How quickly the dark clouds blacken the bright skies in Dallas. The Cowboys were being acclaimed as the NFC's hottest team outside of New Orleans, and four straight wins - combined with a New York Giants recent fading - left Dallas atop the NFC East.
Tony Romo undefeated in November. Cowboys have won four straight. The Packers coming off an embarrassing loss to the Buccaneers. And yet somehow this hot-hot-hot Cowboys team displayed levels of offense this franchise hadn't seen since Brad Johnson had to fill in for an injured Romo last season, all in a momentum-halting 17-7 loss in Green Bay.
Here's how the Cowboys offense did in each possession on Sunday:
|Dallas Drive Summaries|
|13:37||1||03:05||DAL 39||7||41||Missed FG|
|04:03||2||00:00||DAL 28||1||0||Fumble Recovery (Opponent)|
|10:49||4||04:52||DAL 23||15||76||Intercepted Pass|
So basically the Cowboys had more three-and-out drives (five) than trips into scoring range (four). In fact, it wasn't until the fourth quarter that Dallas even made its offensive statistics even respectable. After three quarters of play, the Cowboys had less than half of the time of possession than the Packers (14:58 to 30:02), had only five first downs, had only 114 yards, and were 0-for-7 on third downs.
Maybe it was the early injury to Marc Colombo. Maybe it was just plain lack of offensive rhythm. Maybe Tony Romo was just off today. Or perhaps it was the complete LACK of a running game whatsoever. Whatever the reason, the Cowboys are now 6-3 with a must-win game next week against the Redskins to maintain control of the NFC East.
Looking around the offense, there was a complete lack of capability across the field. Perhaps the best player on the offensive side of the ball watch Patrick Crayton, who hauled in a big 4th down reception when the Cowboys looked as if they might make a late-game charge. That drive, however, ended with a Romo interception in the red zone. Crayton had four catches for 52 yards.
Other wide receivers appeared asleep at the wheel at best. Miles Austin put in a quite 4 catches for 20 yards, with 14 of those yards on one play.
Then there was Roy Williams. Williams, who looked as if he would finally put up some Number 1 numbers instead will be remembered in this game for plays he didn't make. Williams had a game-high 5 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. However an early fumble turned a promising offensive possession into a toe-stubbing embarrassment. Another key drop on a 3rd down play also cost the Cowboys offense a chance to keep things closer late in the game.
Romo didn't look lost out there, just helpless (24-of-39, 251 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 78.0 rating). He completed plenty of passes down the stretch as the Cowboys tried to rally (16-of-25 for 178 yards in the fourth quarter), but it was too little too late. Although I guess Dallas didn't have many other options. The Cowboys put the ball in the air because there were simply no options on the ground. As a result, the Packers front seven pinned their ears back and got after Romo to the tune of five sacks and plenty more knockdowns. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett abandoned the run early, and Dallas finished with just 61 yards on the ground.
The 26 yards and 5 carries for Marion Barber were both his worst on the season despite Sunday's 5.2 yards per carry. Outside of his injury-riddled end to the 2008 season, MB3 has never been this ineffective. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice made cameo appearances about as meaningful as Ben Affleck's brief appearance on last week's episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The defense kept Dallas in the hunt for 3+ quarters of football, allowing a meager 3 points, but two fourth quarter turnovers tipped the scales.
Last point about Sunday's game. I still don't get why a fumble recovery in the field of play isn't reviewable. It seems like one of those things that wouldn't be challenged very often simply because so many fumble recoveries take place in the bottom of a big pile where no camera would be able to provide conclusive video evidence of who initially recovered the ball. Yet in this situation the Packers were the beneficiaries of a seemingly glaring omission of the capabilities of instant replay. Furthermore, I'm quite certain that the Packers' request for a challenge when they no longer had a challenge left should result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for delaying the game. I seem to remember something like this being called on Bill Parcells during his time in Dallas against New Orleans a few years ago.
I don't mean to be a fickle-minded flip-flopper, but while everything looked so crispy and easy for the Cowboys over the last three weeks, we didn't see the same team this week against a very beatable Packers team. Now Dallas will throw out their 6-3 record against arch-rival 3-6 Washington next week in Dallas before a Thanksgiving date with Oakland. It could be a happy Thanksgiving at 8-3 or a ho-hum 7-4 for the holiday. It just depends which offense shows up next week.