By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts double-duty beat man
Move over Wile E. Coyote and Skeletor. The Dallas Cowboys are now the nation's newest cartoon villains. For all the football fans annoyed by the five Super Bowls and the “America’s Team” moniker, the Cowboys are seen as the “evil guys” of the NFL, and nothing makes for better entertainment than another Cowboys collapse.
Now what makes the Cowboys cartoon villains? Given the team’s losses last year, it perfectly fits the script of a cartoon. The protagonists always win out in the end, no matter how much the villains bully and beatdown their opponents. Just note the cartoonish losses by the Cowboys last year:
Week 1, 13-7 at Washington: The Cowboys inexplicably fumble away the final play of the first half for a Redskins touchdown. Then, an Alex Barron holding negates the game-tying (and potential game-winning) touchdown on the final play.
Week 5, 34-27 v. Tennessee: The Cowboys outgain the Titans 511-321, but give the Titans a short field for the final two touchdowns. The last two touchdown drives need only a combined six yards for Tennessee, which is part of the reason why the Titans finished 3rd in Scoreability and the Cowboys finished last in Bendability.
Week 6, 24-21 at Minnesota: The Cowboys outgain the Vikings 314-188, but allow a kick return for a touchdown to start the second half. Romo throws an interception in the fourth quarter that leads to the go-ahead field goal.
Week 7, 41-35 v. New York Giants: The Cowboys blow a 20-7 lead by allowing 31 unanswered points. Chris Gronkowski fails to block Justin Tuck, who breaks Romo’s collarbone and the Cowboys final hope of making the playoffs.
Week 12, 30-27 v. New Orleans: Roy Williams fumbles after making 47-yard reception that all but seals a victory. The defense allows an 89-yard touchdown drive. Then, David Buehler missed the game-tying field goal.
Week 16, 27-26 at Arizona: Fall behind 21-3 on after the Cardinals return two interceptions for a touchdown and make a 72-yard touchdown pass to little-known Andre Roberts. Cowboys take lead, but Buehler misses an extra point to make it 26-24. Jay Feely kicks home the game-winner in the final seconds.
Last night, the newest protoganists became Mouthasaurus Rex and his handsome sidekick, Mark Sanchez, as the New York Jets took advantage of late Cowboys gaffes en route to a 27-24 victory.
Don’t look down as you run off the ledge. Here comes five things we learned Sunday night:
1. Before Dez Bryant injured his left thigh, he looked awesome.
Reports are surfacing that owner/GM Jerry Jones “strongly hinted” he doesn’t want Bryant to return punts anyone. Who can blame him? Bryant tore up the Jets secondary before he suffered a bruised quad on a punt return he nearly broke free for a touchdown.
Bryant made a spectacular leaping grab in traffic for 26 yards on the ensuing drive, but he didn’t make a catch after that. On the first drive, though, Bryant looked ready to break out with a dominant game. Bryant first snared a high slant pass for 42 yards, then abused Antonio Cromartie on a fade pass for a three-yard touchdown reception.
Both of the fourth quarter turnovers by the Cowboys (excluding the game-ending lateral play) came on pass plays intended for Bryant. Who knows what happens if he doesn’t hurt his quad on a special teams play.
2. The Cowboys proved why they struggle with Scoreability.
With 24 points and 390 total yards, Dallas finished with a subpar Scoreability
(16.25 YPPA). Outside Tony Romo’s fumble, there’s not any other mistake that really explained why to couldn’t score more points.
Instead, the team’s second drive might best explain why the Cowboys struggle with Scoreability. After Bryant made his third and final spectacular catch, Dallas stood at the Jets 36-yard line. After that came the following sequence, as described by the NFL.com play charts:
1-10-NYJ 36 (7:17) 23-T.Choice up the middle to NYJ 34 for 2 yards (94-M.Dixon).
2-8-NYJ 34 (6:38) 9-T.Romo sacked at NYJ 41 for -7 yards (57-B.Scott).
3-15-NYJ 41 (6:38) (Shotgun) PENALTY on DAL, Offensive 12 On-field, 5 yards, enforced at NYJ 41 - No Play.
3-20-NYJ 46 (5:39) (Shotgun) PENALTY on DAL-9-T.Romo, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at NYJ 46 - No Play.
3-25-DAL 49 (5:14) (Shotgun) 9-T.Romo pass short left to 23-T.Choice to NYJ 46 for 5 yards (20-K.Wilson).
This sequence counts for a net zero yards, but it swiftly moved the Cowboys out of scoring position. Take away the negative play and two penalties, and Dallas can attempt a 46- or 47-yard field goal from Dan Bailey or David Buehler. Instead, they punt and give the Jets the ball at their own 16.
3. Tony Romo's fourth-quarter fumble hurt…a lot.
It’s tough to blame for Romo trying to score a touchdown, but he threw three points out the window as he fumbled a third-and-goal scrambling attempt early in the fourth quarter. The turnover kept the score 24-17, and it firmly put momentum in favor of the hometown Jets.
While Romo tried to secure to the ball, he needlessly dove forward about four yards away from the end zone. Sorry, Tony, you’re not Michael Vick. That wasn’t going to be a touchdown. Romo needed to think about the three points first and his health second, so he must slide feet first. Doing so nearly guarantees the Cowboys three points and a 27-17 lead. More importantly, it doesn’t give the Jets a huge momentum.
The momentum was easy to gauge. Only after Romo's fumble did the Cowboys began its downward spiral. Even after the Cowboys recovered a fumble on the ensuing drive, Dallas followed with negative run, two penalties, two incompletes and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown on the next drive.
All that led up to Romo’s terrible interception to Darrelle Revis and New York’s go-ahead field goal in the final minute. Maybe the blocked punt still happens without the Romo fumble, but this interception absolutely doesn't happen. At the least, the Cowboys led 27-24 at that point, so the run game comes to focus.
4. Tony Romo won’t be an elite quarterback until he learns the little things involved with game management.
Romo’s decision to dive instead of slide on the game-changing fumble proves this point. None of the elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers will gamble the chance for three points when it would give his team a two-possession lead in the final 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, the interception comes down to a bad play call and bad execution. With one timeout and 59 seconds left on the clock, the Cowboys reasonably could drive 40 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Instead of trying a fade on the sideline, Romo should have taken care of the ball and attacked down the middle while he still could afford time.
Romo’s career numbers are spectacular: 1349 of 2106 (64.1%), 16992 yards, 8.07 YPA, 120 TD, 63 INT, 95.6 passer rating. If he retires today, he’ll end his career fourth all-time in yards per attempt, one of the best indicators through all eras for success. Clearly, he’s a darn good quarterback. However, he makes far too many untimely mistakes to be one of the best. Changing his mentality during crucial late-game situations could change the perception he earned as a “choke artist.”
5. As expected, the Cowboys proved to be a team that can play with anybody, but can’t put away Quality Opponents.
In many ways, Dallas defied the pundits and took it to the Jets. While the Jets outhogged the Cowboys, it wasn’t nearly as bad as expected.
Rushing YPA: Dallas 2.46 (26 carries for 64 yards), New York 2.81 (16 carries for 45 yards)
Negative Play Percentage: Dallas 12.5% (four sacks, one interception in 40 dropbacks), New York 9.6% (four sacks, one interception in 48 dropbacks)
Third Down Percentage: Dallas 33.3% (four of 12), New York 42.9% (six of 14)
Several pundits, those who failed to look at the Cold Hard Football Facts, believed the Jets beat the Cowboys going away. They sighted the offensive line changes for Dallas, and it even led one Sirius XM host to say he was “worried for [Tony] Romo’s health.”
The Cowboys moved the ball like they always do, yet allowed 17 points on 144 yards (8.47 YPPA) in the fourth quarter, continuing the team’s problems with Bendability after finishing dead last in 2010. Given, none of the three game-defining came on defense, but the Mathletics already proved the pass defense would play better.
What did you expect? The cartoon villain always finishes last against the true heroes. Just ask Shredder
(who CM Punk recently ripped apart
on a week-to-week basis) and Dr. Claw (pictured above).
The Cowboys may bounce back and make the playoffs in 2011, but they won’t be able to beat the best without eliminating the cartoonish mistakes.