Had the Cowboys eked out a victory against the Ravens, it would have been a game for the silver-and-blue history books. As it turned out, it was the kind of game that many fans will try to forget.
The loss was even more bitter because Dallas had a chance to write the comeback story of the year, but at least they showed a willingness to fight. The margin between a win and a loss was razor thin, and there were only a few game-changing plays and players that tilted the balance.
It's the little things, stupid
Contrary to what the pundits have been saying all season, the Cowboys don't lack an identity. Quite the opposite: The Cowboys are schizophrenic. Consider this: The Cowboys got 143 rushing yards against the Giants, 49 against the Seahawks, 38 against the Bucs, 41 against the Bears and 227 against the Ravens. Dallas is both a running powerhouse and a team with a borderline inept ground game. It just depends on the day.
Complete games are hard to come by for the Dallas Cowboys. Be it a fumble on the opening kickoff or five interceptions, the Cowboys have all of their pistols aimed at their own feet.
Team discipline is just as problematic. Thirteen penalties in the opener, followed by five, 10, four and 13 again on Sunday tells you next to nothing about how well the Cowboys will mangage penalties.
Complete games are hard to come by for the Cowboys. Be it a fumble on the opening kickoff or five interceptions, they have all of their pistols aimed at their own feet. So when Romo plays a solid game, the running game explodes for 200-plus yards, and your defense holds Ray Rice to 63 rushing yards and Joe Flacco to 234 passing yards, you would think the Cowboys could come away with a win.
How do you fix general ineptitude? It's starts with Jason Garrett. Calling time-outs in the crucial final minutes of a game is not his forte. Watching the clock click down from 20 seconds to six was sheer torture, and Garrett let down his team when they needed him most.
Beyond clock management, the buck stops with Garrett for 13 penalties. Sure, there's no way to protect against phantom chop-block calls from the refs, but, regarding penalties, Garrett needs to draw a line in the sand that his players will be afraid to cross. Wide receivers getting pre-snap penalties should not be tolerated.
DeMarco Murray can do everything (except stay on the field)
In the first half, Murray looked like a man among boys. In the second half, Murray looked good in a hat. The Cowboys can't be too upset at Murray's injury-prone tag, because it allowed them to steal him in the third round of the draft. But they ought to consider limiting his touches, especially if Felix Jones can play at the level he did Sunday.
In the first half, DeMarco Murray looked like a man among boys. In the second half, he looked good in a hat.
But it would be damn near impossible for any coach not to want to put the ball in Murray's hands as much as possible.
Name a trait that you want in a tailback, and Murray showed it against the Ravens: pure burst in the backfield, ability to shed would-be tacklers, yards (and yards and yards) after first contact, solid hands, solid blocking and a down-field running style that is all action and no hesitation.
Murray claims that it was the medical staff's decision, not his, to keep him out of the game. That's somewhat reassuring. But DeMarco Murray is the real deal, and the Cowboys' season is resting squarely on his shoulders — if he can stay on the field.
The real Dez Bryant has finally stood up
Dez Bryant dropped the two-point conversion. There is no other way to start a conversation about Bryant's performance against the Ravens. The ball went right through his hands, and the Cowboys lost the game. As for the other 179 minutes and 55 seconds of the game? Well, Bryant was spectacular.
This performance was Bryant's coming out party. He took the offense on his back and single-handedly carried Tony Romo back to respectability.
Bryant played with a hard-nosed, gritty, last-game-of-my-life-type effort that, if he had caught the two-point conversion, would have led the Cowboys to victory (or at least to overtime).
Bryant was a workhorse, catching unglamorous passes on unglamorous routes and then fighting for every single inch the defenders would give him. He played with a hard-nosed, gritty, last-game-of-my-life-type effort that, if he had caught the two-point conversion, would have led the Cowboys to victory (or at least to overtime).
But he didn't catch the two-point conversion, and his hands are not 100 percent reliable. Seven drops so far this season is an especially poor start, and it's getting to be a common occurrence.
That said, Bryant flashed greatness against the Ravens, and Romo has now given Bryant the kind of sacred trust he once only reserved for Witten.
Feel free to drop Kevin Ogletree from your fantasy team
Remember the Giants game, when Ogletree was the second coming of Laurent Robinson? Football is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and Ogletree came up short against the Ravens when it mattered most.
With two passes to Ogletree turning into interceptions in the past two games (and what would have been a dropped TD pass on the phantom chop-block penalty play), expect Romo to send Ogletree's passes elsewhere. Also expect to see Ogletree hit the market at the end of the season.
The Cowboys need a third receiver, and they need someone who can make the most of limited touches. The Cowboys like talking about Andre Holmes every preseason; it's time to give the guy a chance.
Danny McCray is a liability waiting to be exploited
If you're not familiar with Danny McCray, you soon will be. He is no. 40 on defense. He is the safety who was so far out of position on so many plays that you could hardly tell whose team he was on.
Due to some benevolent force in the universe, the Ravens were unable to connect with the receivers that McCray left wide open. But any coach watching game film on the Cowboys will know where the weak spot on defense is.
The scary part is that McCray is the starting strong safety for the foreseeable future. With Barry Church out for the season, the Cowboys have no one other than McCray. As Alan Ball taught the Cowboys in 2010, one weak spot can bring down an entire defense. The Cowboys need a plan B at safety, and they need one fast.