I hate being right.
Every week, I want the Cowboys to win. I believe the Cowboys will win. Only once in the modern era has any NFL fan been right all the way through the season.
This loss is a good thing for the Cowboys. They beat an overrated team that got hot at the right time and then lost key pieces. The Giants had lost two key offensive pieces to the San Fransisco 49ers-- power back Brandon Jacobs and experienced third receiver Mario Manningham. They also had a weakened secondary because of injuries.
This game will remind the Cowboys that they are not invincible.
The biggest factor was the special teams play. The obvious examples are the early fumble by Felix Jones and the blocked punt, but there were more mistakes throughout the game.
A muffed punt by would-be superstar Dez Bryant cost the Cowboys a chance to make a momentum-changing play at the end of the first half. He was lucky enough to recover it and not hand more points to Seattle, but it was still costly.
Felix Jones was ineffective as a kick returner, with a return average of 21.8 yards. With kickoffs being moved to the 35 last year, that would put the Cowboys starting at around the 17.
Of course, none of that matters if the offense doesn't go anywhere. I predicted that Bryant and Austin would combine for less than 100 receiving yards (they had 80) and Ogletree wouldn't have a big game (one catch for 26 yards, one end-around for 5 yards). What I didn't expect was how limited DeMarco Murray and the run game was-- 3.7 yards per carry (in his defense, he spent of lot of time dodging or running over defenders that caught him in the backfield).
The biggest killer of the offense was Witten. I believed he was due for a big game, but the truth is, he hasn't been able to practice much. He got hurt in Week 1 of the preseason, and wasn't even cleared for contact until the day of the season opener- about the only way it could have been worse is if he missed training camp. He was always going to be rusty, and in a game where he was going to be the open man, that hurt.
I also have to question one of the calls of the officials. Sean Lee was knocked out of the game for a few plays, and could have been knocked out for longer, because Seattle receiver Brandon Tate blindsided Lee and put his helmet in Lee's chin. Somehow that did not warrant a flag, but a light shove as Russell Wilson goes out of bounds it grounds for unnecessary roughness on Bruce Carter.
If Tate had been flagged instead of Carter, the Seahawks would have been in a 2nd and 27 situation, and the Cowboys would have had a very real shot at getting the ball back in good field position, and with better than ten minutes to make up two scores. Instead, the penalty pushed Seattle across midfield, and the Cowboys had to play on without their up and coming MLB, leading to the final nail in the coffin.
Quick note: Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa were calling for a flag on Tate, saying that players being hit with "peelback" blocks were considered defenseless and helmet to helmet blows were off-limits, but this is untrue as of right now. The rules were changed to reflect that in college football this summer, but the NFL has not implemented this rule. Anyone care to lay odds on whether or not they make the "Brandon Tate" rule next year?
The coaches can correct these problems. The biggest article on FN right now suggests that Felix Jones should be cut, despite Jerry Jones' desire to have a fellow Razorback on the team, and after this game I am inclined to agree-- save that space for a player you can develop, and don't re-sign Felix Jones. At the very least, coach him on ball protection and not returning the ball if he can't get it past the 20 yard line.
Take Dez Bryant off punt returns, and work on his hands (he dropped multiple passes). Make him understand that he needs to live up to his contract, and soon, if he wants to be more than just a freakishly athletic decoy. I'd include Witten in these hands drills, but that is less important- his catching skills will return.
Most importantly, work on special teams. Make sure the blockers are in sync, make sure that they NEVER allow a blocked punt like that again.
If the Cowboys play this same game in the playoffs, they should jump to an early lead and never look back, so long as passes are caught and special teams doesn't make those same mistakes. It will keep the crowd out of the game, and keep Marshawn Lynch from feeding off the crowd.
Remember fans, this game was a wake-up call. Better to lose one early against a team that is better than their record suggests than to lose one late against a division foe that should be easy to beat.
Next week's foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, should be much easier- a nice pick-me-up game before facing the Bears and hitting the bye-week showers.
The author hates being right, but had to look at this game as a journalist (and has this weird ability to compartmentalize his mind, so the fan side of him doesn't affect his opinion). He does believe that, based on the results from this year's games, this game will be one of the toughest games this season (along with the Ravens, Steelers, and the two Redskins games).
You can congratulate him for his mad analysis skills, or tell him to stop bragging, on Twitter (@RGDSports) or Facebook (RGDSports@yahoo.com). You can also ask him to spot you seven points in a game of Madden, so long as you are able to name the team on his hat.