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Cowboys game changers: Red zone woes, scrawny Scandrick and squandered opportunities

Matt Ryan was too much for the Cowboys, who fall to 3-5 at the halfway point of the season
Matt Ryan escaped a solid effort from the Dallas defense to put the Cowboys at 3-5 at the halfway mark. Dallas Cowboys Facebook
On Sunday night, Jason Witten passed Michael Irvin in the Cowboys all-time receptions record. Dallas Cowboys Facebook
Matt Ryan was too much for the Cowboys, who fall to 3-5 at the halfway point of the season

The Cowboys played a solid game in Atlanta. Most of Tony Romo's passes went to his own teammates, and Jason Witten passed Michael Irvin in all-time team receptions. But solid simply was not enough against the best team in the league.

The Cowboys had their chances, but, in a result that surprised no one, they couldn't come up with the big plays when it mattered most.

When you're up against the best passing attack in the league, giving up 19 points on defense is more than respectable.

There's no doubt that Dallas had a chance to hand the Falcons their first loss of the season, but these game changers kept the magic from happening and left Dallas at 3-5 halfway through the season.

Offense does everything but score
The Cowboys have the sixth-most yards in the league this season. Their passing attack is ranked third. But in points? The Cowboys rank 26th.

 The Atlanta Falcons don't hold the No. 1 spot in the NFL by giving away games; every point you score against them has to be earned.

On their first trip to the red zone, Jason Garrett essentially threw away the Cowboys' second-down play by running Felix Jones up the middle. It's no secret that Jones has been one of the worst running backs all season, and Garrett's decision to keep the ball out of Romo's hands is inexplicable considering the disparities between the rushing and passing games.

On the following play, Romo scrambled and had an opportunity to float the ball to Cole Beasley in the corner of the end zone — but simply overthrew him. The Cowboys kicked a field goal when they should have gotten seven.

After the Falcons' missed field goal and a 65-yard bomb to Kevin Ogletree, the Cowboys found themselves once again in the red zone early in the first quarter. A Lance Dunbar drop and a battered ball later, and the Cowboys are scoring three with their feet instead of six with their hands. 

The Atlanta Falcons don't hold the No. 1 spot in the NFL by giving away games; every point you score against them has to be earned. The Cowboys had the opportunity to go up 14-0 in the first quarter but ended the half with only six points.

Jason Garrett is stuck at Princeton
Red zone inadequacies have been the story of Garrett's tenure as Cowboys offensive coordinator, so it's expected that the Cowboys can earn 90 yards down the field without a problem, only to sputter over the last 10.

After years of the same result, Garrett has to realize that the Cowboys have no choice but to strike when the opportunity presents itself. The Cowboys were up 6-3 with about a minute left in the first half when the Cowboys came up inches short of a first down at the 50-yard line.

The initial blame falls on Romo for not immediately running to the line and trying to catch the Falcons off guard with a QB sneak. But after reviewing the play and having time to think, Garrett punted the ball away.

 After years of the same result, Garrett has to realize that the Cowboys have no choice but to strike when the opportunity presents itself.

Ivy Leaguer that he is, Garrett saw a score of 6-3 and realized that six is higher than three. Sensing the advantage, Garrett decided to go with the conservative play.

Any of the 31 other coaches in the NFL would have gone with their gut and tried to put the dagger in Atlanta while the momentum was on their side, but Garrett went with his head and maintained his three-point lead. Within the next minute, Atlanta scored a field goal, tied the game and stole the momentum for the remaining 30 minutes of play.

You don't get more than one or two chances to beat the Falcons, so throwing away a drive because you're four inches short of a first down is the same as putting down the clipboard and having Jerry Jones phone in a forfeit. Garrett's timidity hurt the Cowboys yet again.

Credit where credit is due
Although they sputtered in the fourth quarter, the Dallas defense once again looked solid. Bruce Carter made a name for himself on national television with the best game of his career, and Brandon Carr had his best play as a Cowboy with a beautiful deflection in the corner of the end zone.  

Romo did most everything you could ask of him, including going seven of seven on the penultimate drive to score a touchdown and give the Cowboys a fighting chance. Romo looked consistent, which is a word he doesn't often hear.

Shame where shame is due
Orlando Scandrick had a chance to stop the Falcons on their final drive but couldn't make the tackle. Although his coverage looked excellent all night, the Falcons picked on Scandrick's small size in the fourth quarter as the bigger boys ran right through him.  

Three weeks ago, Dez Bryant had 13 catches. Last night he had one. When will Bryant become a real part of the offense rather than a trick play that works every now and again?

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