Have you ever heard the phrase, "Stats are for losers"?
On occasion, this phrase will be used by professional athletes in a locker-room (either winning or losing) after some media guy waves a stat-sheet in his face and wants a full explanation on how you could win/lose with these types of numbers that would suggest the opposite result should have happened.
And, I suppose, today would be a good day to remember that phrase. The Cowboys went to New Jersey Sunday with a game plan for success. And they executed a fairly reasonable amount of it. Yet, in the end, they leave with a loss. Let's look at all of the metrics besides the only metric that matters (Scoreboard):
- The Cowboys won the turnover margin (+1)
- The Cowboys dominated total yards (424-337)
- The Cowboys easily owned Time of Possession: (38:50 - 21:10)
- The Cowboys had the best QB on the Field: Romo had a QB rating of 112, Eli's was 89, and only 61 if you subtract the throw to Brandon Jacobs.
- The Cowboys won 1st Downs (27-15), 3rd Downs (9 conversions to 4), and total plays (80-49).
And, yet, here we are again. Losing a key December game in which a lot of things went very well.
"These are the times that try Cowboys fans' souls"
So, how do you lose a game like that? How do you find yourself answering all of the same questions when you know that was a game that was asking to be won?
In every game there are about 130 plays. When we add them all up together, we find the big numbers that look neat on a stat sheet. But, when we separate them and pick out the few that would be called pivotal, we realize that some key battles were lost along the way that lead to the loss of the war.
* Holding a 10-7 lead, and almost assured of taking that lead into the locker-room, the Cowboys go searching for more. When Tony Romo hits Marion Barber for an easy first down into Giants territory, it appears they are on their way to regaining control of the game and adding to this lead. Then, Barber has the ball taken from him at just the wrong time. Mathias Kiwanuka is not even trying to get the ball, but as he tries to tackle MB3, the ball comes loose, and Osi Umenyiora takes it and runs. This, of course, sets up a 28-yard TD drive, and the Giants have a 14-10 halftime lead, after trailing 10-0 at the 2-minute warning.
* Exactly 19 seconds after taking the lead, 17-14, the Cowboys give it right back on a 74-yard Touchdown reception to Brandon Jacobs (of all people). Jacobs out-ran the entire Cowboys LB corps, and gathered in only his 2nd career reception of more than 40 yards. Yes, the other one was a 43-yarder against the Cowboys in 2006. If ever there was a play that changed a game in the blink of an eye, it had to have been this - a play so simple in its design and yet so lethal in its result. Who knew that Anthony Spencer couldn't run down Jacobs with a 1-yard head start?
* Down 24-17, the Cowboys are forced to punt following a crucial intentional grounding penalty on Romo. Mat McBriar, who has had a fabulous season as the punter (let's not talk about McBriar as the holder), perhaps out-kicks the coverage. Then as Domenik Hixon breaks somewhere between 2-4 tackles, the Cowboys see their chance of holding on to the NFC East lead slip through their special teams. It was the first punt return for a TD allowed since 2007, when Dante Hall turned the trick for the Rams. Game Over.
3 plays that made the other 126 plays look pretty unimportant in comparison. And thus, the Cowboys drop their 4th game of the season, giving up all ground to Philadelphia and the Giants. And, now, the collar tightens as December rolls on.
Other Notes and Observations from a decidedly predicatable day at Giants Stadium:
* I think it goes without saying that Romo was exactly what he needs to be to quiet the critics and to rise another level amongst the QBs in the NFL. His passes were precise and he stood tall in the face of the pass rush. Romo seemed to control the game wonderfully for most of the day, hooking up with both receivers and his big tight end down the middle for great success. 3 TDs, 0 INTs, and crucial 3rd Down conversions time after time. Obviously, the miss to Roy Williams with 4 minutes to go might have helped pull a miracle down 14, and was a huge moment. The grounding play killed the drive prior to that, too. But, if he is going to drop back 50 times, all you ask is that he makes several big plays and stays out of trouble. He did both, and I think you are trying too hard if you want to blame the Cowboys' QB on this one (Tony Dungy).
* Nick Folk has become a problem. 4-10 from 40-49 yards is brutal, and the miss yesterday was very large. The Cowboys could have cut the lead to 21-20 with the majority of the 4th Quarter yet to play (10:38), and he duck-hooks a 42-yarder with fabulous side spin. Only the Philadelphia game features a day in the last 6 games where Folk did NOT miss a FG. Do you think this team can afford to give away points for any reason in tight road games in December? 16-24 in 2009 pretty much erases all of his credibility from 2007 and 2008, and now I am wondering if the Cowboys can afford to ride this slump out.
* Keith Brooking looks tired. Coming off 10 days rest, I was hoping that he could have plugged things up better. He has been a wonderful addition to this team, so I hope he has gas left in his tank.
* Here is the reality of play-calling: You can call anything you want and if your OL is going to get whipped at the line of scrimmage by a DL that seems to want the game far more, then it doesn't matter what you call. the interior of the OL offered very little along the lines of movement last night, and it seemed the Giants were dead-set on limiting the running game at all costs. We can debate how much that made Romo's job easier through the air, but it was clear that the Giants were committed to making sure the Boys did not run for 250 again. I would say this simply proves the theory of "Just because it worked last time against these guys, doesn't mean it will work next time". I would like to give you are report on which running back was more effective against the Giants, but the fact is the OL was beaten so badly that none of them had a true chance to get anywhere, even against the vaunted "22".
* Arm tackles don't work well in December.
* Martellus Bennett is going to have to decide if he wants to be a great pass catching tight end or not. We already know he is a fine blocking tight end, but those guys generally make league minimum for much of their career - and they have John Phillips serving that role, too. He has not demonstrated that Romo can trust him this season - with another drive-killing drop. And if you don't get the trust of your offense, they stop going to you. I think the same can be said for Felix Jones, although he has the benefit of his owner demanding that he get the ball. Earn your stripes, young men. Then, Romo will throw the ball to you at every turn, like he does that Witten guy.
* Pass Rush versus Giants: 2008 = 12 sacks in 2 games. 2009 = 1 sack in 2 games. I would say this was a point of emphasis for the Giants OL, and it would appear they figured it out. The only sack for the Cowboys was 2:33 left in the game yesterday, and the Giants up 14 points. Basically, the Cowboys did not get to Eli Manning this season at all.
* David Buehler had 17 touchbacks in the first 7 games, and has just 3 in the last 5 games. His kickoffs yesterday were sometimes lucky to get the 10 yard line. I will happily admit that outdoor kicks in December are no picnic at Giants Stadium, but if the idea is to give him a roster spot because of his special ability to kick it deep, then....
* Stop me if I write this every week category: Jay Ratliff is awesome - that strip and recovery was marvelous. I cannot believe we once had a debate between Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Flozell Adams confuses me sometimes. And Roy Williams with another 2 Touchdowns! (Just making sure you were paying attention)
Well, here we are again. Adversity and December. Here come the red hot Chargers in a week's time, and the questions will be asked. No unit can escape blame today as the offense was beaten physically, the defense surely did not cover Steve Smith or tackle well, and the special teams missed FGs and surrendered a huge punt return TD. Spread the blame, and get back to work.
Who has resolve?