Worst of the Worst: Most Disappointing Seasons in Franchise History

The Cowboys’ terrible performance in 2010 was stunning, and most would consider it to be the most disappointing in the franchise’s history. The focus of this post is whether the 2010 season has any competitors when it comes to most disappointing.

The Cowboys have had a losing record in 16 of 51 seasons. The team was obviously in building or rebuilding mode in several of these seasons, so expectations were low entering into the season. There have been other seasons in which Dallas was expected to make the playoffs, yet just missed after barely getting over the .500 mark.

The list below includes 21 seasons in which the Cowboys either had a losing record or were expected to make the playoffs but failed to qualify. Any season in which the team may have struggled but still made the playoffs (e.g., 1999, 2006) were excluded.

Year
Lg Tm W L T Pts PtsO PtDif Coaches
1960 NFL Dallas Cowboys 0 11 1 177 369 -192 Landry
1961 NFL Dallas Cowboys 4 9 1 236 380 -144 Landry
1962 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 8 1 398 402 -4 Landry
1963 NFL Dallas Cowboys 4 10 0 305 378 -73 Landry
1964 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 8 1 250 289 -39 Landry
1965 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 7 0 325 280 45 Landry
1974 NFL Dallas Cowboys 8 6 0 297 235 62 Landry
1984 NFL Dallas Cowboys 9 7 0 308 308 0 Landry
1986 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 9 0 346 337 9 Landry
1987 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 8 0 340 348 -8 Landry
1988 NFL Dallas Cowboys 3 13 0 265 381 -116 Landry
1989 NFL Dallas Cowboys 1 15 0 204 393 -189 Johnson
1990 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 9 0 244 308 -64 Johnson
1997 NFL Dallas Cowboys 6 10 0 304 314 -10 Switzer
2000 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 11 0 294 361 -67 Campo
2001 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 11 0 246 338 -92 Campo
2002 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 11 0 217 329 -112 Campo
2004 NFL Dallas Cowboys 6 10 0 293 405 -112 Parcells
2005 NFL Dallas Cowboys 9 7 0 325 308 17 Parcells
2008 NFL Dallas Cowboys 9 7 0 362 365 -3 Phillips
2010 NFL Dallas Cowboys 6 10 0 394 436 -42 Garrett,Phillips
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/5/2011.

Some of these seasons simply don’t rank with the 2010 in terms of overall disappointment because nobody expected much at all from the team. The teams below didn’t make the “cut.”

1960: Dallas was an expansion team and didn’t even have the benefit of a draft. The 0-11-1 mark wasn’t quite what anyone expected, but it was hardly stunning.

1961: Same as 1960.

1962: Same as 1960 and 1961, except that the Cowboys had quite an explosive offense in ’62.

1964: After a disappointing 1963 campaign, the Cowboys continued to have trouble winning games. This could not have been a surprise.

1965: Thanks to a three-game winning streak, Dallas managed a .500 mark. It was not what the team expected, but Dallas played in the Playoff Bowl in 1965 thanks to its second-place finish in the Eastern Division.

1987: Most hoped that the Cowboys would return to the playoffs in 1987 after the losing record in 1986, but the 7-8 finish was hardly a big surprise.

1988: The Cowboys were a mix of over-the-hill veterans and a group of untalented youngsters. No surprise that a 3-13 season would result.

1989: Dallas had even less talent that the ’88 squad had.

1990: Nobody thought the Cowboys would be within a win of making the playoffs, so the 7-9 mark and the season as a whole were more positive than negative.

2001: The Quincy Carter experiment was not going to go well, and the results in the first season of this experiment were not surprising.

2002: This team was better than the ’00 and ’01 squads, but Dave Campo hadn’t proven himself a winner, and the 5-11 mark didn’t turn out to be a big surprise.

This leaves ten teams, which I’ve ranked as follows:

10. 2005 Season (9-7, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: There was no way that a Bill Parcells team would miss the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Dallas had a good draft and a better quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. This team was ready to take a few steps forward.

The result: After a 7-3 start, the team only managed two more wins. The Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs before they took the field in week 17, and the team promptly lost to the lowly Rams.

Why it was not more disappointing: Dallas fans had endured three 5-11 seasons from ’00 to ’02, along with a 6-10 mark in ’04. A 9-7 record was actually an improvement.

9. 1984 Season (9-7, 2nd place in the NFC East)

The hype: QB Gary Hogeboom was the answer. He would deliver what Danny White couldn’t.

The result: The Cowboys started 4-3 and limped their way to a 9-7 even after White returned to the starting lineup.

Why it was not more disappointing: The team missed the playoffs, but after three consecutive losses in NFC title games from ’80 to ’82, along with a bad end to the 1983 season, it wasn’t entirely shocking that the team took a step back.

8. 1963 Season (4-10,  5th place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the favorites to win the Eastern Division.

The result: The team regressed from its 5-8-1 mark the year before by going 4-10. Dallas only managed one win in its first seven games.

Why it was not more disappointing: The franchise had not yet done anything, so another losing season could hardly have been a shock.

7. 2000 Season (5-11, 4th place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys had lost Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, but they had gained Joey Galloway and still had Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.

The result: Aikman was booed for much of the season, and the team never recovered from an opening-game loss to the Eagles.

Why it was not more disappointing: The Cowboys had an awful draft in 2000, and the team had not replaced its departed stars during the previous several seasons.

6. 2004 Season (6-10, 2nd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys were going to go further in the playoffs now that Bill Parcells had turned everything around.

The result: The team cut Quincy Carter in the preseason and relied on Vinny Testaverde to lead the way. After six losses in seven games during the middle of the season, Dallas stood at 3-7.

Why it was not more disappointing: Nobody thought the team would have to rely on Testaverde, and the team’s schedule was more difficult than it was in 2003.

5. 1974 Season (8-6, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The team had reached the NFC title game in ’72 and ’73, and most of the main stars were returning.

The result: The Cowboys never overcame a 1-4 start, and even winning seven games in eight weeks wasn’t enough to lead to a playoff berth.

Why it was not more disappointing: Most remember the ’74 season for Clint Longley’s heroics on Thanksgiving, and the real disappointment was the poor start. Dallas rebounded in the second half of the season and ended up making the Super Bowl the next year.

4. 1986 Season (7-9, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: Dallas brought in some talent with Herschel Walker and rookie Mike Sherrard. The team’s 6-2 start was enough for a tie for the division lead after eight games.

The result:Danny White broke his wrist. Steve Pelleur wasn’t the answer. The 6-2 start turned into a 7-9 nightmare, marking the team’s first losing record in 22 years.

Why it was not more disappointing: The talent base had eroded by 1986, and the team lacked a proven backup after the Cowboys traded Gary Hogeboom.

3. 1997 Season (6-10, 4th place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys were ready to reclaim their spot among the NFL’s best now that the distractions of 1996 were gone.

The result: The team never came together and struggled to stay above the .500 mark. Dallas stood at 6-5 after week 12, but a loss to the Packers started a five-game skid. This year marked the end of the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s.

Why it was not more disappointing: The team had been imploding for some time after winning Super Bowl XXX, so the result was disappointing but not entirely surprising.

2. 2008 Season (9-7, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The team would rebound from its devastating loss to the Giants in the 2007 playoffs to reach the Super Bowl.

The result: Dallas had a 3-0 record after three weeks and an 8-4 record after 12 games, but the team lacked the firepower it had in 2007. The Cowboys lost three of four to end the season, including a defeat to the Ravens in the last game at Texas Stadium and 44-6 humiliation to the Eagles in the season finale with a playoff berth on the line.

Why it was not more disappointing: The Cowboys had gone 9-7 in ’05 and ’06, and the team never looked like the 13-3 squad in ’08.

1. 2010 Season (6-10, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys had finally turned the corner by winning a playoff game in 2009. The team was ready to compete for the NFC title.

The result: The Cowboys lost to Washington in week 1 and never recovered. After week 9, Dallas was 1-7 and heading nowhere. A 5-3 finish was respectable, but the squad’s defense was still among the league’s worst.

Why it is the more disappointing: The Cowboys had some (perhaps unrealistic) Super Bowl hopes in ’74, ’86, ’97, and ’08, but none of those teams completely collapsed the way the ’10 team did.

Thoughts?

ESPN Super League: ’92 Cowboys Fall to ’91 Redskins in Championship Game

Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys came up just short against the '91 Redskins in ESPN's Super League Championship Game.

With the real-life season ending up the way it did, at least some fantasy football could provide some excitements this season. On ESPN’s Super League, the Cowboys had two teams in play, including the 1971 team and the 1992 team. The teams were among 16 of the greatest in NFL history, and these teams were matched up in a simulated 15-game season.

The 1971 squad struggled at mid-season and finished with a 4-8 record. Wins over the ’75 Steelers and ’84 49ers helped to improve the Cowboys’ record, but a final game loss to the ’91 Redskins gave the Cowboys a 6-9 mark.

The 1992 Cowboys had a much better season. Thanks to a four-game winning streak in the middle of the season, Dallas stood at 8-4 with three weeks to go. Losses to the ’98 Broncos and ’78 Steelers hurt, but the Cowboys beat the ’84 49ers in the season finale to qualify for the championship game.

The Cowboys had to face an unlikely foe in the ’91 Redskins, who finished the season at 10-5. The game came down to the final play, with the Cowboys trailing 23-17. Here’s the summary:

Troy Aikman stood behind center Mark Stepnoski and looked across the line of scrimmage at the Washington Redskins’ defense.

One play to win the Super League Super Bowl.

One yard to the end zone.

One second remaining in the game.

The 1992 Dallas Cowboys trailed the ’91 Redskins 23-17. What do you call?

Aikman had just thrown an incomplete pass intended for Michael Irvin, as cornerback Darrell Green had batted down the throw. With the season on the line, the Cowboys decided to run their bread-and-butter play: Emmitt Smith behind left tackle Mark Tuinei and left guard Nate Newton — two-fifths of one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history.

Smith took the handoff from Aikman and rammed into the huge backside of Newton. There was no opening. The play was stuffed by defensive tackles Tim Johnson and Eric Williams and linebackers Matt Millen and Andre Collins. The 1991 Washington Redskins were Super League champions.

If nothing else, this had to be better than pondering whether the 2010 Cowboys were worse than the 1989 Cowboys. (The answer is no, but more on that later.)

Dallas 14, Philadelphia 13: What Might Have Been in Week 1

QB Stephen McGee threw for only 127 yards on Sunday, but he hit the game-winner to Jason Witten.

The Cowboys have been haunted all season by their opening-game loss to the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys did everything they could that night to give the game to Washington, and in the end, Alex Barron’s holding penalty on the final play negated what would have been the game-winning touchdown from Tony Romo to Roy Williams.

You know the story since that time—the line has been a weak link all year; Romo has been out since week 7 thanks to a broken collarbone; the team’s kicker, David Buehler, has been consistently inconsistent; and the secondary has been awful.

Against the Eagles on Sunday, all of these negatives were once again factors in the game. With Romo and Jon Kitna out, Dallas had to start third-stringer Stephen McGee. The Cowboys were in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but Buehler pushed the ball right on a 53-yard attempt. Kevin Kolb didn’t destroy the Dallas secondary, but backup receiver Chad Hall caught a 48-yarder after smoking Terence Newman in the fourth quarter, and the play set up a field goal that gave Philadelphia a 13-7 lead. This was the same deficit the Cowboys faced when they tried to come from behind against Washington.

Dallas got the ball at its own 32 with seven minutes left, and the team immediately went backwards. Dallas had to punt the ball from its own 22 after a three-and-out, and it looked like the Eagles might be able to run the clock out, much like they did against Dallas on December 12.

Thankfully (I suppose), however, the Eagles weren’t playing with Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, or Jeremy Maclin. Philadelphia only picked up one first down, and when Anthony Spencer sacked Kolb with just over three minutes left to play, Dallas had a chance. Sav Rocca’s punt only traveled 29 yards, giving Dallas the ball at its own 46.

It looked like the game might end right there. Dallas got a bad spot on a second-down play, and the team failed to convert from third-and-inches. Fullback Chris Gronkowski managed to move the pile enough to get the first down, and after a spike, McGee hit Jason Witten for a 33-yard gain to the Philadelphia 11. On 3rd-and-3 from the 4, McGee again found Witten, who ran to the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. It was the same area where Williams had caught the touchdown pass in week 1, but this time, Barron wasn’t on the field to negate the play.

Of course, the Cowboys still had to figure out how to play defense to secure the win. But unlike previous weeks, the Cowboys didn’t make heroes out of the Eagle backups. DeMarcus Ware finished a great game by picking up his third sack on first down. The Eagles did not move the ball, and Newman picked up his second interception of the game to put the game away.

There are going to be plenty of people who are upset that the Cowboys’ meaningless win may ruin their draft position. Six teams finished with records of 5-11 or worse, and Dallas is among seven teams with 6-10 marks. The Seahawks would make eight teams if they lose to the Rams tonight.

There were some positives, though, in addition to the simple W. Ware and Spencer looked like the forces they were from a year ago, with the two combining for five sacks. Ware also scored a touchdown after Spencer forced Kolb to fumble in the second quarter. Up to that point, Dallas trailed 7-0 and had not done much to make a game of it.

Felix Jones rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Marion Barber and Tashard Choice were non-factors, though, with Barber doing nothing on short-yardage situations and Choice dropping at least one pass he should have caught.

Witten was held in check for much of the game, but he came alive at the right time. Miles Austin hauled in two long passes, including a nice play on a bubble screen, and his 62 yards put him over 1,000 yards for the season.

And if nothing else, we don’t have to spend the entire off-season being reminded of a 44-6 loss to the Eagles on the final game of the season.

Don Meredith in Big Game America

Don Meredith was featured in NFL Films' Big Game America.

A couple of years ago, NFL Films released a DVD titled Big Game America: Legends of the Autumn Vol. IV. I found a copy in a $5 bin. The DVD has one clip that features both Don Meredith and former Minnesota defensive end Jim Marshall.

The clip focusing on Meredith is interesting. Meredith discusses not only his role as the team’s leader, but also his reaction to the fan’s terrible treatment of him. This was filmed during Meredith’s final season in 1968. An example of his self-deprecation is apparent in this quote:

I’m probably the best example that I can think of a guy who is the most unlikely looking candidate for professional football. I’ve got horrible legs; my ankles are all torn up; I’m not really that big; I’m not fast; I’m not really that smart. And yet I’ve played nine years . . . .

Here’s part of the clip featuring Meredith:

The video showing the Cowboys and Packers is from a preseason game on August 24, 1968. The Packers won the game 31-27, as Meredith only played the first half. Green Bay later handed the Cowboys their first loss of the season in October.

2011 Dallas Cowboys Calendar Featuring… Ken Hamlin?

I’m thinking that if someone has access to some decent pictures, creating a team calendar can’t be all that hard. The Cowboys have some obvious candidate as featured players, including Pro Bowl players in Andre Gurode, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and perhaps Mat McBriar. Of course, any calendar would also include Tony Romo, Bradie James, Marion Barber, Miles Austin, and Felix Jones. We could name a bunch of others, including rookies Dez Bryant and Sean Lee.

So I’m at a store in a mall today and looked at the 2011 team calendar, which is also available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and several other outlets. Here’s part of the back of this calendar:

Just below Ware’s picture  is former safety Ken Hamlin. Yes, that Ken Hamlin.

The publisher of this gem is a company called Perfect Timing – Turner, which also produces calendars from a bunch of other pro teams, along with Notre Dame and Playboy. I double-checked, and neither of the latter calendars features Charlie Weis or the Playmate of the Month from February 1991.

Just in case someone from Perfect Timing – Turner happens to browse fan blogs, please note that the Cowboys released Hamlin last April, and he was also cut by Baltimore two weeks into the 2010 season. But thanks for the laugh. Given what’s happened this year, this is kind of fitting.

* * *

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Fun with 2010 Stats and Facts

The 2010 Dallas Cowboys will not only finish with either a 5-11 (likely) or 6-10 record, but the team has also made its mark in the stats. Here are some highlights after 15 games.

1. Most Points Allowed

As expected, the Cowboys shattered the team record of points allowed in a season by giving up 423 after 15 games. This is 30 points more than the 1989 Cowboys gave up in 16 games and 18 more points than the 2004 Cowboys.

The 1962 Cowboys gave up 402 points in 14 games, averaging 28.7 points allowed per game. The current team will surpass that mark if the Eagles score 36 or more points next week. Seems like a good bet.

The only team to give up more than 30 points a game was the 1960 team, which allowed 369 points in 12 games.

Table: Points Allowed in a Season, Dallas Cowboys

Year W L T Pts PtsO ? PtDif Coaches
2010 5 10 0 380 423 -43 Garrett,Phillips
2004 6 10 0 293 405 -112 Parcells
1962 5 8 1 398 402 -4 Landry
1989 1 15 0 204 393 -189 Johnson
1988 3 13 0 265 381 -116 Landry
1961 4 9 1 236 380 -144 Landry
1963 4 10 0 305 378 -73 Landry
1960 0 11 1 177 369 -192 Landry
2008 9 7 0 362 365 -3 Phillips
2000 5 11 0 294 361 -67 Campo
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2010.

2. Jon Kitna’s Passing Performance

Jon Kitna may or may not play in the season finale against Philadelphia. If he doesn’t, his 2,365 yards this season will rank 38th in team history for a single season.

Kitna’s totals are one fewer than Gary Hogeboom’s totals in 1984. Here’s why I find this interesting: Until 2010, Hogeboom held the team mark for most passing yards after three games with 905. Tony Romo surpassed that before he was injured against the Giants.

Kitna’s totals are more than Troy Aikman’s were in 1998, when Aikman threw for 2,330 yards. Like Romo, Aikman suffered through a broken clavicle that season.

3. Felix Jones’ Rushing Yards and Lack of Touchdowns

Individual Dallas running backs have gained more than 700 yards in a season 52 times. Felix Jones’ 719 yards ranks #52 right now. No other running back has rushed for more than 700 yards and scored only one touchdown, though.

4. Miles Austin’s Receiving Totals

At one point, Miles Austin looked like a lock to have 100 receptions and 1,500 receiving yards. He won’t come close to either, but with three receptions and 21 receiving yards next Sunday, he will have at least 70 receptions and 1,000 yards for the season. Individual Dallas receivers have gained at least 1,000 yards 25 times in team history.

5. David Buehler’s Point Totals

David Buehler doesn’t have many friends in Cowboy Nation right now, but his 112 points are noteworthy. His performance currently ranks #15 on the total number of points in a season, and with just one field goal, it will jump up to #13.

Table: Points in a Season, Dallas Cowboys

Rk Year Age Tm Pos G GS RshTD RecTD AllTD XPM FGM Sfty Pts
1 Emmitt Smith 1995*+ 26 DAL RB 16 16 25 25 150
2 Emmitt Smith 1994*+ 25 DAL RB 15 15 21 1 22 132
3 Nick Folk 2007* 23 DAL K 16 0 53 26 131
4 Chris Boniol 1995 24 DAL K 16 0 46 27 127
5 Richie Cunningham 1998 28 DAL K 16 0 40 29 127
6 Richie Cunningham 1997+ 27 DAL K 16 0 24 34 126
7 Rafael Septien 1983 30 DAL K 16 0 57 22 123
8 Eddie Murray 1993 37 DAL K 14 0 38 28 122
9 Rafael Septien 1981*+ 28 DAL K 16 0 40 27 121
10 Chris Boniol 1996 25 DAL K 16 0 24 32 120
11 Lin Elliott 1992 24 DAL K 16 0 47 24 119
12 Ken Willis 1991 25 DAL K 16 0 37 27 118
13 Chris Boniol 1994 23 DAL K 16 0 48 22 114
14 Emmitt Smith 1992*+ 23 DAL RB 16 16 18 1 19 114
15 David Buehler 2010 23 DAL K 15 40 24 112
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2010.

Cowboys Would Currently Pick 7th If the Draft Were Today

The Cowboys are among a relatively large number of teams that have five or fewer wins after 15 games. If Minnesota loses to Philadelphia on Tuesday night, seven teams would have 5-10 records, with three others having 4-11 records and one having a 2-13 record.

The main tiebreaker for draft order is strength of schedule. The Cowboys this season played the likes of the Lions, Cardinals, Texans, and Vikings, and each has only five wins. The Cowboys’ opponents this season have a combined record so far of 123-113, which is relatively weak given that the Cowboys have played several playoff teams as well.

If the draft were held today, the order would be as follows:

1. Carolina Panthers (2-13)
2. Denver Broncos (4-11)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11)
4. Buffalo Bills (4-11)
5. Arizona Cardinals (5-10)
6. San Francisco 49ers (5-10)
7. Dallas Cowboys (5-10)
8. Houston Texans (5-10)
9. Detroit Lions (5-10)
10. Cleveland Browns (5-10)
11. Minnesota Vikings (5-9)
12. Seattle Seahawks (6-9)
13. Tennessee Titans (6-9)
14. Washington Redskins (6-9)
15. Oakland Raiders (NWE) (7-8)
16. Miami Dolphins (7-8)
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7)
18. San Diego Chargers (8-7)
19. Tampa Bay Bucs (9-6)
20. New York Giants (9-6)
21. St. Louis Rams (7-8)
22. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)
23. Green Bay Packers (9-6)
24. Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)
25. New York Jets (10-5)
26. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4)
27. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
28. Baltimore Ravens (11-4)
29. Chicago Bears (11-4)
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4)
31. Atlanta Falcons (12-2)
32. New England Patriots (13-2)

A Minnesota loss on Tuesday would not affect the Cowboys because Viking opponents have a better overall record than the Cowboys’ opponents. Carolina is the only team to have secured its spot, as the Panthers will have the top overall choice.

Should the Cowboys lose to the Eagles as expected, the Cowboys will move up because Arizona faces San Francisco next week. Dallas would need a loss by the Broncos (vs. Chargers), Bills (vs. Jets), or Bengals (vs. Ravens) to move into the top 5.

* * *

Best post of the day was by Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News.

So, as we see Jerry Jones in the locker-room again, claiming to be “mad as hell”, and appearing to have steam coming out of his ears, we can only wonder if it occurs to him the relation between attention to detail and the way the Cowboys prepare for their seasons. I know I will be considering all of this next time we hear that the Cowboys are going to have the odd “traveling training camp” so that the Cowboys can maximize their marketing and sponsorship opportunities all over the map.

* * *

Now, the 2010 Cowboys have more excessive celebration penalties that relevant Touchdowns. They are among the league leaders in penalties. They have veterans who bail out on plays because they are scared to get hit. They have a defense that quit for about 3 games this season. And they have that same defense that is back to trying, but they concede crucial 4th Quarter drives on a routine basis.

Isn’t there a correlation? Don’t we see the relation between relaxed accountability, discipline, preparation in the organization this summer and some of the Looney Tunes Football we have seen this season?

I’ve already read that Jerry wouldn’t change anything about the 2010 offseason. Hopefully when he calms down from being mad as hell, he’ll realized how wrong everything has been.

Arizona 27, Dallas 26: Every Stupid Mistake, Revisited

Our friend Jerry had a "gut feeling" that David Buehler was the right choice as the team's kicker. One of many, many, many stupid mistakes in 2010.

Our dumb-as-manure Dallas Cowboys put up a fight against the 4-10 Arizona Cardinals, who were playing with their third-string quarterback and who were coming off an ugly 19-12 loss to Carolina. Commentators suggested that the Cowboys had been healed from their early-season woes and would win this game easily.

So, did you think that the Cowboys’ receivers had quit letting balls bounce off their hands and into the hands of defenders?

Did you think that the Cowboys’ secondary would stop making heroes of otherwise nobody quarterbacks?

Did you think that surely, no member of the Cowboys would be called for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring a touchdown?

Did you think that David Buehler would actually make all of the important kicks for the rest of his year?

Did you think that when the defense could win the game with one more stop that the Doomed Defense would make that stop?

Did you think the Cowboys wouldn’t ruin two of our holidays with last-second losses this year?

If you answered yes to all of the above, you would be wrong. One by one, let’s take a look:

(1) The Cowboys were down 14-0 after seven minutes had elapsed thanks to two interception returns for touchdowns by the Cardinals. On the first, Miles Austin slipped, allowing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to snag the pick and return it 32 yards for a touchdown. On the second, Jon Kitna threw behind Roy Williams, who tipped the ball in the air and into the hands of Greg Toler, who returned it 66 yards for a score.

(2) Rookie QB John Skelton didn’t look great all night, but he extended the Cardinal lead to 21-3 when he hit Andre Roberts, who had run past Mike Jenkins (who interfered with Roberts on the play). Roberts ran 74 yards for a score. Skelton also made the plays at the end of the game to set up the game-winner.

(3) Marion Barber had a couple of great runs, including a 24-yard touchdown in the third quarter. However, he surely drew the ire of every person who even mildly likes the Cowboys by tearing off his helmet on the field, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Jason Garrett says that Barber knows better and that “it’s not going to happen again.” Really, Jason? Really?

(4) Kitna was injured late in the first half, and he did not play at all in the second half. Stephen McGee played a decent game, though Dallas played very conservatively for much of the time. McGee’s biggest play was a 37-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin with less than two minutes left.

And then…

David Buehler clanked the extra point off the left crossbar. Of course, that extra point was the difference in the game.

(5) The Doomed Defense could have effectively won games against the Bears, Titans, Vikings, Saints, and Eagles. In each game, the opponent found a way to put together drives to win each of the games.

Arizona got the ball at its own 24 with 1:41 left, and the Cardinals had to get into field goal range with their rookie QB. At one point, the Cardinals faced a 4th-and-15. Dallas rushed three and dropped eight. Skelton at that point hit Larry Fitzgerald, who was camped out between linebacker Keith Brooking and in front of strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Fitzgerald gained 26 yards on the game.

Needless to say, the game slipped away from there. Dallas decided to blitz on  2nd-and-10 from the Dallas 44, and Skelton hit Max Komar for a 19-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal.

(6) The Thanksgiving loss to New Orleans was sad. This one was just funny.

Bah! Humbug!

Anyway, here’s some “good” news: The Cowboys are on a good position now to have a pick in the top eight. In fact, when the Cowboys are absolutely destroyed by the Eagles in Philadelphia next week, the Cowboys will finish with a 5-11 overall record and a conference record of 3-9.

Gerald Sensabaugh: A “Rare Beacon of Quality in the Cowboys Secondary”?

The returns on Gerald Sensabauch's performance in 2010 have been mixed, though better than the rest of the Dallas secondary.

Before this season began, talk about the Cowboys’ secondary focused largely on the team’s two Pro Bowl corners, the team’s decision to roll with only three corners on its roster, and the emergence of free safety Alan Ball (a converted corner) as a “weapon.”

After 2009, Gerald Sensabaugh was largely considered a decent upgrade over Roy Williams, as Sensabaugh had a solid season despite playing most of it with a broken thumb. The only really big negative in 2009 was Sensabaugh’s failure to see the ball coming on a long touchdown pass from Brett Favre to Sindey Rice in the Cowboys’ playoff loss at Minnesota last year.

In 2010, it’s been a different story. The Dallas safeties rarely seem in the right position to make plays, and I am not the first to complain that Sensabaugh seems somewhat reluctant to stick his nose in to make a tackle even though he is a strong safety. (Richie Whitt after the Giants game in October: “Gerald Sensabaugh has to be the worst-tackling safety in the NFL”).

Sensabaugh has had more than a few run-ins with Ball after the secondary has yet again given up some huge play. Most also haven’t forgotten Sensabaugh’s shoving match with Newman against the Giants in November.

The way I might describe Sensabaugh this year? Disappointing, but probably the least disappointing member of the secondary. This is not saying anything at all.

Anyway, I don’t read Pro Football Focus as often as other sites, but one item about Gerald Sensabaugh from a post this week stood out to me:

It was a shame to see Gerald Sensabaugh (+1.6) leave the game early with an injury, as he may have been on for a career day. Through 18 snaps, Sensabaugh registered a sack, an interception and two defensive stops. Sensabaugh has been a rare beacon of quality in the Cowboys’ secondary this season and that was highlighted by the poor play of his replacement, Barry Church (-4.9).

To his credit, Sensabaugh leads the team in interceptions with four and in passes defended with nine. In fact, Sensabaugh has as many interceptions this season as Newman and Jenkins combined.

Def Interceptions
No. Age G Int ? Yds TD Lng PD
43 Gerald Sensabaugh 27 14 4 26 0 10 9
41 Terence Newman 32 14 3 12 0 30 6
20 Alan Ball 25 14 2 27 0 27 4
50 Sean Lee 24 8 2 44 1 31 2
56 Bradie James 29 14 1 11 0 11 3
51 Keith Brooking 35 14 1 41 0 41 7
21 Mike Jenkins 25 13 1 -4 0 -4 8
32 Orlando Scandrick 25 14 1 40 1 40 8
37 Bryan McCann 23 7 1 101 1 101 1
40 Danny McCray 22 11 1 0 0 0 1
Team Total 25.7 14 17 298 3 101 54
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/25/2010.

So perhaps we could settle for a statement that Sensabaugh has been the only minimally competent member of the secondary this season. Beacon of quality, though, just doesn’t quite ring true.

Proceed Cautiously: Cowboys Favored Heavily Over Cardinals

Most simulations have the Cowboys beating the Cardinals on Christmas evening.

For the first time in several weeks, most commentators and simulations have the Cowboys beating the Cardinals on Christmas night rather handily. Of course, having confidence in these Cowboys in 2010 has been a curse, so let’s not go overboard.

As for the simulations, all have the Cowboys winning by three to seven points.

WhatIfSports: Dallas 27, Arizona 20. Dallas won 69.9 percent of these simulations.

AccuScore: Dallas 25, Arizona 22. The Cowboys averaged three turnovers per game but still won 59.7% of the games.

The Dallas Cowboys are a solid favorite with a 60% chance to beat the Arizona Cardinals. Felix Jones is projected for 50 rushing yards and a 25% chance of having at least 1 rushing TD. In the 40% of simulations where Arizona Cardinals wins, John Skelton averages 1.17 TD passes vs 0.49 interceptions, while in losses he has a ratio of 0.87 TDs to 0.9 interceptions. Tim Hightower averages 53 rushing yards and 0.73 rushing TDs when Arizona Cardinals wins and 28 yards and 0.26 TDs in losses. The Dallas Cowboys has a 59% chance of forcing more turnovers than they commit. Positive turnover margin helps them win 79% of the time.

Team Rankings: Dallas 24, Arizona 17. This service is also featured on ESPN. According to its predictors, the Cowboys have a 69 to 79 percent chance to beat the Cardinals on Saturday.

Madden: Dallas 28, Arizona 18. According to ESPN’s Madden simulation, Jason Witten is the key to victory on Saturday.

Jason Witten is playing some of the best ball of his career, and for the past four games he has been a magnet for Jon Kitna’s passes. Look for that trend to continue as the “Madden” simulation has Witten catching another eight passes for 90 yards and one touchdown in the Cowboys’ 28-18 win over Arizona.

* * *

At one point, this blog was actually known for something, and that would be my posting of the 1986 Dallas Cowboys Christmas Video. Others have since posted these clips, and as part of my holiday tradition, I’ll post them here again.

First, the 1986 team sings Christmas in Dallas.

If you managed to stomach that, the next one features some older Cowboys singing that classic tune, Good ‘Ol Days.