The Morning After - Nothing Changes Because Nothing Changes
During the good times, you never appreciate how difficult it is for your heroes to make you happy. You don't know how taking down their rivals was next to impossible, because they made it look pretty simple. You had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin and the other team didn't. Simple. You win. You had Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, and Drew Pearson. Easy. You win again.
They made football look easy, even when it wasn't. If they didn't win the whole thing each year, they sure came close, it seemed. You didn't have to slay the dragon all of those years. You were the dragon. The NFL was your kingdom and Dallas Cowboys Football would live forever.
Over two decades later, we still have the tall tales of their conquests. We still have the momentos and the memories of those banners and trophies that make the franchise what it is today - one of the biggest brands on the planet. The mere value of the organization is such that there is nothing for sale that the franchise cannot afford 10 times over. This is verified by frequent projects that are erected all over North Texas that show the rest of the NFL that a sporting franchise doesn't have to stop at mere football. It can showcase art, architecture, and grandiose wealth in such a way that would make small countries jealous of resources and surplus.
But, as your grandmother would tell you, there are some things that money cannot buy. Evidently, conquering the NFL again is one of them. Given that this organization will continue to wander the wilderness for at least a 22nd season without so much as a trip to a NFC Championship game - let alone another Super Bowl - we can surmise that buying another "Sky Mirror" will have to suffice, rather than a new chapter of NFL dominance. When locals who already have their own children have never actually seen you crack the NFL's version of the "Final Four", then we realize the truth - that the current state of affairs continue to reveal that while the trophies will always sparkle, the need to expand the trophy case may once again be put on hold.
And so it goes for the Dallas Cowboys. Just when you think they cracked the code to find their way back, they come back to earth in a thud that makes you want to think about something else.
Lucky for you, it is Christmas. You literally have the greatest distraction day of the year available to you. Unless you were hoping to unwrap a nice playoff berth this morning.
That is not going to be possible. Once again, with everything to play for, this team proved they cannot win a home game when needed. Sure, they did take down three home wins this season. In September, they defeated the New York Giants. In November, the Kansas City Chiefs were taken down. And again, on the final day of that same month, they beat the Washington Redskins.
Unfortunately, they also lost to the Rams, Packers, Eagles, Chargers, and now Seahawks on home turf, which meant they went 3-5 at home. Playoff teams almost never go 3-5 at home and the Cowboys insured that stat will be safe because they are not going to the playoffs. If you want to feel extra depressed, you should know that yesterday was the 75th time the Cowboys have played a home game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, and during that spell they are a mere 39-36 overall (including playoff games). Take away that 7-2 in the opening season of the stadium in 2009 (the final full season of Wade Phillips), and since the first year of the Jason Garrett era the Cowboys hold a home record of 32-34. That would seem to be awfully problematic.
If you are wondering just how problematic, here you go. Since 2010, the Cowboys rank 24th in the NFL in home win percentage. They are better than just the Raiders, Bears, Rams, Redskins, Titans, Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Browns. But, when 5 franchises - the Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Ravens, and Steelers are winning 70% or more of their home games, and you are winning 48% of yours, you see where the biggest issue sits.
They have constructed the greatest stadium that money could buy and allow the opponents to win more often inside it than they do. If any truth best describes the modern era of Dallas Cowboys football, this might be it.
So, there they were. Yet again, in a spot where maybe they could pull their disappointing season from the fire. The Cowboys held a halftime lead, but as soon as the 3rd Quarter began, the Cowboys 2nd offensive snap turned into a Seattle go-ahead Touchdown with an ill-advised throw from Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott was tossed well over his head and into the path of an oncoming defensive back. 30 yards later, Justin Coleman is jumping into the Salvation Army pot and the Seahawks are ahead for good.
The offense was not done giving the ball away, however. After the first turnover where Dez Bryant allowed the ball to be punched away and after the second turnover where Dak airmailed a pretty simple pass to Coleman, they killed the buzz of the stadium late in the third quarter with a third turnover. This time, on 2nd and 12 from the Seahawks 25 - in a spot where the Cowboys were poised to take a lead, Prescott's short pass to Bryant on a crosser made the receiver reach back to catch it, but both hands were on the ball. We can debate whether the throw or the catch was more to blame, or we can offer the common-sense approach to the tandem this year: They both share the blame like they do the entirety of 2017. Anyone who wishes to isolate one's role from the other is grasping at straws and missing the very essence of the sport.
Dak Prescott has been very poor at times this season when so much was put on his shoulders. He did not quiet the critics who feared he was a product of the game situation for this team. If they keep him ahead of the score and ahead of the chains, he would be fine. But, put him in a spot where he had to do what QBs frequently must do - make lemonade out of lemons - they would reveal him to be rather limited at the highest level. He has taken a major step back this year and has to get guys like me who were very impressed with his football IQ a few weeks back to reevaluate our thoughts moving forward.
Dez Bryant has been poor for large swaths of the last three years. We have discussed why this is and the many logical reasons and excuses why he no longer measures close to the other elite receivers in the game. But, after a 3-year span of 3,935 yards and 41 touchdowns, he signed one of the richest contracts his position has ever seen. Since then, he is about to complete another 3-year span, which with 1 game to go, has 2,012 yards and 17 touchdowns. That no longer leads the industry - not even close. In fact, it is 15 yards more in that span than Terrance Williams and 58 yards less than Sammy Watkins. It ranks 42nd in the NFL which sounds about right, unfortunately. And nobody disputes his special play in the red zone leading to touchdowns galore, but he isn't even the top 20 in that stat over those three years and once again trails guys like Sammy Watkins, Kyle Rudolph, and Kenny Stills in touchdowns over that span (let alone DeAndre Hopkins who might tell you how important QBs are to his stats).
So, was that pass Dak's fault or Dez's fault? It doesn't matter. The organization counts on both of them and they both failed this season - despite their intentions.
To be fair, they aren't alone. Ezekiel Elliott is the golden boy who nobody who resides locally seems interested in holding accountable for his role in this season. He has been portrayed as a complete victim, despite his repeated behavior WHILE BEING INVESTIGATED. I'm sorry, but I won't be able to get past that fact for a long time that while the NFL is looking into your actions for discipline, you give them more actions to consider. It all seems incredibly dense, to be honest.
If that wasn't enough, when he returned to the field - with 200-yard projections dancing in his head - he forgot the part of his job that made some want to draft him so high. He is excellent at pass protection, we were told. He will always get that blitzing defender blocked. Well, unfortunately, with the season hanging from a thread, he busted on several blitzes yesterday. Apparently, the mental reps were not available in Cabo and he came back looking completely ill-equipped to know what the Seahawks had planned to rock Dak Prescott on 3rd downs. If Prescott looked a little rattled, it might have something to do with his RB not knowing who to block on no fewer than 3 different blitzes.
So, the moment that will forever be paired with this disappointing loss will go back to the 1st and goal at the 3-yard line in the 3th Quarter. Because of the three giveaways - all three put into the endzone as Seahawks touchdowns, by the way - the Seahawks were up 21-12. But, there was still time. Just get this 1st and goal into the end zone and perhaps everything will be fine. Surely, between the aforementioned touchdown makers - Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott - the Cowboys would get this lead down to 21-19 with plenty of time to save the day.
Instead, neither would touch the ball. Dak kept the ball on the RPO keeper for a yard. Then, on 2nd down, they decide to pass the ball on the rollout, but Jason Witten is called for a massive holding penalty because pass protection has been an issue all day long. Now, it is 2nd down from the 12. You are now out of running territory. On 2nd and 12, Byron Bell gets rolled like Chaz Green by Frank Clark and Dak goes down again. 3rd and goal from the 23 means no chance, and the day was made awful by a Dan Bailey missed FG from short range.
Perhaps, Dan Bailey's year is actually the perfect metaphor for the season. I am losing track now.
But, with the season on the line, neither Ezekiel Elliott nor Dez Bryant factor in. How this happens is anyone's sad guess. The Cowboys turned the ball over three times and come up short in a game that means everything.
Unfortunately, we have seen butchered offensive execution and self-inflicted wounds so often in the Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan era that we sometimes minimize their roles. But, as Troy Aikman said yesterday, if Dak Prescott is making decisions that you don't agree with as coach, then it is up to you to take those decisions back from him. This isn't that complicated unless you make it so.
And, repeatedly, under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys make the simple appear complex. You could do worse than him as your head coach, but I am under the belief that it seems time to consider doing better.
But, as always, the case when discussing Cowboys football, every time you try to follow the trail to the true culprit, the trail continues to a bigger culprit. Is it your QB? Or is it his boss? Is it your OC? Or is it his boss? Is it your head coach? Or is it his boss? Oh, yes. Here we are again looking at Jerry Jones again.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We will not blame Tony Romo for this one or Wade Phillips or Dave Campo or Quincy Carter. Only one thing ties 22 years of Cowboys disappointment together and the stubbornness to try a different route.
Instead, we line up each July for another trip of speeding directly into the same concrete wall by January that this organization has so steadfastly defended all these years.
In fact, we just inducted that concrete wall into the Hall of Fame to verify that all the methods were correct.
It is so maddening and yet so familiar. Nothing changes, and therefore, nothing changes.
Go do something else today. It is Christmas.
And this Dallas Cowboys mess will be right where we left it tomorrow morning.