day.

Jerry Jones called the Cowboys’ 19-14 win over Carolina “beautiful.”

And there were, to be sure, some stats that looked better to Dallas fans than some in previous weeks—Carolina had more turnovers, more penalties, and fewer points than the visiting Cowboys.

But there were the negatives, leading at least one person to call the win “f’ugly.” (My 12-year-old can figure that one out later.)

Ugly, as in a 14-13 fourth-quarter deficit to a team that entered the game with a 1-4 record. Ugly, as in a team that needed a few lucky breaks at the end to propel the Cowboys to the win over the previously 1-4 team.

Some expected the Dallas offense to have a great game on the ground and also to take advantage of a weak Carolina secondary. Miles Austin had a decent game (5 rec., 97 yards, 1 TD), but few other Cowboys stood out.  Dez Bryant only managed 2 receptions for 14 yards. Felix Jones could not match his totals from last week’s game against Baltimore, gaining just 44 yards on 15 carries.

On a more positive note, a member of the Dallas secondary finally recorded an interception when Morris Claiborne picked off a Cam Newton pass in the end zone, ending a Carolina drive.  Except for a couple of drives in the second quarter, the Cowboys managed to contain Newton.

The Cowboys held 3-0 lead when Claiborne intercepted the pass. Dallas moved into Carolina territory, but when Miles Austin caught a pass over the middle, he couldn’t keep his hold on the ball, fumbling it back to the Panthers.

Ten plays later, and Carolina led 7-3 thanks to a touchdown pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell. The Dallas pick was important, but the fumble was more costly.

Fortunately, Austin made amends in the third quarter. He caught consecutive passes of 36 and 26 yards, respectively. The second was in the end zone, giving Dallas a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. Dallas later extended the lead to 13-7 on a Dan Bailey field goal.

Carolina started a drive early in the fourth quarter and benefited from a personal-foul call on Jay Ratliff along with a defensive holding penalty on Brandon Carr. A Mike Tolbert touchdown gave the Panthers a 14-13 lead with 11:38 remaining.

The teams exchanged possessions before the Cowboys managed a drive for the go-ahead field goal. One controversial call was on a 3rd-and-9 play from the Carolina 15 when Jason Garrett called a simple draw that wasn’t about to get a first down. Nevertheless, Bailey was good on a 28-yard field goal to give Dallas a lead.

On the next drive, Carolina moved to its own 40 but faced a fourth-and-1. Dallas was caught with the wrong personnel, and it appeared that Dallas was going to be called for too many man on the field. However, the Cowboys managed to call a time out.

On the fourth-down play, Newton’s pass to Louis Murphy was incomplete, and it looked as if Claiborne got away with interference. Nevertheless, Dallas took over at the Carolina 40.

More luck on the next drive when referees called James Anderson was called for a horse collar, even though replays showed the Anderson did not have his hands inside Philip Tanner’s shoulder pads.

Bailey’s fourth field goal of the game gave Dallas a 19-14 lead. Newton could not lead Carolina on a miracle comeback, so Dallas picked up its third win of the season.

The Cowboys are now tied with the Eagles with a 3-3 record, while Washington falls into last place with a 3-4 record. Dallas hosts the Giants next week.

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Story Line: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

The Dallas Cowboys (2-3) face off against the Carolina Panthers (1-4) on Sunday, October 21.

Below is a story line about the game. I am using the plugin for Storify. If you have trouble loading the links, try this link.

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Loss to Panthers in 1996 Started the Mediocrity

Troy Aikman’s didn’t bring his playoff magic with him when the Cowboys lost to the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 playoffs.

Between 1960 and 1996, the Cowboys were seldom mediocre. The team had its ups and downs, but by 1996, the Cowboys had turned their fortunes around after two very bad years to end the 1980s.

Between 1991 and 1996, Dallas went 70-26 with a playoff record of 12-3. Everyone knows that three of those seasons ended in Super Bowl titles.

One of those three playoff losses, though, came against a team that did not play a single game until 1995. Of all teams to end a dynasty, it couldn’t be an expansion team in its second year.

But that’s what happened.

Nobody who even barely followed the Cowboys in 1996 can forget the many scandals. Michael Irvin missed five games because of drug charges, and it appeared as if he and offensive tackle Erik Williams were going to face even more severe problems when a woman accused them of raping her.

The charges didn’t stand, but the loss did. Once the Cowboys lost Irvin to a shoulder injury, the team was just never quite in the game. Meanwhile, Dallas could not stop the great Anthony Johnson, who ran for 104 yards on 26 carries.

(What do you mean you don’t remember Anthony Johnson? The Notre Dame fullback? Emerged from nowhere in 1996 before returning to obscurity after that?)

From Sports Illustrated:

The Carolina Panthers not only beat the scandal-scarred Super Bowl champion Cowboys on offense, defense and special teams at Ericsson Stadium, but they also showed more poise. However, the most stunning thing about Carolina’s 26-17 win in this NFC divisional playoff game was that it wasn’t so stunning. Dallas’s run for a fourth Super Bowl victory in five years ended in part because of drug suspensions and injuries but mostly because the Panthers were the setter team. Running back Anthony Johnson carried Carolina in crunch time when Smith couldn’t carry Dallas. Panther Kerry Collins was a better quarterback than Troy Aikman, who threw interceptions to kill the Cowboys’ last two drives. With a complex blitz package and a secondary that played tighter coverage than Dallas ever anticipated, the Carolina defense frustrated the Cowboys for the better part of 60 minutes.

Anyway, the franchise that was seldom mediocre has been anything but since then. Between 1997 and 2012, here are the numbers:

* Regular season record: 122-123

* Playoff record: 1-6

* One of those six teams: Carolina in 2003

I’ve heard someone try to argue that Carolina has “owned” the Cowboys, but that is certainly not true. While Dallas has fallen to the Panthers in two playoff games, Dallas has an overall record of 8-3 against Carolina, including wins in the last four.

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