With their season on the line, the Cowboys walked into the Georgia Dome a determined bunch. Alas, it didn't matter as they couldn't overcome their deficiencies in front of a national audience and fell to the Atlanta Falcons 19-13. Missing were the maddening turnovers, the team didn't commit any for the first time all season. It was enough to keep the team close but the other shortcomings ended up doing the team in.
In a game where Jason Witten surpassed Michael Irvin for most career catches as a Cowboy, Dallas has very little to celebrate.
Dallas was unable to capitalize on early opportunities. The defense secured a quick three and out to start the game. When Dwayne Harris, the new punt returner after Dez Bryant had been demoted from that role earlier in the week, brought the punt back 32 yards. He almost broke it, but was tackled by the last man standing. Tony Romo and the offense started out soiid, but the drive came to a halt when Romo overthrew Cole Beasley and Dallas had to settle for a field goal.
After an Atlanta missed field goal, Dallas again drove the field thanks to a beautiful bomb down the left sideline from Tony Romo to the recently forgotten (production-wise, he has firmly been in the minds of rabid Cowboys fans) Kevin Ogletree. The 65 yard pass forced Ogletree to turn and wait instead of being in stride, but a 65 yard throw in the air can hardly be "faulty". Regardless, this was another missed opportunity as Dallas still couldn't cash in. In the first seven games of the season, Dallas had only ran four first quarter plays from within the red zone. Today they ran 11, but were only able to secure a 6-3 lead.
The defense was stellar throughout the first portion of the game. Atlanta's wideout duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White is as formidable a tandem as a team is going to face this or any other season. Still, Dallas managed to corral the Matt Ryan led offense through the first half.
The Cowboys appeared to be driving to extend the lead when a bad spot took away an apparent first down on a pass to Cole Beasley at the two minute warning. A third and one run was stuffed when Phillip Tanner ran into the back of Lawrence Vickers and the Cowboys had to punt it away.
Down 6-3, Atlanta got the ball deep in their end zone with little time remaining. They were able to drive the field with the help of two unofficial timeouts. First, Jay Ratliff had his foot stepped on and the Cowboys were forced to use one of their timeouts instead of making Atlanta use their final one. On the next play, there was a defensive holding call on a completion which stopped the clock with nine seconds to go. Atlanta completed the next pass, called their time out and then booted a field goal to tie the score at 6 going into the break.
After the teams traded punts a few times, Atlanta was finally able to get it's offense on track at the end of the third quarter. Michael Turner broke through the Cowboys injured defense. The Cowboys clearly missed Sean Lee and Barry Church, as well as a hobbled Ratliff. After bouncing outside, a bad angle by newly signed Ernie Sims was compounded by a hideous tackle attempt by Danny McCray; this allowed Turner to gain 43 yards and set up the first touchdown of the game. It's a lead the Falcons would not relinquish.
They'd add a field goal to go up 10 before the Cowboys offense would show signs of life. With about seven minutes to go in the game, the offense went no huddle and promptly moved down the field with ease. Romo would find Ogletree in the back of the end zone for a touchdown that had all of Cowboys Nation wondering where in the world that had been all game.
Tony Romo had lobbied head coach Jason Garrett during the week to call the offense in a similar fashion to what they used to come back against the Giants last week. Alas, it was nowhere to be seen before that drive that seemed to make the Cowboys offense look like a well-oiled machine.
Now down 16-13 with five minutes remaining, Dallas' defense was charged with getting the ball to the offense. They weren't able to do it.
The biggest culprit this time was nickel corner Orlando Scandrick. His failure to tackle Jacquizz Rodgers on a third down in an open field situation basically worked another couple minutes off the clock. Later in the drive, Scandrick would blatantly hold Roddy White on another chance to get off the field on third down. A little later, Rodgers juked Danny McCray with a sick move and that was pretty much a wrap.
The penalties were down in overall numbers, but there were still six and they still occurred at some of the worst times. The Cowboys never seem to be able to secure loose balls, as was evident when DeMarcus Ware completely crushed Matt Ryan early in the game. The ball was jarred loose but the Falcons recovered.
While the Cowboys competed and didn't turn the ball over, they made enough mistakes to negate Bruce Carter's coming out party. The second-year linebacker made several tremendous plays amongst his 10 tackles, including two tackles for losses.
Before the game, Jerry Jones gave head coach Jason Garrett another shot of approval for the "long term" but admitted the team isn't where he expected it to be this year. However, he clearly wanted to avoid the speculation of the day; that the Cowboys would make a run at Sean Payton following the season after his contract extension was voided by the NFL offices.
In a pregame interview, Jones admitted that he would have fired himself as the GM if it was a role undertaken by another person. Now the fans are in the immediate wake of another frustrating loss where fans could see a path to victory that was never traveled. I'm sure there are many that would like Jerry to change directions in regards to either of the last two scenarios.
When one takes a step back, this frustrating group of players and coaches sits at 3-5 and in a horrible position to take advantage of the supposed soft part of their schedule. Five consecutive games against opponents that are under .500 looks promising until you remember that Dallas is one of those teams as well. A road date at rival Philly is next on the schedule and the Cowboys obviously have had issues with that team. This is a team with some talent, but they clearly don't know how to turn it into wins.
Sidenote: It was undetermined if Dez Bryant would even play today, due to his sore hip suffered against the Giants. He didn't practice all week but started the game. After his first catch, he seemed to be clearly bothered, limping on the sideline. I believe this is why he was absent from most of the gameplan tonight.