For the second consecutive season, the Dallas Cowboys lost the 15th game of the season, yet find themselves in a position to play for the division title in week 17. Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints: now their fans can enjoy watching other teams in the playoffs since the Saints were eliminated despite the win (much as the Eagles were last season in week 16).
Unlike last season, however, the Cowboys head into the final week of the season with a healthy Tony Romo. Unfortunately, future Hall of Fame pass rusher extraordinaire, DeMarcus Ware was unable to finish the game due to an aggravated shoulder injury.
Quick aside to the perpetually uninformed Deion Sanders on NFL Network: Ware was injured and therefore could not complete the game. That is the answer to your ignorant comment, "Where was Ware? He has to make a play at the end!" In addition, Dez Bryant really seems to be progressing, and Tony Romo has helped this kid along. Why did Deion wipe his hands of this man-child again? Wasn't Romo's leadership in question according to Deion?
Thank goodness for the advent of the MUTE button on the remote: back to the game.
One thing was painfully obvious watching the game against New Orleans: the Dallas Cowboys have very little room for error due to the play of the defense. Much like last season, the Dallas defense cannot overcome any significant mistakes made by this team.
The last two weeks were proof that the defense is barely surviving under normal circumstances. Against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the defense made enough plays to permit the offense to win the game. Correspondingly, the offense only turned the ball over once in each game. Not coincidently, those turnovers occurred deep in the other team's own end.
On Thanksgiving the Dallas offense accumulated three turnovers (2 interceptions and a fumble). The defense could not overcome the errors committed by the Cowboys offense.
Alarmingly, the Cowboys offense only committed one turnover in this game, but inside of the Dallas 5-yard line. The depleted Dallas defense missing 6 starters now cannot overcome any reasonable degree of adversity. With a NFL All-Star team of Ratliff, Ware, Lee, and Carter now on the sidelines to finish the game, joining Scandrick, Coleman, and Sims, the Cowboys barely have a college All-Star team on the field.
The Dallas defense was terrible. The Cowboys registered nary a turnover (again). In Ware's absence, the defense never sacked Drew Brees despite having 53 opportunities to do so. The lack of pressure facilitated a stellar effort by the Saints on third down, with New Orleans converting 11 out of a whopping 19 chances. Those sustained drives permitted New Orleans to accumulate 562 yards of offense (116 rushing, 446 passing) and 34 total points.
The defense makes enough errors to lose a game by themselves. Missed tackles by Mike Jenkins leading to third down conversions and big plays, Anthony Spencer's offside penalty on 4th down extending a touchdown drive, and Anthony Spencer's facemask penalty prolonging a Saints touchdown drive all had a huge impact on the game.
The special teams added to the burdens of the defense when Dwayne Harris timidly backed off of fielding a punt after fumbling the previous kickoff. That was the prelude to the DeMarco Murray fumble from the Dallas 3-yard line. That was the Cowboys' sole turnover, but it was one too many for this defense.
What is so alarming is that there will be dropped passes in every game, like those drive killing drops by Miles Austin. There will be an occasional false start leading to a punt, like the one committed by Witten, in every game. It is not uncommon for a team to turn the ball over once in a game, but those common occurrences are now too much for this defense to overcome.
There is almost no room for error for these Dallas Cowboys. Even a quarterback posting a passer rating of 123.79 is not enough anymore.
Just like last year...
But none of that matters, thanks to the lack of championship character demonstrated by the New York Giants. All that is relevant is that the Cowboys have a chance to finish 9-7 and host a playoff game the following week. As Jason Garrett likes to remind everyone, the Cowboys just need to focus on the Washington Redskins and find a way to battle, grind, and win the game in the nation's capital.
A few numbers may interest Cowboys fans for that final game of the 2012 regular season:
Jason Witten broke the reception record for tight ends (103 receptions through 15 games) and only needs 17 yards to break 1,000 yards.
Miles Austin needs 57 yards to break 1,000 yards receiving this season.
With 57 receiving yards to Austin and 17 receiving yards to Witten, the Cowboys would have three 1,000 yard receivers for the first time in club history.
Dez Bryant leads the Cowboys with 88 receptions and 1,311 yards with one (big) game left, and has scored a touchdown in seven straight games, tying a Cowboys record (T. Owens, 2007).
Tony Romo is only 315 yards shy of his first 5,000 yard season. His current passer rating for 2012 is 92.54 (his career rating is 95.7).
In a weird twist of circumstance, this will be only the second time DeMarco Murray will start against the Redskins. Dallas won his other start (25 carries for 73 yards) in Washington 27-24 in overtime last season. In fact, the Cowboys are 2-0 versus the Redskins when Murray plays.
The Cowboys currently would pick 18th in the 2013 NFL Draft. If the right teams win next weekend and Dallas loses, the team could do no better than the 16th pick in the upcoming draft. With a win next weekend, the Cowboys would be no lower than 21st selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. A win versus the Redskins and a playoff berth is definitely worth 5 slots in the middle of the draft.
And most importantly, the Cowboys could win the NFC East for the third time in the last six seasons with a win at Washington on Sunday.
Fear the Star! copyright OCC