Sunday, December 21, 2008
There is very little to say right now about how the Cowboys wet the bed Saturday night in their final game at Texas Stadium. The simple fact of the matter is that much like a great deal of their season; the Cowboys saw it slip through their fingers in the most agonizing fashion possible. To put it mildly, it would seem that 2008 is just not their year. I am a big believer in hanging in there and keeping hope alive until the last breath in a league where 31 of 32 teams will end their season in disappointment, but it is surely a tough time to keep the faith around here.
The plain truth is this: They had the season right where they wanted it. All they had to do was beat a Baltimore team that certainly has skills on the field, but doesn’t have the talent resources at the key positions that Dallas has. The Ravens have a rookie QB that they protect from having to move the ball down the field in the air. They grind and grind and count on the defense to win the turnover battle and the war in the trenches. If Dallas could make a play or two down the field, they would quite possibly open the game up and put the Ravens in a very uncomfortable spot. It would depend on the defense of Baltimore completely stopping Tony Romo and his mates. And you know something? They made it look easy.
If you read this blog, you know I am a Tony Romo supporter to a very strong degree. I believe in his quality, and I surely have walked a plank with the young man to a point where people claim I have lost my credibility because of my defense of the QB. Well, I accept the critiques coming my way, but I also can see things for what they are. While I believe Romo will ultimately hold a Lombardi Trophy overhead in a Cowboys uniform, I also recognize that he is nowhere near a finished product. Why he played the way he played on Saturday night is beyond any reasonable explanation. He hasn’t honestly looked right to me for huge chunks of 2008, and while he has put up numbers and wins, he also has appeared shaky, uncomfortable, and unsure of what this offense needs out of him. It would be easy to blame the coaching staff, but at the end of the proverbial day, he has to know better. He has to know that you cannot make the spinning desperation throw into double coverage. In a game where you can only lose if you turn the ball over, he turned the ball over. He appears to press when the booing begins. He appears to press when the pressure is on. And he appears to press when the games are vital and mandatory to stick in the win column. These are points that I cannot dispute. I never said he was perfect. I said he was a stock I believe in and would buy. I still do, but he is surely NOT infallible.
The lasting memory of the final game at Texas Stadium will be the back to back runs of 77 and 82 yards. And why wouldn’t it? The longest opponent’s runs in the history of the stadium happened in the final 4 minutes of the final game ever played there? Are you kidding me? Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain? Alas, sometimes you cannot write these things. If it wasn’t so sad, you would laugh to make yourself feel better.
Here are some various random notes from Week 16, Game 15 against the Ravens – the day the Cowboys lost control of their own destiny:
• What are they doing with Marion Barber? What are they thinking dressing him against the Giants, getting nothing out of him, and then dressing him against the Ravens, and getting nothing out of him? Talk about not learning from your mistakes.
• Joe Flacco was impressive last night. He threw for less than 150 yards, but he made some big throws into tight spots. He looked calm and cool, and once they got the lead, they could stop throwing the ball for the most part on 1st and 2nd downs. I don’t see Baltimore much, but I really enjoyed his composure and calm in the storm on a night in which he got sacked 5 times in the first half. You would think Saturday night was going to be a tough spot for a rookie to succeed, but Baltimore must be giddy about his rookie campaign.
• How much would the game have changed if Tony Romo doesn’t miss a streaking Miles Austin on 3rd and 9 in the middle of the 3rd Quarter? He was wide open. Wide open. And, that play was the play of the night. If he hits him, it is a 79 yard touchdown pass that gives the Cowboys a 14-9 lead. Instead, on the next snap, the punt, which Jim Leonhard returns to the Cowboys 37. A few plays later, Ken Hamlin does not recover a fumble that is in his hands. A few plays after that, a fake field goal is run for a first down, and a few plays after that, Derrick Mason is scoring a touchdown to put the Ravens up 16-7, and game was slipping out of reach. All because Romo missed a wide open receiver. When you are playing the Ravens, you cannot miss wide open receivers. It is that simple.
• Suggs, Lewis, Reed, Scott. They have some hitters on that team. That is a system and a culture of laying a beat down on your opponent.
• Roy Williams cannot beat Frank Walker? The same Frank Walker who has not been a starter in this league? Sorry. 9 games into his Cowboys career, I have to check and make sure I still have the receipt. He seems to be a whole bunch of style and a small bit of substance. Ed Reed is sitting on top of Owens while Samari Rolle is jamming him. Wasn’t the point of getting Roy Williams to punish the opponents that would dare do that? And he can’t expose Frank Walker? Ouch. And to think he has been labeled a future #1 WR when Owens moves on.
• 10 more penalties. Don’t be afraid to play a clean game at some point.
• I think Brad Sham said this first, but allow me to echo it. Jason Witten needs about 2-3 months on the beach. I have not seen a player take a beating like that in quite a while.
• Would I have tried an onside kick? No. I think they made the right call. Look, you had all of your time-outs. You knew that there was only one thing the Ravens were going to do. Run the ball between the tackles. There was no mystery. You could put 11 defenders in the box. You have no excuse for allowing those two runs. Ken Hamlin will not win the critical eye of the league on those two efforts. Of course, like so many on this team, he already has his money, so I am sure he will be fine.
• As I was leaving a frigid Texas Stadium after the game, I was walking right behind a Dad and his boy. The boy must have been 7 or 8 years old and was crying about the result. Some people might roll their eyes, but I knew how the boy felt. When you are young, and you love a sports team, you believe the games and the seasons will all have the happy endings of the Disney movies that you watch. Guess what, son, if you are going to pledge allegiance to a team as it appears you have with the Dallas Cowboys, I want to welcome you to the fellowship of the die-hards. Understand, that once you do, you are not allowed out of this commitment, and you should also understand that most seasons are going to end in tears. A favorite team is the only thing a male human feels the same about when he is 5 and when he is 45 and when he is 75. You will change your mind on everything else. Girls, money, hobbies. But, you will always still feel the adrenaline rush of a win, and the gutting sadness of a horrible loss. I didn’t say anything to the boy, as his Dad was handling it (and he might not have welcomed my advice) but I felt for him. Welcome to sports, young man. Someday, you may live to see a championship or five, but most years will end with your guts spilling onto the floor.
• So now what? Hope. Is there time for still another redemption with this team? Thanks to the Redskins and Chargers, perhaps there is. A trip to Philadelphia. A chance for a glorious clutch win, or one final agonizing opportunity for Cowboys fans to end their holiday season in tears. Is this all there is in 2008?
• 4,376 days and counting….