Cowboys Squander Opportunity To Pull Away In Playoff Race

Jesse Holley warms up before the Arizona game in a stadium that feels as empty as many Cowboys fans do after the loss to the Cardinals.

If you were scoreboard watching yesterday, things couldn't have lined up any better for the Cowboys heading into the opening kickoff in Arizona.

The Eagles lost on Thursday, which is always a good thing.

In the early games on Sunday, fellow playoff contenders Atlanta and Chicago both lost and dropped to 7-5.

The Packers were widely expected to beat the Giants as were the Saints to beat Detroit. The Cowboys only had to take care of business against the lowly Cardinals and they'd have a two-game lead against the Giants, with a possibly division-clinching game next Sunday against the Giants at home.

But they blew it.

The Cowboys' four-game midseason winning streak came to an end. Garrett will face a week in which he'll be crucified and ridiculed for his decision to "ice the kicker" and the airwaves and blogs will be full of that particular story.

But before joining the fray on that discussion, let's not forget that the Cowboys squandered one opportunity after another to take control of the game and not have it come down to a last second field goal.

The Cowboys just seemed unable to pull it together when it counted. They were only 4-of-12 on third downs. They were in Arizona's half of the field on a staggering eight drives but only managed to put up points twice. And they decided to go for a 49-yard kick when a timeout would have given them 24 seconds on a 1st-and-ten to get closer to the field goal.

Perhaps the team thought they could just waltz into Arizona and take care of the 4-7 Cardinals. Perhaps they were mentally already anticipating the Giants game next week. Perhaps the Cowboys simply aren't a particularly good team. Perhaps it was a collection of individual mistakes, perhaps something else entirely. Whatever it was, it cost the Cowboys the game.

"There were a lot of mistakes out there," Romo said. "You can be very disappointed in the things we did as a football team. Any time you lose it's a setback. We just need to get better and be ready next week."

The Cowboys and their coach are probably kicking themselves for giving this one away, but they still have a couple of things going for them:

All the other playoff contenders came up empty as well. The Cowboys are still in first place in the NFC East, and while their lead didn't increase, it didn't decrease either. They're still in control of their own destiny. It's just that winning next week's home game against the Giants has become less of an option and more of a necessity.

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