The Cowboys Thanksgiving defeat to the Carolina Panthers was, in many ways, the epitome of the season. There was a long list of usual suspects that have been plaguing the team all season long. So it seems only fitting that the game that is, for all intent and purposes, throwing the dirt on top of this dreadful 2015 season - would see the Cowboys go out in the manner they did.
The Pick Six
Just 45 seconds into the game, disaster struck. Tony Romo thought he had a wide open Jason Witten for nice third down completion, but the Panthers had him baited nicely. Kurt Coleman jumped the route, intercepted the pass, and ran it back for the touchdown. Carolina's star linebacker, Luke Kuechly would repeat the feat late in the second half when he was able to jump in front of Terrance Williams and run it back for the score. To the Panthers credit, the spacing of their back seven was outstanding. They did a great job creating the illusion that receivers were open, but reacted so quickly to the where Romo was throwing the ball.
With the two pick sixes that Romo threw on Thursday, it now brings the season total to four, with Matt Cassel throwing the other two. These are back breaking plays. In the Carolina game, Dallas would need to play mistake-free football to have a chance. The Panthers ended up only scoring one offensive touchdown the entire game and it came late in the third quarter. Removing these costly mistakes and the Cowboys would've had a fighting chance to stay in the game.
Cassel had his pick sixes in the games against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Both came in the second half where the Cowboys offense was driving the ball into their opponent's territory. Instead of points for Dallas, they gave away a touchdown. It proved costly too as both of these games were decided by one touchdown.
A Bad Penalty
You could harp on the officiating in every game and there are always so many more self-inflicted problems the Cowboys create for themselves that it doesn't stand out as a difference maker, but it just seems like there is always that one call that the refs are just completely asleep on. After falling behind 10-0 against Carolina, the Cowboys offense put together a nice drive where they went 77 yards on 13 plays. On a second and goal, Romo threw a short pass to Darren McFadden. Panthers' linebacker, Thomas Davis, clearly hit McFadden before the ball arrived. This should have made it first and goal at the four yard line, giving the Cowboys a great chance of making it a 10-7 game. Instead, the offense failed to convert on third down and had to settle for a field goal.
The Cowboys have fallen victim to these types of things all season. Whether it is a referee giving Pete Carroll back-to-back timeouts or some questionable defensive holding calls are really bad times in the game - the officiating hasn't been very kind to Dallas in 2015.
RoMac Missed A Pick
On the Panthers very next possession, the Cowboys defense missed out on a chance to make a big play. Just as Kuechly had jumped in front of Romo, the Cowboys defense had an opportunity to return the favor. Rolando McClain made a great read and jumped in front of Greg Olson, but wasn't able to make the catch and smacked his hands together in frustration. He knew he should've caught it. An interception at that point could have meant two straight pick sixes for McClain, or at the very least - the Cowboys offense would have the ball deep in Carolina territory. That could've changed the dynamic of the game.
The 2015 Cowboys just don't take the ball away. They can't seem to go a game without dropping a would-be interception that is right in the defenders hands.
Romo Missed Dez Deep
Everyone knew that Panthers cornerback, Josh Norman was going to give Dez Bryant fits. So when Dez does win the battles, they need to make them count. They didn't. On a third and 14 play, Bryant had beaten the zone coverage and was open deep. Romo stepped up in the pocket, but didn't put the ball out in front of Dez. The Cowboys receiver got turned around and was unable to locate the pass.
Romo usually makes those passes and when he doesn't, it looks awfully like the passing game did without him. Cassel and Brandon Weeden would misfire more times than not whenever they took these types of shots downfield.
The Cowboys haven't been able to capitalize on turnovers when the ball is right in their hands, so it shouldn't matter too much that they don't get very good bounces. Cam Newton had a bad exchange on the read option that put the ball on the turf, but it stayed right in front of him so he could just pounce on it. The Cowboys had another opportunity when a punt hit a Panther player in the leg, but then just stuck right there next to him so he could immediately jump on it. And when the Cowboys young, pass rushing surprise, David Irving got his hand in to deflect a Newton pass, it just floated in the air waiting to be caught by...no one.
The Cowboys are just allergic to takeaways this season and these types of plays only serve as a tease to fans, because let's face it - they're not recovering any of these loose balls.
The Cowboys have had their share of coaching foul ups this season. Whether it be taking a timeout and leaving too much clock for Atlanta's offense in the first half of their week two game or just not being able to get the right personnel on the field. On Thursday, the blunder came in the form of the worst coach's challenge I have ever seen when someone, somehow manage to convince themselves that Greg Olsen didn't catch a pass. Jason Garrett gets his information from upstairs, but Wade Wilson must have been preoccupied playing Tecmo Bowl or something because that challenge wasn't even close. The only good thing about that miscue is that the game was never close enough to come back to haunt them. These types of things are just completely unacceptable.
Romo Goes Down
This entire season has been a disappointment largely due to the team losing all seven games where Tony Romo didn't start. Tony would break his clavicle in week two after landing wrong with a defender on top of him. On Thursday, Romo would go down again in similar fashion and is now lost for season.
And it just didn't feel like a surprise seeing Romo laying on his back. It was a fitting end to a season that has been full of disappointment.