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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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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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