Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cowboys '09: Game 13 vs San Diego

I am officially out of excuses. And optimism. And positive spins.

For those of you that look to me to offer you some "half-full" mentality, I might be letting you down this week. I just can't believe that they spit the bit again. I blame myself for thinking this season was different. I blame myself for trusting this organization to get it right at the moment of truth.

I mean, at some point, if you keep picking the coyote to catch the road runner and you are wrong repeatedly, do we blame the coyote or those picking him despite the ever mounting pile of evidence that says the road runner will always get away?

On Sunday at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the Chargers avoided any and all aspects of the "ambush theory" and did what good teams do in the month of December, waited out a reasonable performance from the inferior home team and then made all of the plays in the 4th Quarter to seal their 10th victory of the season. Meanwhile, the Cowboys followed their familiar December path, where the crucial moments of the game are all wrong, and despite doing a few things well, they leave with their 5th defeat and the sinking feeling that defeat #6 is merely 5 days away.

The Cowboys offense left at least 10 points on the field - and when you lose by 3, that is an enourmous number. The Cowboys defense surrendered scoring drives in the first half of 84 and 64 yards. Then in the 4th Quarter when it absolutely needed a stop, they allowed 2 stake-in-the-heart possessions of 75 yards and 73 yards. In "win" time, Dallas could not get a drive going, and the Chargers could; marching right down the field with 11:23 Time of Possession in the 4th Quarter alone.

The fact that really shows in a game like this is that you can see the fragile mentality of the Cowboys organization. I was asked last night if the Cowboys are "soft" and I think that is a difficult conclusion to draw when a team wins many physical battles over the course of a game and a season. But, do they possess the composure and the mental strength to weather a storm and emerge on the other side? Or, when adversity arrives on the door-step, do the Cowboys collectively collapse under the pressure? I think the evidence answers that question. They appear to be "mentally soft". You can wait them out. At some point, they will crack under the pressure. They will miss a Field Goal. They will let Vincent Jackson get behind them on 3rd and Long. They will give up a 15 play drive when they absolutely must get the ball back for the offense.

So, who do we blame? I suppose today will be one of those days on the radio where nobody will be free from the ridicule. And who should be safe? If the object of the game around here is to quiet the ghosts of past failures at the moment of truth, then these 2 losses in the last 2 weeks don't exactly accomplish that mission.

As difficult as it is to admit, the Cowboys franchise is merely following its same path that it has worn since its last Super Bowl victory in 1995. A path that often includes a hierarchy of relatively powerless men answering to an owner that promised us he would be involved in everything to "socks and jocks". He is keeping his word, and his results are there for all to see in the record books - nearly 5,000 days since the last playoff wins.

It would surely be easier to handle this team if they would not demonstrate their reasonable quality so often. They are not a bad team and they are not devoid of talent. They play hard and have many quality individuals. But in the end, they end up with what appears to be shockingly similar results. And, of course, what makes me angry is that I only get these moments of clarity after I realize how silly a win prediction on Friday truly was. Again, don't blame the coyote for being the coyote. Blame yourself for believing this episode he will actually catch the roadrunner.

Now, some random observations from the game that showed us 2009 will most likely not end differently:

* The best news to emerge last night from this loss was the report that DeMarcus Ware is out of the hospital and resting at his house. Ware, who was carted off the field with 11:28 to go in the 4th Quarter, appeared to suffer a severe neck injury during a pass rush sequence. At that point in the game, the score was 10-10, and the Chargers were going to face a Ware-less defense for a 3rd and 12, from the SD 47 yards line. Could the Cowboys hang in there without their best defender? Well, 2 plays, and 53 yards later, Antonio Gates is celebrating an easy Touchdown. My first thought is to acknowledge that losing Ware demonstrates his immense value to this team, and we should not be shocked that the results after he left were not positive. My second thought is that, once again, this shows the mental fragility of the team, that losing one guy can make the defense collapse like a house of cards when it needed someone to step up and make a play in Ware's absence. Ware appears to be suffering from a sprained neck, so his return in the next few weeks appears to be a real possibility.

* The Cowboys almost took the game over in the 2nd Quarter, with a phenomenal drive that was primarily that "power run" set domination. Felix Jones for 12, 12, 5. Barber for 8 and 5. Choice for 5 and 6. Jones for 7, Barber for 3 - down to the 1 yard line. The entire length of the field without a single pass completion. It was a thing of beauty- Physical strength and demoralizing results for the Chargers defense. And, then the game turned. 2nd and goal: nothing. 3rd and goal: nothing. 4th and goal: Less than nothing. When they had 3 cracks from the 1 with the season hanging in the balance, the Cowboys could not get the 36 inches necessary. What happened? Well, we could carefully analyze every block to see who got it done, and who didn't, but I will save some of that for Football 301. But, if I may offer a cheap 2nd guess, it would be three-fold about that 4th down call. First, if I have one run with my whole season on the line, do I run to the right behind the new guy, Doug Free? Or do I take it to the left, like I did on the goal-line in Philadelphia? Second, on the 1 yard line, when 11 defenders are on the line, can I afford to wait for the development of the pulling Kyle Kosier? Brandon Siler sure didn't wait. He shot the gap, beat Kosier to the point of attack, and blew up the play. And Third, don't I have Barber at Tailback, with Deon Anderson's thunder blocks in front of him, rather than trying to get cute and have Felix deep and Barber up front? Would the Chargers really believe that for the first time in his career, you would trust Felix Jones in a short yardage situation? Or, did the Chargers know, like we all did, that Jones was a decoy, and Barber was getting the rock again. Regardless, the game changed right then and there, and we will have all off-season to debate if any of those 3 issues have merit, or if we are all just second-guessing the result - that Barber was stopped at the 1-yard line; and the season might have been stopped, too.

* Nick Folk.

* I know that my vote is not the deciding vote in the Jerry Jones approval rating test, but I cannot tell you how nuts he makes me sometimes. From the role that his head coaches must take, to the assumption that he needs more Felix, to the idiocy of the bits in his new stadium, to the roof being closed when it is 68 degrees outside - the hits just keep coming. So, let me get this straight: It is arguably the biggest game of the year. One in which the crowd needs to make a difference and help will the Cowboys to victory. A game that is so crucial that many will lose their jobs over it if the result doesn't go the right direction. And with that all in mind, he thought it would be a great time to hand out 70,000+ 3D glasses to his fans, which effectively distracts his own audience from doing their job in the game? What is the point? What are we doing? Is the whole point of this new stadium to bring further glory to Jerry by proving we can herd well-meaning Cowboys fans onto a party platform 50-deep? Is it to show the silliness of the world's largest television - while ignoring the reality that it actually keeps your own fans from wanting to watch what is going on down on the field below? You cannot make this stupidity up! Why not issue XBoxs and cellphones to everyone attending so that they pay even less attention to the game? I can feel my blood pressure raise as I type this, so let me end this rant by admitting this stadium and I are never going to be on good terms, I don't believe.

* The Cowboys are 1-6 at home in December in their last 7 games. Amazing.

* The pass rush was ineffective again. I will readily admit that Philip Rivers was hit on several occasions as he delivered the ball, but the hits never seemed to affect the flight of the ball. He stood tall, took a hit, and moved the chains again. I was very impressed with his performance for much of the day.

* As for Romo, the numbers of efficiency were there all day. But much like the Cowboys, numbers are nice, but football comes down to scenarios and key moments in a game. During those scenarios and key moments, the offense has to cash in. And for whatever reason, they were 1-8 on 3rd down conversions. Not converting on 3rd down ends drives and turns TD opportunities into Field Goals (or missed Field Goals). A QB Rating of 111.7 was surely impressive, but unlike last week, you would have to admit he was the 2nd best QB on the field. Rivers had a lower QB rating (89.6) but converted several 3rd and long throws that kept his team rolling down the field, while going right after Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins. The corners for the Cowboys seem good enough usually, but clearly not anything that scares Rivers.

* I was asked by a few emailers to reprint my "end of another season" paragraph from last year's Baltimore game that I received so many compliments on. I hesitate to do so, because there are 3 games to go. The Cowboys can still save their skin (there I go, believing in the coyote, again). Regardless, your wish is my command:

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. - December 21, 2008

Fellowship of the Die-hards or Fellowship of the Miserable? It is a fine line between the two.

3 games to go. Anyone believe in the coyote?

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