To write a column that properly captures all of the events of yesterday at Cowboys Stadium would be impossible. That is more than enough content for an entire book. In many ways, it seemed like there were 3 different games that occurred between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00 on Sunday afternoon. Some might even argue that the game was a microcosm of the present era of Dallas Cowboys football.
And I think they might be on to something there.
Yesterday, the foe of all foes visited town for their annual trip which generally ends in a victory. In fact, of their last 6 trips to North Texas, 5 of them ended with a similar strain of Giants smiles and a Cowboys' disaster site. The specifics vary, and surely the details of the 2012 incident will stick out like a sore thumb for a while, but the consistent strain remains largely the same - up and down the roster, the Giants are better. Not miles and miles better, but enough to win in the end.
The Cowboys certainly assisted in their own destruction yesterday. In fact, aside from the Giants front mounting another violent assault on Tony Romo, it is difficult to find players on the Giants' side who had exceptional ball games. The turnovers, like the last home game, 27 days prior, were enough to destroy any team's chances to win.
6 giveaways matches the most giveaways of any Cowboys team in the Jerry Jones era. It has happened one other time, and once again we will reference the 2007 Monday Night Miracle in Buffalo. The fact that I have referenced this game several times already this season indicates that the Cowboys are turning the ball over at a historic pace.
They have 19 giveaways this season - the same number they had the entire season of 2009 (you know, the last time they made the playoffs). In all of 2011, they had 21 turnovers. And yet, through 7 games, they have 19 - and that set's a pace for over 43 this year.
That number is so insanely high, that any defense of the Cowboys offense - from quarterback to coach, seems ridiculous. There can be no excusing any segment of this offense when it comes to playing football the right way. And the Cowboys are miles from doing that.
They properly sought big plays this week. They looked at the evidence and rightfully believed that they were going to have to start pushing the ball back down the field. So, they did. And much like last time they tried this, they continuously turned the ball over. That doesn't make the objective incorrect, it makes the execution incorrect.
Boy, was it ever.
Jimmy Johnson summed up what he had just seen in the post-game portion of Fox's studio show last night before Fox went off the air: "The key to success in the NFL is not how many great plays you make, it's how few bad plays you make."
And for a veteran quarterback like Tony Romo, this is the type of game (especially with the close proximity to the Chicago game) that is completely inexcusable. As a long-time believer in his abilities, I can understand his circumstances that are far below ideal these days. They put a ton of their weight on his shoulders and ask for him to compensate for a number of issues, but that should not, in any way, alibi for a 3 turnovers in the early going that were all plays where the QB has to make either a better decision or a better throw.
And before we call out Dez Bryant for not crossing in front of the safety or Miles Austin for not competing harder with Corey Webster on the deep ball, let's point out one really big issue on both of those throws - they were both on 1st Down. That tells you that a QB has to show that all of his experience and veteran "know how" has led us to a path in his road where he can clearly diagnose a situation properly. He clearly knows when to take shots, but also when to make the proper decisions. He cannot miss that safety. And then, the throw has to be truer to its destination than most of Romo's throws early yesterday. No matter how you slice it, his play in these last 2 home games - 2 Touchdowns and 9 Interceptions - cannot be rationalized nor accounted for.
The parallels of what is happening in Philadelphia should not be lost on any of us. There, a 3-4 team has felt that they have had just about enough of their veteran quarterback's scene. Of course, they have a coach who is on a short leash and a young QB who they have invested a valuable draft pick in, so there are some big differences, but Romo has to know that in this league, everyone's time is limited. Even after one of his best seasons of his career, there cannot be clear understanding and patience for a QB who is in his 7th season of being a starting QB.
I don't want to be misunderstood here. I think Romo has been asked to compensate for a very poor offensive line for so long that his ability to run this offense while trying to avoid a Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul body-slam is enough to short-circuit anyone's wiring, but if there is no middle ground between no throws downfield and 4 interceptions, then there is just no hope.
I received a text from a friend who is a hardcore Cowboys fan, and he articulated Romo pretty well last night: "Romo is an enigma to me. Within a game, he is basically the only reason the Cowboys have a reasonable chance of winning. Yet, in the same moment, he is invariably the reason that they lose."
Seems pretty close to how many feel this morning.
But, what keeps hope alive and makes it difficult to give up and move on, is the way he battles. And honestly, I think the 2012 Dallas Cowboys battle their tails off, for what it is worth. And I am certainly ready to admit it isn't worth much. But, I did see a team that was not giving up in Baltimore, and that same battle was clear yesterday.
In fact, as the game went along, the Cowboys worked their way back into the game. Romo and his receivers began to hit on some big plays and methodically worked all the way back from 23-0 to a point where they were up 24-23. It was surprising and impressive as the stadium had come alive with hope that they had turned things around. Suddenly, Dallas had the lead and the ball late in the 3rd Quarter thanks to the rare takeaway caused by the even more rare big hit from Gerald Sensabaugh in the secondary.
And those good feelings lasted just mere seconds. On Dallas' first play of that drive after the takeaway, Chris Canty shook off Nate Livings and drove Romo right into the turf to kill a drive. The ensuing drive gave the Giants back the lead - one they would never lose again.
The next drive featured some progress, but was halted by 2 negative plays. First, the pocket collapsed around Romo, largely due to Tuck bull rushing Doug Free right back into Romo and then Linval Joseph cleaning up after he beat Mackenzy Bernadeau for the sack. Then, 2 plays later, Felix Jones loses the football in yet another giveaway that seemed quite unnecessary (it looked like it was knocked loose by Ryan Cook's rear end) and was painfully another 1st down mistake.
That gift turned into 3 more points for the Giants, and they held a 29-24 lead with 3:31 left to play.
Dallas again drove down the field and appeared to be lining up a magnificent escape, but on the first snap after the 2 minute warning, Romo was sacked again. Tuck lined up in the A-gap to Cook's right and split the center-right guard tandem as if neither were paying attention to knock Romo to the turf again. This play was nullified by a penalty in the secondary, but it again speaks to the Cowboys deficiencies up front.
A few more completions to Austin and Witten, and the Cowboys are at the 19 yard line, facing a 2nd down and 1. On that play, the Cowboys threw another out to Witten, but this one fell incomplete as Witten hit the sound technician on the sideline. On 3rd and 1, Romo sees a match-up in the corner with Kevin Ogletree against Prince Amukamara, but the battle between the two resulted in the ball falling incomplete. Clearly, the more efficient decision might have been to run a play that moves the chains, but Garrett and Romo had a play on that allowed Romo to make a decision based on what he saw. He went for it. The flag on the play was picked up, so now the game comes down to 1 play (we thought).
On 4th down, the Giants did what they always seem to do. They get a pass rush with just 4 guys. The benefits of having a defensive front that can whip your rival's offensive line without even having to blitz are infinite. And on this occasion, Osi Umenyiora defeats Doug Free with ease, causing Free to hold and still was beaten. From there, Romo is now back-peddaling and running for his life, causing a 4th down desperation heave that was intercepted by Stevie Brown. Had the ball been incomplete, it was a turnover on downs anyway and if it had found a Cowboy, the holding penalty on Free would have negated it.
Somehow, though, the Cowboys still had a chance.
They were able to force a punt and they took over one final time with :44 to play. Amazingly, it was their 15th drive of the game, one that would take them over 80 offensive plays for the game. They drove the field again, to a point where they could throw to the end-zone from the Giants 37 yard line.
What happened next will certainly be the signature play of not only this game, and perhaps not only this season, but maybe even the entire career of Dez Bryant. He is a player of such ability and impact that his special plays seem more special than others, and his mistakes seem more memorable. As he put a double move on his man and streaked to the end-zone, it seemed unthinkable that the Giants had presented him with enough space to have a chance. He and Brown both launch for the ball at the same time and Dez would not be denied. He caught it with ease and turned his body in such a way where the Giants had no chance to knock it loose. The stadium erupts like maybe it never has before as he fell to the turf. The Cowboys appeared to have pulled off a miracle comeback against their biggest tormentors.
Until they showed the replay.
The fingers of his right hand touched the end line. His palm was in. His fingernails were not. If he only falls on his hip, he is in - which is easy for someone to say from their couch. But, he breaks his fall with his hand, and the hand nullifies the play. One year after the "lost in the lights" no brainer pass to Austin, we now have this to make a fan base shake its head.
It is just too cruel. Too cruel to Dez, who obviously wants to be the dominant Cowboy receiver that everyone wants him to be - but something always seems to keep that from happening. Too cruel to Romo who just about escaped one of his worst days with one of his more courageous comebacks. And maybe just too cruel to this franchise who have demonstrated time and time again that they can fight to the final gun with these Giants, but whether it is the 2007 playoff game, or ever doggone game in the new stadium in Arlington, they play just well enough to lose.
There was time after the reversal for 2 last plays, but after Romo's last desperation shot sailed out of the back of the endzone - the Giants 3 man rush still saw Pierre-Paul hit Romo's arm at the time of delivery - and the loss was now a part of the long-term torture that the Giants continue to put on Dallas.
Despite the close nature of the outcome, it makes you question everything. It makes you question how this keeps happening. And why your Quarterback is regressing. And whether he is your QB for years to come. And why your franchise doesn't realize why the Giants seem to own them - which seems to be the continuous domination by their defensive line on your feeble offensive line. When the chips are down and the game is 3 hours long, they can always get to your QB when they need to.
But, in the end, there were simply to many mistakes. When you lose a home game in which you never make the opposition's offense prove anything (Eli Manning's QB Rating was also 58 - just like Romo), you blame yourself.
This team, one of the great teases of this NFL era, has written yet another chapter in its very frustrating story.
"The key to success in the NFL is not how many great plays you make, it's how few bad plays you make."