Cowboys Must Improve Record in Close Games


Last week, at Witten’s football camp, he said the Cowboys, “have to play better in those situations when we get in those close games.” It’s awfully similar to last year when I interviewed him coming off the first 8-8 season and he said, “You can’t say you’re close. You’ve got to go do it and make those plays in those key situations that allow you to win.”

At the second annual Cowboys Home Run Derby sponsored by Reliant, I figured I would ask the All Pro tight end how his team would go about that process specifically.

“Jason, you’ve had a league-leading 32 close games since 2010 and only won 44% of them. How do you change things this year?”

“That’s the league we live in,” Witten replied as his other eight teammates were helping raise $43,000 for charity. “That’s not just us. Do the stat for all 32 teams.”

Jason Witten answers questions on Escobar, Romo’s stipulated game plan involvement, and winning close games at the second annual Cowboys Home Run Derby sponsored by Reliant — Martha Ponce

Well, I did the stat on all 32 teams. That’s how I knew A) it was league-leading and B) how below average 44% is. I know everything negative is “league-leading” for the Dallas Cowboys, but this is factual. The Cowboys have played in 32 contests decided by a touchdown or less. Their record is 14-18. The Redskins also have played in 32 close contests going back to 2010, but their record is 15-17.

Oh, and 5/6 of the Cowboys’ matches with Washington were decided by a touchdown or less. Only the Week 17 battle for the NFC East last year was decided by two scores.

Admittedly, the Cowboys’ 44% isn’t league-worst, but it not a good percentage for a club that endeavors to persevere. The Falcons, Steelers, Ravens, and the Cardinals, all of whom played in 26 close games in the same span, have better winning percentages that the Cowboys. In fact, amongst teams who won a playoff game in 2009, their winning percentage in close games is the worst.

Witten went on to use the NFC and AFC Championship games from 2011 as examples of how tenuous the line is between victory and defeat. He then explained that the NFL, “is a league of 7 points or less going into the fourth quarter in over 80% of the games.”

I don’t have the time or internet connection to verify that, but I do know that the Dallas Cowboys, since 2010, have had 66% of their games come down to the 4th quarter. 16/48 of their games were of a score or more heading into the fourth quarter. Half the time, the Cowboys lost decidedly. Only one of those — Thanksgiving 2012 — was a close game at the end.

Now, the Cowboys have had the embarrassment of leading by 2+ scores only to lose, and that was Romo’s three-pick game against the Lions in ’11. However, they have also had the fortunate of doing that to the Bengals last year.

5/16 times have the Cowboys had a substantial lead heading into the fourth quarter and won. Three of those were blowouts and the other two were unnecessarily close contests (though the other one is debatable since it was against Peyton Manning).

Yeah, I’m not seeing where Witten’s saying that 80% of the league’s games are within a touchdown heading into the fourth when it’s not true of his own team. Even the focus on 2012 alone doesn’t back that figure.

Where the future Hall of Famer and I have an accord is when he says the games are coming down to, “a handful of plays.” And that’s the whole basis for my question. Since you guys are playing these league-leading close games, what are you going to do to start winning more than half these encounters?

“It comes down to execution. Bottom line. That’s not to escape your question. It’s to say you got to execute better when you’re in those situations. I think we understand that urgency.”

Cowboys Nation hopes so. Perhaps the worst part of these 8-8 seasons hasn’t been the fact the Cowboys had no chance to win them, but they did and didn’t.