Recurrent Theme for the Dallas Cowboys: So Close, Yet So Far Away

We all remember very well that the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007 and had the top seed in the NFC playoffs. And we all remember that the team came out rather sluggish against the Giants, who beat Dallas 21-17 en route to a Super Bowl title.

NFL Films might have named the annual highlight film for the 2007 Cowboys as “So Close, Yet So Far Away.”

Four years later, NFL Films could have recycled the same title, but for different reasons.

It’s hard not to think of those 2007 playoffs after watching both of the divisional playoff games this weekend. The Giants once again traveled to Green Bay to take on a favored Packers team, and once again, the New York defense rose to the occasion to give the Giants the upset win.

On Saturday, the 49ers sat in a position similar to the 2007 Cowboys. Like the Cowboys, San Francisco hasn’t been especially relevant in the NFC for quite some time. The 49ers posted a 13-3 record, just like the 2007 Cowboys, and San Francisco hosted its first playoff game in nine seasons. Recall that the Cowboys hosted their first playoff game in nine seasons when they took on the Giants.

The Saints didn’t emerge from nowhere like the Giants did in 2007. It was hardly a big surprise when, with less than two minutes left in the game, Drew Brees found Jimmy Graham on a seam route near mid-field. Graham was able to split two defenders and run for a touchdown. A two-point conversion gave the Saints a 32-29 lead with less than two minutes remaining.

In 2007, the 13-3 Cowboys trailed the Giants by four points but got the ball back with less than two minutes left. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 23, but thanks to a poor route by Patrick Crayton on one play and an ill-fated desperation pass on fourth down, Dallas could not pull out the last-minute win.

The 2011 49ers did almost exactly what the 2007 Cowboys couldn’t. Of course, San Francisco only needed a field goal to tie the game, but the 49ers went for the win. Rather than agonizing for years about someone like Patrick Crayton hesitating on his route, the 49ers can remember Vernon Davis catching a 47-yard pass, which helped to set up his awesome 14-yard touchdown reception that gave San Francisco the win.

The 2011 Cowboys should be shaking their heads with the knowledge that the Giants and 49ers are playing for the NFC title, even without regard to the parallels with the 2007 Cowboys.

After the second week of the season, there was reason to believe that these 2011 Cowboys might be a force in the NFC when an injured Tony Romo’s efforts erased a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit and produced a 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco.

That’s the type of victory that can give a team a great boost. From there, Dallas was scheduled to face the likes of Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, Seattle, Buffalo, Miami, and Arizona over the next ten weeks. Even if Dallas had lost to the Patriots and Eagles (which happened, of course), there was a good chance that Dallas could be 9-3 heading into its final four games.

As it turned out, the Cowboys were close with a 7-5 record after a loss to the Cardinals, but it wasn’t the Cowboys who took off after their win at San Francisco. Instead, the 49ers won eight straight, including wins over Washington, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and the N.Y. Giants.

Some have liked to point out that the 49ers had a relatively easy schedule in 2011, but it really wasn’t notably easier than the Cowboys’ schedule. Rather, San Francisco simply won the games it should have won (save for a loss at Arizona), whereas the Cowboys won a few games they should have lost and lost a few games they should have won.

Of course, Dallas still had a great chance to capture the NFC East, needing only to hang on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants on December 11. Instead, the Dallas defense fell apart when it mattered most, and after Tony Romo and Miles Austin failed to convert on a play that could have ended that game, the Cowboys watched the game fall from their grasp and their season spiral into a failure.

“So Close, Yet So Far Away” isn’t limited to 2007 and 2011, either. We could consider the 2008 season, when Dallas had a chance to earn a wildcard berth by beating the Eagles. Philadelphia won in a 44-6 blowout, of course, and the Eagles wound up in the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in nine years.

We could also consider the 2009 playoffs, when the Cowboys caught fire late in the season, only to run out of gas against the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Thus, for the fourth time in five seasons, Dallas fans get to watch an NFC Championship Game with the thought that our team could be competing for the conference title. Instead, we put on our faces of resignation and repeat—so close, yet so far away.

Dallas Cowboys Story Line for January 14

Here are several of the Dallas Cowboys stories of the week.

Goodbye to Hudson Houck, Dave Campo, and Hanging on to the 1990s

Several of us hold the 1990s dynasty in higher esteem than others do. One of my very first posts in 2006 was about the team showing a drive to win for the first time since the mid-1990s. Moreover, one of my favorite forums has been the Classic Cowboys Forum at the True Blue Fan Club, and many posts there are about the 1990s Cowboys.

There would appear to be some logic to base decisions on “it worked during the 1990s.” In fact, one of Jerry’s first decisions of the 2000s was to try to rekindle dynasty magic by firing head coach Chan Gailey and hiring defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who had been an assistant throughout the 1990s. Jerry brought in offensive coordinator in Jack Reilly to run the timing-based offense that had been so successful less than a decade earlier. Dallas traded two first-round picks to Seattle to get a receiver to make up for the loss of Michael Irvin.

We all know that the strategy bombed. It felt as if Campo was even more of a puppet than Chan Gailey had been. Reilly was awful, and the timing-based system didn’t work. The Galloway trade was possibly the worst in team history.

Jerry changed a bit, and almost all of the remnants of the dynasty save a few players left with the arrival of Bill Parcells in 2003. Offensive line coach Hudson Houck had moved on to San Diego in 2002, and Campo had relatively unsuccessful assistant coaching stops at Cleveland and Jacksonville.

Of course, the Parcells’ experiment was not the ultimate success that we hoped it would be, and Jerry turned back to the 1990s to take this team to the promised land. In 2007, he gave former backup QB Jason Garrett a $3 million contract to serve as offensive coordinator. In 2008, Parcells had fired Houck from the Miami Dolphins, so Jerry brought Houck back to Dallas. Also returning that year was Campo. The result of the Campo hiring was that he not only looked like a fool in the 2002 season of HBO’s Hard Knocks (I have some memory of him playing with dolphins, but I refuse to look it up), but he also looked foolish in the 2008 season (having a defensive back yank his shorts down during a drill—another clip I won’t try to find).

The Cowboys put together a large offensive line, which was a reminder of the dominant 1990s line. Never mind that the Cowboys ran an offense that probably needed more athletic linemen. This line made up of Pro Bowl selections made us remember the great years of Larry Allen, Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Erik Williams, and Mark Tuinei.

Dallas grabbed a cornerback named Mike Jenkins in the first round of the 2008 draft and also acquired Pacman Jones. The promise was that Dave Campo could work with this new talent along with safety Roy Williams and cornerback Terence Newman and bring this secondary to the heights of those glory years. After all, Campo coached the likes of Woodson, Kevin Smith, Larry Brown, James Washington, Thomas Everett, and eventually Deion Sanders.

Even Garrett provides reminders of the 1990s, often having the offense line up in the I-formation and running lead draws.

I probably don’t need to write this, but the stuff that worked in the 1990s usually hasn’t worked since then. The jury is still out on Garrett, and perhaps he will continue to find success with DeMarco Murray running the lead draw in 2012. However, Garrett’s reliance on the power running game with Felix Jones late in the season didn’t help the Dallas offense down the stretch, and several have argued that Garrett needs to use a system more similar to the Saints, Packers, and Patriots.

Houck bowed out today, announcing his retirement. I won’t debate whether he deserves the tag of legendary, because he does based on his entire body of work, but I was always puzzled that his offensive lines could tend to be undisciplined. Does anyone else recall the frustration of watching Erik Williams being called for the Erik Williams’ Rule? Moreover, Flozell Adams played his first four seasons under Houck, and we all know that Adams often didn’t bother to listen to the snap count. Houck deserves credit for the early development of Tyron Smith. However, does Houck take some blame for Doug Free’s lack of development?

Campo is also gone. His defenses of the 1990s were often very good, but it was no secret that Deion Sanders shut down half the field when Campo was defensive coordinator. Without having Deion or someone like Deion, Campo has not had the same success. Sure, the secondary played well late in the 2009 season, but it was also the secondary that the Vikings blew up in the Cowboys’ last playoff game after the 2009 season. The secondary was a definite weakness in 2010 and 2011, and that must have led to Campo’s departure.

Yes, I should write something more positive about Houck and Campo today, but those stories were written more than a decade ago. My attitude is not what have you done for us lately, but rather, we aren’t going to go anywhere trying to reach back into the past. I know others will disagree. Please do.

What the Cowboys Might Have Learned in This Weekend’s Playoff Games

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.

Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from January 4, 1986

Rafael Septien: Primed for Playoffs

A reader named Bruce Lombard earlier this year most generously sent me a stack of copies of the old Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from the 1985 season and 1986 offseason. Each Wednesday, we will take a look at some interesting tidbits in these issues.

The focus this week is in the issue published on January 4, 1986. Sorry that I’m a day late on this one.

Ask Tex Schramm: Preference of Numbers

In 1982, the Cowboys made a subtle change to the numbers on home jerseys. Between 1974 and 1981, the numbers used a serif font, while beginning in 1982, the numbers did not have the serif font.

One reader preferred the old jerseys and asked Tex to reinstate the old numbers. Tex obliged by running a poll in the January 4 issue.

See the comparison below to see the difference. The jersey on the left is a replica of the jerseys used from 1974 to 1981. The jersey on the right is similar to the ones used starting in 1982.

1985: A “Hazy, Crazy Daze”

The January 4 issue came out during an off week while the Cowboys were preparing for their divisional round matchup with the Rams. The 1985 season began with a thorough beating of the Redskins. However, the team was destroyed by the Bears and Bengals later in the season, and the team did not ensure its trip to the playoffs until the team beat the Giants in week 15.

Dorsett: Still a Premier Running Back

According to a poll run in Sporting News, Tony Dorsett was still considered one of the game’s premier running backs. However, he only finished fifth, following Walter Payton, Roger Craig, Marcus Allen, and James Wilder.

Cowboys Had a Long History of Success in the Divisional Round

The Cowboys had good reason to like their chances in the divisional round of the playoffs. Between 1970 and 1981, the Cowboys appeared in the divisional round 11 times and had a record of 9-2.

The negative? The two losses were to the Rams (1976 and 1979).

Danny White Suffers Through Injuries

QB Danny White suffered through more injuries in 1985 than he had in any other season. Those injuries: (1) a sprained right hand; (2) a fractured rib; (3) a bruised rib; (4) a concussion; (5) a neck sprain; (6) a bruised left shoulder; (7) separated rib cartilage; and (8) a sprained left ankle.

On the Cover: Rafael Septien

Rafael Septien appeared on the cover of the January 4 issue, and at that point, he was largely considered as the team’s best kicker of all-time. This was before his arrest for indecency with a minor, which cost him his career.

In the piece on January 4, Septien said he gave up a career in acting to become an NFL kicker.

Three Plays Haunt Tony Romo’s Career

What images do we remember about Roger Staubach?

Oh, let’s try: throwing a touchdown pass to Mike Ditka to put away Super Bowl VI against Miami; scrambling for his life and launching himself headfirst for first downs and touchdowns; the Hail Mary; throwing a bomb into the outstretched arms of Butch Johnson in Super Bowl XII; tossing up his final regular-season touchdown pass to Tony Hill to put away the Redskins in the season finale in 1979.

What images do we remember about Troy Aikman?

Plenty: laser-like accuracy while hitting Michael Irvin on a skinny post or a deep out; the perfect throw on the crossing pattern to Alvin Harper on a play that secured the team’s win in the 1992 NFC Championship Game; running off the field with his arms in the air during three Super Bowl wins.

My point today: What images will we remember when it comes to Tony Romo? What plays have established his legacy as the franchise quarterback?

My goal isn’t to attack him or say we need to find a new QB. That isn’t going to happen, and I am not convinced that the team can’t win with him at QB, especially if the team’s line and running game improves next year.

But consider this: Romo has completed 1752 regular-season and playoff passes. He’s thrown 153 touchdowns with only 74 interceptions. That’s damn good.

However, unless this team wins with him, his legacy will be defined by a small handful of plays he didn’t make.  Sure, we could go through each one of his interceptions, including those atrocious passes he threw against the Jets and Lions this season.

But there were other plays that he simply didn’t make—perhaps more the result of misfortune than bad play—that continue to haunt his career.

Of the many plays, consider these three:

January 6, 2007: Dallas vs. Seattle

You might think I would mention the botched hold that cost the team a win over the Seahawks, but that’s not the play I’m thinking of here. Instead, it was a pass play on 3rd-and-7 with less than two minutes remaining. Seattle had only one timeout remaining. Romo completed a pass to Jason Witten for what appeared to be a first down at the Seattle 1-yard line. Had this been the case, Dallas could have run the clock down and attempted a field goal with only seconds remaining. And since Dallas could have attempted the field goal on third down, Romo could have botched the snap, simply fallen on the ball, and still have given the team another attempt.

Instead, the officials reversed the call and only gave Witten six yards, setting Dallas up with a 4th-and-1. The Cowboys attempted a field goal, and you know the rest.

Romo had driven the Cowboys to what appeared to be the game-winning drive in his first playoff game. We couldn’t have asked for more. The pass to Witten was excellent, and it put the Cowboys in great shape to secure that win. But when the team lost a yard on the review, everything fell apart, and Romo wouldn’t win his first playoff game for another three years.

January 13, 2008: N.Y. Giants vs. Dallas

The Cowboys trailed the Giants 21-17 late in the fourth quarter. Romo could have been a hero. Some remember Romo’s pass towards Terry Glenn in the end zone on the final offensive play of the game for Dallas, but it was the previous play that has haunted Romo’s career.

Patrick Crayton had dropped what might have been a long touchdown earlier in the game. Later, with 21 seconds remaining and Dallas holding the ball at the Giant 23, Romo threw what should have been a touchdown on a fade pass to Crayton. It was the type of play that Staubach would have made. Even Aikman. Heck, perhaps even Danny White.

Instead, Crayton hesitated just long enough that the pass sailed over his head.

It was like Drew Pearson dropping the Hail Mary. Or Alvin Harper tripping and falling instead of catching the pass on the crossing route in the ’92 title game. Those were moments that made careers because the players came through rather than fail.

In Crayton’s case, his missed his chance at greatness with one moment of hesitation. And in Romo’s case, he yet again could not win a playoff game.

Patrick Crayton’s hesitation cost the team a shot at a win over the Giants in 2007.

December 11, 2011: N.Y. Giants vs. Dallas

There were plenty of passes we won’t want to remember from the 2011 season, even though Romo otherwise had a pretty good year. However, the pass that proved to be as costly as any other was not an interception but rather a miss on what should have been the game-clinching touchdown.

3rd and 5 from the Dallas 25. Dallas led at that point, 34-29. Miles Austin ran right past Aaron Ross, and it looked as if the play would be a touchdown. Instead (and it may have been Austin’s fault), the pass sailed over Austin’s head. Dallas punted, the Giants scored, and Dallas lost its division lead.

In all likelihood, the Cowboys would have won the division had they won that game. Instead, the Giants won that game along with their final two, including the win over Dallas, and the Cowboys’ season ended.

This might appear to be an odd choice for one of the three worst plays in Romo’s career, given the costly picks earlier in the season. However, it captures in a nutshell his problems as a quarterback and the team’s problems as a whole.

He can complete 65, or 70, or 75 percent of his passes. He can throw three, four, or five touchdowns in a game. He can avoid turnovers and other mistakes.

But with the game on the line, and the Cowboys needing five yards for a first down in a game that could mean a division title, could Romo and the Dallas offense convert?

Too often, the answer has been no. And given that this play occurred in December, it further illustrates shortcomings that have crushed our hopes for late-season success for several seasons.

Cowboys Fans Have Become Conditioned to Expect the Worst

I’ve been at this blogging stuff for more than five calendar years, covering six seasons. That means I’ve had the privilege of blogging about the botched snap in Seattle, the Cowboys implosion against the Giants in ’07, the collapse at Philadelphia to end ’08, the shining moments of ’09 followed by the team’s disappearance at Minnesota, the disgraceful season of ’10, and the disintegration in the final month of the ’11 season.

I became a Cowboys fan at the age of 6 in 1977. For the first 12 years that I followed this team, the franchise had character, run by a group of characters. The lead character was the guy in the funny hat—the only coach the Cowboys ever had. Many of us talk about those characters with reverence because we truly revered them.

In the six seasons I’ve covered as a blogger, the team has had three head coaches. I’ve written about characters that I really don’t like. That starts but does not end with Jerry Jones. We had every reason as Cowboys fans to hate Terrell Owens. So Jerry signed him. We had every reason as Cowboys fans to hate Buddy Ryan and any offspring of Buddy Ryan. So Jerry hired one of those offspring.

The results? Owens provided theater that I didn’t want to watch and certainly don’t miss. Ryan runs his mouth for no reason at all other than to run his mouth, and this team’s defense can’t come anywhere close to backing up his boasting.

I don’t dislike this team’s stars—Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, and perhaps Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Witten has played at a consistent level for a long time, and I think most have concluded correctly that he’s the greatest tight end in the team’s history. The others are good players, even if Romo doesn’t belong in the same conversation as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman and even if I think that the franchise had defensive ends that were just as disruptive as Ware has been as an outside linebacker.

What I don’t like is that this core really hasn’t accomplished anything as a team. Witten, along with Terence Newman and Bradie James, were part of a very solid 2003 draft. The result? Four playoff appearances in nine seasons, with a record of 1-4. The 2005 draft was even better, and that’s how this team got Ware, Ratliff, and Marcus Spears. The result? Three playoff appearances in seven seasons, with a record of 1-3.

So what has prompted me to rehash all of this? It was an email from Darlene in Greenville, Texas (and thanks for including your location, Darlene). I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been accused on the Internet, anonymously or not, of not being a “real fan” of this football team. Darlene was the latest to accuse me of this. She asks, “Do yoa [sic] even watch the games, or are you to [sic] busy writing smartass comments? Cause us real fans are going to watch the Boys win or lose.”

Maybe there was no way for Darlene to know that I’ve followed this team for 35 seasons. Even if she did, that doesn’t matter to some diehards. I’m convinced that some of those who have attacked my fanhood are no older than 15.

As for watching the Cowboys, win or lose, I will admit I started liking the team during a season in which the Cowboys won a Super Bowl. At the age of six, I didn’t know what that meant and really didn’t appreciate it. In my six-year-old mind, the Cowboys were more fun to watch than the hometown St. Louis Football Cardinals.

I understood the game better when the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. I balled my eyes out at the age of eight when Vince Ferragamo threw a touchdown pass to Billy Waddy to allow the L.A. Rams to beat Roger Staubach in his final game with the Cowboys.

Then there were the three consecutive losses in the NFC championship game, including The Catch in 1981.

Then there was the first losing season since 1964. Then there were the bad years of four wins in two seasons.

Yes, we all enjoyed the dynasty.

But there was all the drama in the second half of the decade, followed by what we’ve seen in the new century. And what has happened over the course of the past decade, even after the team rebuilt itself, is that we’ve become conditioned to expect to lose games that really matter.

Darlene, do you really want to compare how many losses we’ve both watched? Did you watch all 33 losses between 2000 and 2002, yet hold out some unrealistic hope that Jack Reilly was going to learn how to call plays or that Bruce Coslet was going to get the most out of Quincy Carter? Did you shrug off the agony of losing playoff games to the Seahawks and Giants when you were completely convinced that the team was going to win and advance? Did you happily enjoy the 2008 offseason, even when every time you saw a reference to the Cowboys, you saw this score: Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6?

You are perhaps some sort of Pollyanna, Darlene. If so, you have a better outlook on life, and you will probably live longer. Or perhaps you drink too much Kool-Aid—especially the Jerry Jones brand—in which case the processed sugar isn’t healthy. It’s still better than smoking crack.

Anyway, I’m not as negative today as I was last night. I’m just numb. This post is the first of what will be yet another very long offseason.

But no matter what Darlene or anyone else thinks of my attitude or my blog, I’ll keep it going. Whether it works or not, this has become my therapy.

N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 14: Another Loss for the Modern Cowboys’ Legacy

Tony Romo’s Cowboys continue to show that they can’t win big games.

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.

* * *

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.

 

Predictions About Cowboys-Giants Do Not All Spell Doom

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.

2011 Cowboys Let Us Party Like It’s 1999

The 2011 Cowboys have managed to frustrate us like they did in 1999.

Quick question: Name the season that has been the most frustrating for you in the past 15 years.

“Yes” is not an acceptable answer. Understandable, but not acceptable.

There was once a season in which the Cowboys led in every game yet only finished 8-8. That season was 1999. For me, it was the most frustrating season I’ve ever seen…until this year.

Thus, the catchy title. And this blog isn’t known for anything catchy titles.

There are quite a few parallels between the 1999 and 2011 seasons. Here’s a look:

Blowing Leads

1999—Leads in 17 games, 8-9 record

The Cowboys played 17 games in 1999, including a playoff game against the Vikings. Dallas led in every single game yet couldn’t manage a winning record.

The worst: Dallas had a 24-17 lead over the 2-12 Saints on Christmas Eve during week 16. New Orleans pulled out the win. Dallas also had a 17-0 lead over the Vikings and a 17-6 lead over the Colts in back-to-back weeks. Both were losses.

2011—Leads in 13 games, 8-7 record

The only games in which the Cowboys did not lead in 2011 were the two losses to the Eagles. Dallas has lost double-digit second-half leads three times. The worst: blowing a 27-3 lead at home to the Lions.

Opening Game

1999—OT Win vs. Washington

The Cowboys had no business winning the opening game at Washington. Dallas trailed 35-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin led a comeback. Aikman’s legendary pass to Rocket Ismail in overtime gave Dallas the win.

2011—Loss to N.Y. Jets

There was simply no way the Cowboys were going to blow a 24-10 fourth quarter lead to the Jets. But that’s what happened. Tony Romo committed two costly turnovers in the loss.

Jason Garrett

1999—Backup QB

Garrett was in his final season as the Cowboys backup quarterback. He filled in for Aikman in a handful of games, including two starts. He threw two touchdown passes in a win over the Packers but looked poor in games against the Vikings and Cardinals.

2011—Head Coach

Garrett is in his first full season as the Cowboys’ head coach. Most expected the Cowboys to struggle, but few expected those struggles to be the result of Garrett’s bad decisions.

Former Head Coaches Visit Dallas

1999—Jimmy Johnson, Miami

Former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson faced Chan Gailey and the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Dan Marino threw five interceptions in a 20-0 Dallas win. The loss dropped Johnson’s record against the Cowboys to 0-2. Neither Johnson nor Gailey survived the 1999 season.

2011—Chan Gailey, Buffalo

Gailey coached in the college ranks for several years but returned to coach the Bills. He brought his 5-3 team to Cowboys Stadium on November 13 only to see Ryan Fitzpatrick throw three interceptions in a 44-7 Dallas win.

Weak Effort vs. Weak NFC East

1999—Sweep of Redskins but Maddening Losses to the Eagles, Giants, and Cardinals

The Cowboys swept Washington, but the Redskins went on to win the NFC East with a 10-6 record. The NFC East had not been as week in quite some time, as none of the other four teams managed a winning record. Dallas suffered a pair of 13-10 losses to the Eagles and Giants, followed later by a 13-9 loss to the Cardinals.

2011—Sweep of Redskins but Maddening Losses to the Eagles and Giants

For the first time ever, the winner of the NFC East will have fewer than 10 wins. Dallas swept a weak Washington team but lost twice to the Eagles and once to the Giants (thus far).

Season Finale vs. N.Y. Giants

1999—Win Meant Playoff Appearance

The Cowboys were 7-8 after their loss to the Saints, but losses by the Packers, Panthers, Lions, and Giants meant that five teams had 7-8 records heading into week 17. Dallas had to beat the Giants in the final week, and a 26-17 victory ensured the Cowboys of a playoff berth. Few were excited about the Cowboys’ chances.

2011—Win Means Division Title

Dallas travels to New York for a winner-takes-all matchup with the Giants. You probably know that already.