Food. Fun. Friends. Family. And by the time the weekend was over, Cowboys receiver Miles Austin also had himself six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. It was a "Jersey Shore'' reunion for the Cowboys receiver - a Saturday lunch at the Champps in Las Colinas with old Garfield (N.J.) High teammate Luis Castillo, the Chargers lineman, then between the two of them almost 100 guests at Cowboys stadium on Sunday including Miles' old track and football coaches -- but even with all the things he had going ...
In many ways, the Cowboys offense - unproductive in the 20-17 loss to San Diego - had maybe one member who will grade out positively. That would be Austin. Otherwise? Consider the across-the-board failings:
* Dallas wants to demonstrate it has the skill to throw the ball? Sorry. Overall numbers deceive here; subtract the final Cowboys possession (featuring seven completions in nine Tony Romo attempts) which was all short-pass gimmes from the Chargers, and Dallas managed just 12 pass completions during the 58 minutes when it mattered.
* Dallas wants to demonstrate it has the muscle to bull the ball? Sorry. On four consecutive critical tries, the Cowboys could barely manage to nudge it four feet.
* How about salvaging those failures with balm of a field goal? Sorry. In what is now a weekly occurrence, Dallas' Nick Folk missed a field goal. He's missed six of his last 10 tries and at this point, he might want to get with Joe DeCamilis and administer himself an overall re-evaluation, including whether he's maybe kicking with the wrong leg.
We can all march about in December Denial here, but the id and the ego don't easily endure such overall failings ... especially when they occur with such seasonal regularity. Think about it: What separates this NFL player from that one?
An attempt at an answer (a wrong one): I think it was NBC's Rodney Harrison who compared the respective passing attacks of Dallas and San Diego by noting the height of the Chargers' receivers. Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates are all over 6-4. But Jason Witten is 6-5, Roy Williams is 6-3 and Austin is 6-3. So that's the difference? Like, an inch? Nah.
The separation is mental. The separation is confidence.
You are human - with muscle for armor and training like a warrior's - but you are human. Roy can't get separation from a Chargers cornerback. ... Witten can only get free for harmless dump-offs. ... Folk is splaying balls around like a first-time golfer at the range. ... The 1-2-3-4 plunges inside the San Diego four-yard line net you not enough, not enough, not enough and not enough and no touchdown. ... DeMarcus Ware (who will hopefully miss just a couple of weeks with a neck sprain) gets strapped down and carted off on a stretcher.
You are human.
This wasn't a play-calling thing, not to me. Let's go back to that second-quarter sequence and the goal-line stand. You probably know that this year, on third-and-1, the Cowboys had been a stellar eight-of-nine. You certainly know that on that very drive, the Cowboys were winning the hand-to-hand combat, having pushed up the field on 12 plays - 11 of them runs. So they got to the goal-line and they rode their best horses and their best horses came up lame.
"In hindsight,'' says O-coordinator Jason Garrett, "we could have done this, we could have done that. Leading up to that, the way we got the ball down there, we dominated them up-front. It made sense to us to continue that trend ...''
I can live with that.
But mentally, there is no denying that such challenges, as owner Jerry Jones noted, "certainly will take the air out of any team.''
It's in other areas where the football IQ of this team deserves to come under question, and that's mental, too. In the final two seconds of the game, after Tony Romo found Patrick Crayton for a meaningless-other-than-Fantasy TD, Romo excitedly waved two fingers in the air. ... Yay! ... Wait, what?!
Shades of the close in Denver: What were Tony's hands trying to say? "We're down four, getting ready to kick the PAT to close it to three, setting up a miracle onsides-kick play - but let's go for the two-point conversion, you know, just for fun?''
A similar braincramp after the game, as coach Wade Phillips is describing the lay of the land: "We thought we could hold them to 20. ... but we didn't do that. ...''
Yay! ... Wait, what?! Shades of Bobby Bowden: Wade, the final score was San Diego 20, Dallas 17. You DID hold them to 20. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that your offense played 59 minutes and 58 seconds and managed only 10 points.
(One more non-football braincramp, this one the fault of the suits: You pass out 90,000 cardboard 3D glasses ... to people who are watching a football game. ... in person? Maybe you think in-game sideshows are neat; There's Eminem over there and there's the Cowboys Cheerleaders in Santa costumes over there ... but shouldn't the 180,000 eyes belonging to the 90,000 customers be encouraged to focus on, you know, the game?)
The Cowboys offense is presently left with one lone bright spot, one singular guy who remains confident enough in his ability to put on a football show that he's flying in 100 friends-and-family members, playing host to his old track coach and staging a Jersey Shore reunion with an "enemy'' from the other team. Miles Austin did his thing, with six catches, 71 yards, a touchdown. He now has 10 TDs and 999 yards and a belief that he's top-of-the-world-worthy of the attention.
Which Cowboys are confident enough, mentally strong enough, to climb up there and join him?