This is a nightmare from which we can't wake up. You close your eyes and you pinch yourself, hoping that when they open again the reality of the situation will change and all that we've suffered through the first month of the season was all a bad dream.
At 1-3, and facing the Minnesota Vikings next week, the Dallas Cowboys once more face a must-win game that will determine the success or failure of an entire season. It's not entirely impossible to come back from 1-4, but the hole that would have been dug would likely be much too deep to put out from. A win in Minnesota at least would give the Cowboys a fighting chance but at this moment, I have absolutely zero faith that this team has any inclination to come close to living up to their potential as a team.
The Cowboys lost the game to the Tennessee Titans not just because the Titans played well but also because of individual mistakes throughout the game that in the end doomed any chance for a victory. What's most frustrating is seeing all the good the good the Dallas Cowboys can accomplish in 60 minutes and then immediately erase it with mistakes, blown assignments and an overall lack of concentration.
After the jump, a brief look at what went wrong. I'll have my comprehensive film review up late tonight or first thing tomorrow morning. That should be fun.
- The defense played well, made some crucial mistakes but in the end was doomed by mistakes by the offense and special teams. The Titans gashed the Cowboys in the first half to the tune of 17 points and a number of big pass plays, then found a way to turn things around in the second half. What was unfortunate was the two extremely short fields that put the Cowboys defense in two impossible situations. An interception by the Titans deep in Cowboys territory put the Titans right on the goal line. The Cowboys stood their ground for two plays but with a running game as good as Tennessee's, four plays from the one-yard line is just too tough to hold up against. Just after the Cowboys managed to once again tie the game, the Cowboys allow a long kickoff return that with a penalty put the Titans right back on the one-yard line.
The mistakes at times were indefensible but in the end the defense was placed in two near-impossible situations that gave the Titans 14 very easy points.
- For four years or so, the Cowboys have been able to overcome penalties and costly mistakes. This season those penalties are finally catching up to the Cowboys and it's costing them games. The offense put up well over 500 yards, scored 27 points and should have had much more.
It's not just the fact that there are penalties, it's how these penalties are so frustratingly costly. The defense makes a big stop on third down but is called for illegal hands to the face; the Titans later score on the drive. The offense faces third and goal from the two-yard line but a false start pushes them back; the Cowboys fail to convert and settle for a short field goal. These mistakes add up throughout a game and right now the Cowboys are just unable to overcome them. The team plays well overall, the Cowboys actually execute yet mistakes negate it all.
- The "excessive celebration" penalty was frustrating, especially since it's tough to blame the Cowboys for celebrating after a big game-tying drive late in the game. The penalty pushed the Cowboys kickoff back and David Buehler made a young-kicker's mistake: he tried to kick the ball as hard as he could. As he lined up for the kickoff I knew he was going to destroy the ball and that's exactly what he did. Unfortunately he kicked it so hard he completely out-kicked the Cowboys coverage and the Titans had an easy seam to the sideline for the back-breaking return.
- I haven't read any comments here or elsewhere but I don't want to hear anything about how Romo cost the Cowboys the game. I thought he had one of the best games of his career and while he did throw three interceptions -- once again two came off tipped balls. The final interception came with Romo taking a chance and pushing the ball downfield, something that had to happen with no timeouts and less than a minute on the clock. He wasn't perfect, but with the pass-protection breaking down throughout the game Romo stood tall and made several big throws. It's unfortunate the game ended as it did, masking another great performance by the Cowboys.
- The Cowboys made a point of getting Felix Jones the ball more often early in the game. It was obvious that the Cowboys were aiming to save Marion Barber for his fourth quarter role. I thought the running game looked great and we finally saw what could happen with a more consistent effort from drive to drive with one runner. More importantly, Felix played great in pass protection and once again showed the speed and vision we thought he had lost.
- Finally, it's tough to say whom to lay the blame on for this one. Wade Phillips and his defense was burned early but they adjusted as the game progressed. The offense had a great game plan to take on a very good defense and the Cowboys were able for the first time in nearly three years have two wide receivers make a difference in a game. Yet the mistakes on defense, offense and special teams all add up throughout the game and no one player can take the majority of the blame. Are the coaches ultimately responsible for mental mistakes and individual gaffes like we witnessed? Perhaps, but it's tough to say exactly what needs to be done.
The Cowboys are holding players responsible. Witness Leonard Davis getting benched in the second quarter. Yet these penalties and mistakes and just way too much for this team to overcome and that has to stop immediately. At this point, however, there's just nothing that shows that anything will change anytime soon. If this continues, then changes will certainly come on the coaching staff and elsewhere; this sort of showing by a talented football is far from excusable.
The Dallas Cowboys as a team lost this game and as such, the blame ultimately falls on Wade Phillips.