Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cowboys '09: Game 18 at Minnesota


I am always interested in the rationale of fans the day their team exits the playoffs (By the way, I am one of these fans who try to put my feelings into words, so don't think I am looking down at anyone).

Fans who are victims of the excruciating OT loss wish that they would have been blown out because that wouldn't hurt so much. But, then fans who are victims of the blow out wish they would have been beat in the last minute because then they would feel like they are competitive and closer to their goal.

Both sides are just looking for something to make themselves feel better.

But, the facts are these:

1) Losing is gut wrenching in the NFL Playoffs.
2) 11 of the 12 teams will experience this feeling in some way, shape, or form.
3) The other 20 teams in the NFL aspire to switch spots with you.

See, that is the thing about the NFL season; Just when you get things figured out, they all change. The Cowboys own the line of scrimmage, right? 7 days later, they certainly did not.

The Vikings, Saints, and Colts did not finish the season on a roll, right? It appears they rolled pretty well this weekend, and I believe we all got a slight reminder of why all 16 games matter. To get playoff home games and bye weeks, it will require a 16 game body of work that is nearly flawless. And when you achieve that, it will guarantee nothing - but you will be in your building, with your noise, and your fans. And that will greatly beat the alternative.

I was sure this game was so close that there would be one play that would certainly reach legendary status in both cities because it decided the game - and perhaps the destiny of both organizations. I guess I had that one wrong.

This game did not come down to one play. It came down to the Vikings defense blowing up the Cowboys offense in just about every way, shape, and form. The Cowboys did not give the ball away, the Vikings took it. The Cowboys did not make huge mistakes, the Vikings just made plays. They looked like they had a pretty good idea of how to destroy drives with a "Minus Play" as Tony Romo would reference them in the press conference. One minus would sabotage a drive, and that is something we have become quite familiar with over the season. Drive all the way down the field and then a minus turns 7 into 3, or 3 into 0 as quick as it gets. The yards have not been converted into points often enough.

The key match-up of the Vikings DL against the Cowboys OL was a mismatch. Romo was sacked a career-high 6 times and escaped several more with his feet. Obviously, they finally were bit by the injury bug when Flozell left the game with a calf injury (as an aside, for some reason I feel better when my key injured players "look" injured on the sideline - Flo seemed pretty normal over there.) and the OL that was already under siege seemed almost "done for" right there. Ray Edwards was great, Kevin Williams did plenty, and Jared Allen attracted all sorts of attention. Romo was running for his life. He was beat up pretty badly, and when you hit him - or any other QB hard enough (especially from the blind side) he will cough up that ball.

So, because of the pressure, Romo started getting rid of the ball quicker so as to stop getting hit. This led to a 2nd half that completely lacked throws to the Wide Receivers, and a very impotent Cowboys offense.

Meanwhile, the Brett Favre show was certainly on full display. After a 3-and-out to start the game, Favre led the Vikings on 3 straight scoring drives to put the Cowboys in a deep hole, 17-3 in the 2nd Quarter. The theory that was repeated all week (maybe all season) that "Favre will make a mistake at some point" seemed to never happen. I don't recall anything close to an interception and his incredibly efficient play kept the Cowboys defense on the run. It wasn't a number of great plays, and Adrian Peterson certainly did not get off, but the damage was done - slowly, but surely - and by the end the Cowboys had been sliced and diced.

I don't think for a second that the Cowboys are 31 points worse than the Vikings. But, things just snowballed. The Cowboys did not grab the chances early and the Vikings just fed off the momentum in a game that was never in doubt.

And now, here we are. Standing, looking at a pile of rubble again, as another season of Cowboys football smolders. Just 1 day ago, we all thought we were really enjoying this movie, and couldn't wait to watch more.

And then, Thud.

I think the Cowboys' season was successful in some regards. But, surely, when you lose by 31 in a playoff game, we must look in the mirror and ask some difficult questions again. Making the Final 8 is nice, but not near enough. I believe I will let the smoke clear before elaborating on my Wade Phillips views, but obviously, on Saturday it seemed foolish to suggest his job was on the line. But, with that loss now on the ledger, I assume it will at least be considered again with no contract in place for 2010.

More thoughts and observation from the spanking at the Metrodome:

* I assume most everybody felt like I did when Wade waved out the FG team to try a 48 yarder on 4th and 1 on the 2nd drive. There are, of course, a number of reasons why that was a bad idea. First, in the playoffs or any difficult road game where you are an underdog, you must make the absolute most of your chances. I know that I said "Punts are good" on Friday, but it is an altogether different animal when you are at their 30 yard line and facing a 4th and 1. You need to try to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Second, your kicker is Shaun Suisham. This may have snuck by some people, but Wade knows this. He has to know that Suisham shouldn't be trusted for anything longer than a chippy. I am not suggesting that I have a ton of great ideas against the Vikes in short yardage (No, not the pitch right to Barber!) but I certainly am not risking a kick that, if missed, demoralizes the team and gives the Vikes great field position.

* -3. Two other games were worse than -2 in this season of "Romo Friendly" protect-the-ball football. -4 loss to the Giants in week 2 and -3 at Green Bay. Not breaking new ground here, but -3 is almost impossible to overcome. In fact, in the NFL regular season 2009, the record for those -3 or worse is 1-49. Somehow, the Patriots were -3 against the Panthers and still scratched out a win.

* Marc Colombo had no answer for Ray Edwards, and when Flozell left the game, the Cowboys had to give all of the help to Doug Free all of the time. It was the worst case scenario. We have no idea how differently things might have been, but Flozell actually was able to stay in front of Jared Allen awfully well in the first 3 possessions. I wonder how healthy Colombo was, because Edwards is good, but I am pretty sure he isn't that good. If Free would have kept his RT job, I suppose they would have just slid him over to LT if Colombo had to come into the game. But, that is your game. The Cowboys couldn't protect the edges and Romo was running for his life from the very start of the game. The passing game was brought to its knees without hardly any impact from Cowboys WRs or Vikings DBs. Amazing. The pass rush controlled the game.

* The most amazing thing about the Brett Favre aerial attack (starring Sydney Rice): Neither Rice on Sensabaugh's TD nor Rice on Jenkins' TD were an example of poor coverage at all. He dropped the ball right on their hands and the defenders were hip to hip with the receiver. He is a 40 year old QB dropping the ball right on their hands from 40 yards away. We have never seen anything like the 2009 season of Favre.

* But, on that Sensabaugh-allowed TD, what was Terence Newman's role? It sure looked to me like that crucial moment in the SD game where Newman is supposed to get the jam on Vincent Jackson and doesn't which allowed a very big completion. There is nobody else in Newman's zone and yet he pretty much just watched Rice run by him. I am no DB coach, but that seemed very bizarre to me. Equally bizarre might have been how Sensabaugh seemed to have no idea where the ball was when Rice had it right next to him and they both jogged into the endzone for the final 10 yards. Find the ball, son. I would love to know several things about that play.

* Here is my take on the question about "running up the score". Honestly, I had very little issue with it once the Cowboys decided to use all 3 timeouts down 27-3. Prolonging a game that was already determined is essentially "asking for it". I understand Wade Phillips and Keith Brooking and anyone else being angry. It should make you angry that they are scoring again when they don't have to. But, again, I think you risk angering the other sideline when you call all of your timeouts down 24 points, so don't be shocked when they return the favor with their resources, too. Just yesterday, I was reading a story about the Washington Capitals "running up the score" by leaving their best players on the ice for a Power Play up 6-1, and one of the comments left was this: When I was listening to a baseball game this past summer, the idea of “running up the score” arose and I heard probably the best comment about it I ever heard. The announcers said that they were sure the team winning big would agree to stop scoring so many runs, if the losing team agreed to stop trying to come back. If both teams agreed to stop trying and just go through the motions, fine, but otherwise just play baseball. I guess that is exactly how I feel. If you are still doing everything in your power to come back, then they should be allowed to do everything in their power to end the game and force your surrender. And let's not forget the Cowboys were up 34-14 last week, and throwing on 1st down 3 different times. This is the NFL, people. Not your kid's little league game.

* Why is it odd to see Prince at a Football game? Surely, it seems plausible that a man can grow up in the United States and follow football his whole life. Millions of us do. But, it is Prince. Next thing you know we will find out that he won his Fantasy Football League or something crazy like that. There cannot be a very long list of American males that would be more unlikely to see at a NFL game. Seriously. Try to name 3.

* I wonder what the future for Marion Barber is. I really appreciate what he brings to the table, and I think he is quality. But, like Julius Jones before him, it seems like the options (Felix and Choice) are perhaps now better options. The life-span of an NFL RB is shockingly short. That is why it is vital that the Vikings win quickly, because Adrian Peterson's prime may only last 2-3 more years if history is our guide. For every Emmitt Smith, there are 10 Larry Johnsons.

* It seemed clear that Keith Brooking was being picked on by the Vikings in their offensive attack. In the 3rd Vikings drive, they isolated him against Kleinsasser (+14), Peterson (+18), and Taylor (+9). He is clearly an emotional leader, but he also is part of a defense that has many superior parts - so they attack places where they think they can do some damage. And it is no secret that getting Brooking in coverage is a place many teams have tried to attack. The Vikings did it with success.

* Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, DeMarcus Ware, and Jay Ratliff are all young and potentially dominant players on the defense. There is no reason to believe that this defense won't continue to be very, very solid. I think for the first time entering an off-season in years the Cowboys can focus their resources on the offensive line and Wide Receiver in the spring. Not saying the D doesn't have any holes, but I think they are closer than ever.

* Tony Romo's press conference to end the season went much better this year than last. I think he has come a long, long way in the last 12 months in the maturity department. I believe in the kid. He is not perfect, but he is darn good.

I thought the Vikings might win this one, but I certainly didn't see it ending like this. The Cowboys are closer than they have been in years but still awfully far away. I think we are all interested in knowing what is around the next corner.

The offseason begins today. Get to work, front office.

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