Happy Halloween Cowboys fans! Sitting at 3-4, we’ve already had our fair share of horrors so today feels just like any other day. Let’s review a few “tricks and treats” the Cowboys have given us.
> For true Cowboys fans, the loss to the Giants Sunday was like a meat cleaver to the head. Initially, many pointed to the sheer misfortune of Dez Bryant putting his hand down and nullifying what for a brief second seemed to be a miraculous victory. But, this game was lost much earlier than that final play. No, I don’t mean the 23-point hole we dug for ourselves before deciding it was time to play – although a case could easily be made for that as well. This game was lost when the Cowboys were marching down the field and faced a second and 1 after another 9-yard catch on first down by Jason Witten. Trailing by 5 but with time outs left and still nearly 2 minutes left, Jason Garrett or Tony Romo decided to throw three straight passes ending with a 4th down interception thrown up for grabs on a hope and a prayer. Here’s a thought – RUN THE BALL! Get a first down and use your time out. Or, on third and 1, you choose to remember Ogletree is even on this team and try to hit him on an almost impossible catch. I’m no genius, but there are at least a 100 other plays on 3rd and 1 that would make more sense than what Romo chose to do there.
> Take your pick – running game or Felix Jones. The Cowboys completely abandoned the run but for once it was clearly the right thing to do. Felix finished with 19 yards on 13 carries. No, that is not a misprint. After the Cowboys fought all the way back from a 23-0 deficit to lead 24-23, the Cowboys were driving again when Felix Jones ran into one of his blockers and coughed up the football. It is one thing if the Giants force a fumble with a great play or a hard hit, but that was not the case here. Jones ran into the back of his blocker and did not have the ball secured. The Giants kicked another field goal and although they would add one more, it was ultimately all they needed.
> Dez Bryant. Wow. Where to begin? He made some great plays – the catch at the end was almost one of them, but he simply could not resist the impulse to cushion his blow with his hand. But, every good play with Bryant seems to be offset by two bad ones. For the second game in a row, he fielded a punt he had no business trying to catch in the way he tried to catch it. This week he actually pulled it off before fumbling the ball away a few seconds later. He was once a dynamic punt returner, but I think those days may be behind him. And, late in the game, he dropped another pass down the sideline that should have been easily caught. I bet Michael Irvin makes that catch in his day. We should ask Dez to turn in his jersey and give him a different number. He has tarnished the “88″ legacy. His immaturity and inconsistent play may ultimately keep him from truly belonging in that club.
> Tony Romo. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the guy who was at the helm as we clawed our way back from being down 23-0 to take a 24-23 lead was the same guy that was a big reason we were there in the first place. The first quarter was abysmal for Romo including an embarrassingly easy pick 6 for JPP. Romo made bad throw after bad throw. Typically we have blamed receivers for running bad routes. But, there was nowhere for Romo to hide on these throws. He was simply awful. Maybe the worst quarter of football I’ve ever seen him play. And, if not for Witten’s NFL record performance and the Giants seemingly being incapable of covering him, this game would have been completely out of reach. Romo is a good quarterback. But, in this game more than any other, you saw his flaws and it simply confirms that he is not the guy to take us to the next level. We need to start working toward drafting our next franchise quarterback now so Romo can keep the spot warm for him. Romo is NOT the guy, I am truly sad to say. Go ahead and kill me for saying it, but it is in fact the painful truth. Big game after big game, he continues to show us why.
> Special Teams. Give the Cowboys credit for trying, but Lance Dunbar is not the answer at kick returner. Except for one decent return, I thought he made bad decisions and even worse efforts. Kickoff returns are all about straight ahead speed and looking for a seam. You typically are not going to dance around and fool anyone. Dunbar, who I think is very talented at running back and has some potential, put us in some bad starting positions by taking the ball out of the end zone when he should have taken a knee. Our special teams in general have taken a huge step backward this season. Did anyone else notice that early in the game while almost everything else was going wrong, we almost had another punt blocked? Another missed assignment…
> Defense. If not for an unbelievable effort from the entire defensive unit, this game would have been completely out of reach before halftime. Losing Sean Lee, most did not give the Cowboys much of a chance in this game. But, it was not the defense that lost this game by any stretch of the imagination. They consistently held the Giants on third down and forced them to kick field goals. They held Eli Manning to 192 yards passing and no touchdowns. Read that again for emphasis! If the offense hadn’t put them in bad situation after bad situation, the Cowboys might have been the ones running away with this game. Impressive does not do it justice. I’m not sure if I give Rob Ryan credit for patching together a game plan or just plain stellar performances from guys like Jay Ratliff, Bruce Carter, Dan Connor, and others. Despite momentary lapses that allowed the Giants to score 2 late field goals and force the Cowboys offense to have to score a touchdown versus a field goal, the defense was not the reason we lost this game. Good to see as well that we created some turnovers – a fumble recovery and an interception.
> Offensive line. No one questions that the Giants have one of the most feared defensive pass rushes. Despite some bad plays, overall, I thought the line did a better than expected job protecting Romo. The bad plays as usual came at the absolute worst times, of course, but Witten doesn’t catch an NFL record 18 passes without some decent offensive line protection. Lots of work left to do here, but hopefully this game is something they can build on. It looks like they are building a tiny bit of cohesiveness if not still totally ineffective in the run game. Some of that may be the running backs fault though – I saw quite a number of running lanes open up where the back simply ran to the wrong hole. Can’t blame that on the O-line.
> Schedule. This one may have you scratching your head a bit, but hear me out. The Cowboys most agree need to finish at least 10-6 to have any hope of making the playoffs. Sitting at 3-4 now, they would need to go 7-2 over the next nine games to achieve that mark. Doubtful at best, I know. However, if you look at the history, Romo for whatever reason tends to play his best football in November. And, five of those nine games are at home, which is supposed to be an advantage. Two of those games are against the Eagles who seem to be on the verge of collapse. It’s still a stretch based on how they’ve played so far and their December history, but the schedule is not necessarily unfavorable. It’s there if the Cowboys want it bad enough.
> Jason Witten. Wow. After a rough start due to injury, this guy is putting together another HOF-worthy season. Except for the last 4th and 1 play, the Giants couldn’t figure out how to stop him. He is proving once again what a stud he is. But, he can’t do it all alone and others need to step up. You know who you are.
I could go on and on, but off we go to face the undefeated Falcons. I’ve never seen a more potentially beatable undefeated team. They have played poorly enough to lose in several games and this game is very winnable for the Cowboys if they can muster another good defensive effort and avoid the horrible offensive mistakes. That is a big “if”, but it is certainly possible. Despite the loss, there are things to be encouraged about. Win this one and the world looks a lot different sitting at 4-4 at the mid point with 5 of the remaining 8 games at home. Lose, no matter how close the game is, and the Cowboys are likely finished at 3-5. Every game from here on in has the season on the line. I’m not ready to give up on this team yet. YET! Go Cowboys!