The Dallas Cowboys are reeling. The last time Dallas had a five-game losing streak, they fired their coach. Similarly, the team was coming off its most successful season in some time and predictions and hopes were both high. What's scarier, however, is the way this team has lost.
There is a tendency to believe that bad teams simply can't compete. This is not the case in the modern NFL where parity is the rule. Bad teams don't finish. Last year, Dallas did an amazing job of finishing every game. No excuses for lack of talent or injuries, just find a way to get the job done.
This year has been the opposite, since the loss of Tony Romo. The team has lost the heart and fight that made it so strong last year. Perhaps Dawn Macelli's contention that Romo's leadership is precisely what is missing is the truth. I certainly believe that Romo's leadership has been undervalued by many. But regardless of the root cause, the team is giving games away where before they found a will to win. An essential part of Jason Garrett's philosophy is having a team that fights tooth and nail. This team has not shown that iron will.
Many will point to turnovers or offensive weakness, but let us look at a real recap of the four leads that Dallas has given up this year:
After taking a two touchdown lead into the locker room at half time, Dallas gave up three touchdowns to Atlanta without a single answering point in the second half.
With a 10-7 halftime lead at New Orleans, Dallas found itself tied 13-13 in the 4th quarter. They gave up an 11-play touchdown drive to fall behind. The offense made a heroic drive to force overtime, only to have the defense give up an 80-yard touchdown on an outlet pass to running back C. J. Spiller.
Against the Giants, the team erased a half time lead by committing three turnovers, one of which directly produced a touchdown, and then combined to overcome a that deficit and tie the game with about seven minutes to go. The Giants offense had been stymied all game and a win seemed not only plausible but even likely... until a massive special teams failure gave up the winning touchdown.
With a two point lead in the fourth quarter, the Dallas defense stopped Seattle just across midfield and then blocked a long field goal attempt. Any drive at all would've likely been enough to seal the game. The offense went three and out and the defense, which had been strong all game, promptly allowed a SEVENTEEN PLAY drive to give up the game winning field goal.
The complete failure to execute when the game needs to be put away is something we, as Cowboys fans, have seen before. We thought that Jason Garrett had rid the team of this habit. We thought that perhaps what we were seeing was a simple illusion caused by the lack of offensive talent. It's becoming all too clear that this is not the case.
Dallas has forgotten how to finish. Winning games is a habit, and they have lost that habit. They'd better find it again, fast, because the Eagles are coming this week, and a loss to them would, without question, end the season. Yet a win in Cowboys Stadium next week followed by a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following week would put everything aright... with Dallas right where they needed to be at one game below .500 with seven left to play as Tony Romo returns.
The season is not lost yet, but the room for error is gone.