Before I get into the smoldering rubble that is the Dallas Cowboys 2010 season, let me just point out that a win against the Giants yesterday would not constitute officially "saving the season" but merely the necessary first step in what would have needed to be at least three straight wins to get back within striking distance. So lets put the hallucinations of Dallas climbing out of the grave with this win to bed because it would have taken much, much more than a Monday Night win against New York to bring this club back from it's ugly 1-4 start.
When NYG linebacker busted through the offensive line untouched and drove Tony Romo to the ground, breaking his clavicle, that effectively ended the Cowboys season. As we learned in 2008, this is not a team with a strong backup quarterback since, what?, Bernie Kosar in 1993. There have been teams who have rallied behind a backup QB, but those typically aren't the teams that commit 10 penalties per game and drop to 1-5 despite having a 20-7 lead and forcing a bushel of takeaways.
Game over. Giants 41, Cowboys 35.
For the first time since 2005, the Cowboys won't be going down to the wire to determine their playoff positioning. Instead the 2010 campaign will focus on draft positioning more than anything. And just one year after winning a playoff game for the first time in over a decade, they officially will not have a chance to build on that accomplishment.
What is even more disappointing is that the Cowboys seemed to realize the trajectory of their season well before the clock hit zero. The "give up" was palpable and thus the season was over before the end of the game not because of Romo going down but also because of how the Cowboys responded to that challenge. If adversity is supposed to reveal the truth and character of a team, then the metroplex just got a rude awakening about America's Team.
With an opportunity to rally the troops, make a stand and fight off the division-leading Giants, instead the Cowboys defense crinkled, crumpled and crashed on five straight New York possessions, allowing four touchdowns and a field goal as the game -- and the season -- slipped away forever. It's not that the defense had to keep up their video-game pace of three takeaways on the Giants first four drives, but they allowed TD drives of 80, 56, 55 and 70 yards. The one time the defense effectively "held" was to turn a NYG short-field possession into only a field goal, but even by that point the handwriting was on the wall.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the loss was Jason Garrett's play-calling. The offensive coordinator was not only predictable but pedestrian, and he again tried to force the issue of running the ball against a team that doesn't allow teams to run. Not to mention the fact that the Cowboys aren't a running team. They haven't been since Romo took over. So with the season slipping away and John Kitna under center, why continue to hand the ball off for little to no results instead of taking chances in the passing game.
The final stats say Kitna went 16-for-33 for 187 yards and 2 TDs without an interception, but anyone watching the game knows that most of that came after the game was already out of hand. Garrett played it conservative with Kitna when Dallas no longer had the luxury of conservatism. They had to air it out. They had to sling it. They had to take their shots and create their own opportunities through the air, but that didn't happen -- at least not while things were manageable.
It would have been easier seeing the Cowboys go down in flames with Garrett and Kitna trying to make something happen, but either he was not adequately prepared (which I don't believe considering his history in this league) or the Cowboys coaches were scared. It showed. In the 2nd quarter, John Kitna played all but one offensive play for Dallas -- Romo's pass to Austin that got him knocked out of the game, and in that time, the Cowboys offense sputtered as the Giants pulled ahead.
On Kitna's first drive, he attempted two passes, completing one, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal and a 13-7 lead. Dallas' offense next touched the ball 5:48 later when the Giants had pulled within six points, 20-14. They went 3-and-out after a 1st down handoff to Felix Jones went for no gain, or as Wade Phillips might refer to it as: "no loss of yards, which is a positive thing and I'm proud of our guys for."
New York drove for a touchdown and a 21-20 lead. Dallas turned the ball over on its next possession on a Kitna completion to Jason Witten which was fumbled away to the Giants, who kicked a field goal to close the half. Kitna went 2-for-4 for 10 yards in the quarter, completing five yard passes to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten while also taking a sack for a loss of 10 on 3rd and long. At that point, the Cowboys were losing and moment was clearly shifting.
Dallas needed a spark early in the second half, but aside from an ill-conceived fake lateral on the second half opening kickoff there was no spark. The Cowboys went 3-and-out, and the Giants drove down for the game-clinching touchdown and a 31-20 lead with less than 5 minutes gone by in the 3rd quarter.
But even with the offense struggling and Garrett predictably calling his plays, the main onus for this was on the defense. The Cowboys had no sense of urgency to make a stop and take over the game. Guys whiffed on tackles and were shoved around when they should have banded together and rallied. It was ugly and embarrassing. Mr. Fix It? Hardly.
With that sense of "give up" in the air at Cowboys Stadium, I had an eerie flashback feeling. The only player on the Cowboys who seemed to still be playing throughout the game either because or in spite of the score was Dez Bryant. Seeing No. 88 still churning even in the face of a clear loss seemed like Michael Irvin's rookie year of 1988. It's well documented that when Jimmy Johnson came in the following season, Irvin went to his former college coach with a list of the veterans who were only playing for the paycheck and had no desire to win. They suffered from the "give up" bug, and Johnson rid his roster of those players.
Once again, only the rookie with wide eyes and a full heart seemed proud to put on his uniform and get on the field. Short of DeMarcus Ware's strip of Eli Manning which New York recovered, did anyone else display a hint of passion? No need to respond, we all know the answer to that question.
Miles Austin had his most disappointing game since he became a household name after the Kansas City win last year. His early drop in the end zone cost Dallas an early touchdown. He followed with another drop shortly thereafter and finished with three catches for 38 yards.
The Cowboys couldn't run the ball, stop the run, stop the pass or even show signs of life. They are now 1-5. The quarterback for the foreseeable future is John Kitna. And Tony Romo should be shut down for the rest of the year regardless of when he'll be able to get back on the field. If he's available to come back in Week 14 or 15, the Cowboys will be officially eliminated from the postseason by that point, so there is no point in risking further injury to Romo. Shoot, perhaps it's time to find out what Steven McGee brings to the table.
Wade Phillips made baffling coaching decision after baffling coaching decision, and even in a game in which the Cowboys finally seem to fix their penalty fiasco, the Cowboys were a rudderless ship. Challenging the spot of the ball early in the game was a bad challenge even though it seemed like a generous spot. That is one of the toughest challenges in the NFL because it's not as easy as determining a clear-cut black-and-white knee down or foot in bounds. It was a waste of a timeout and really just a braindead decision. But his option to go for 4th and Goal from the 7-yard line down 18 points instead of kicking a field goal to make it a two-possession game was the glaring example that Phillips, much like this season, was officially lost.