HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?
In what was easily one of the most entertaining games of the season, the Dallas Cowboys comeback machine finally ran out of steam against the New Orleans Saints. After miraculously fighting their way into overtime, a stalled offensive drive, a sad defensive stand and an absurdly unlucky fumble led to a Cowboys loss that could have ended the season.
In the end, however, Jerry Jones got his wish from Santa: The New York Giants fell apart (yet again) against the Baltimore Ravens. Dallas controls its own playoff destiny as it faces the Redskins next week in D.C. Still, the loss to the Saints effectively knocked the Cowboys out of the wild card race, and it was these unfortunate game changers that swayed the balance:
My name is DeMarco Murray, and I am a fumbler
There's a timeless rule in the NFL, and it goes something like this: Running backs who fumble don't play running back for long. In the past two weeks, DeMarco Murray has given up two terribly costly fumbles — both of them within the 5-yard line — and the Cowboys brass must officially be in full out panic mode. If their workhorse, offensive-backbone running back is fumble prone (in addition to being injury prone), a good half of their offensive game plan has just been thrown out the window.
DeMarco Murray's greatest strength is slowly becoming his greatest weakness.
Murray's greatest strength is slowly becoming his greatest weakness: By refusing to go down easily, Murray racks up yards after contact and keeps opposing defenses guessing.
But by always striving for the extra yard or two, Murray ends up getting stood up and having the ball ripped form his arms. Sound familiar? Call it the Tony Romo syndrome. When trying to make something out of nothing, you open yourself up to the occasional game-destroying mistake.
DeMarco Murray is a fumbler. It's time for him to stand up before his team, admit his problem and resolve to change his ways. There's no undoing all the pain and suffering Murray has done to his teammates and the tens of millions of us in Cowboys nation, but a 100-plus yard game with no fumbles against the Redskins would be a good start.
The little-engine-that-could finally can't
The Cowboys must have finally used up all of their clutch karma against the Steelers last week. Down 14 points with less than six minutes to play, the Cowboys (once again) turned on the burners with alarming ease. Dez Bryant for 41 yards on a go route; Murray tiptoeing down the sideline for 15 yards; Dwayne Harris in the corner of the end zone, and there's seven points on the board. Then, with 20 yards to go and 20 seconds left, Romo finds Miles Austin on a beautiful outside route to tie the game.
It's a Cowboys Christmas miracle, right?
The real miracle would have been recovering the fumble in overtime, but, at some point, the ball is not going to keep bouncing your way. It was the Cowboys second holiday heartbreaker to the Saints in the past few years, and this one was all the more devastating with the playoffs on the line.
Sure, Tony Romo doesn't mind if the Cowboys are down 14 points in the fourth quarter, and it's clear that the Cowboys know how to mount a comeback. But when you can't put away games early you're always on the razor's edge in the win-loss column. After an impressive six-game run, the Cowboys magic finally ran dry, and their playoff hopes fell out of their own hands.
Credit where credit is due
Tony Romo to Dez Bryant is easily one of the hottest QB-WR duos in the league right now and the main reason why the Cowboys deserve a playoff birth.
After an impressive six-game run, the Cowboys magic finally ran dry.
Romo has been playing nearly flawless football for two months, and Bryant is shutting up his naysayers with every new multi-touchdown game.
Bryant was clearly too hot for the Saints' defense to handle, and the Cowboys will need to ride his burgeoning skills to beat the Redskins next week.
Jason Witten, by setting the record for most catches by a tight end in NFL history, is shoring up the case for being considered the best TE of all time. Unlike the Goliath Jimmy Graham (who's amazing size was counterbalanced by his amazingly bad hands), Witten's entry into the record books couldn't have come on a more apropos play: a short, workaday gain to the sideline to keep the drive moving.
Witten moves the chains, and he sure has moved a lot of them in his decade with the Cowboys.
Shame where shame is due
At some point, the injuries were going to catch up to the Cowboys. Sterling Moore and Brady Poppinga (who?) let Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham do whatever they wanted in the middle of the field, and the Saints put up points on cue.
But the Cowboys inability to get any sort of pressure on Drew Brees was the real killer. DeMarcus Ware missed most of the second half with a shoulder injury, and Victor Butler and Anthony Spencer stayed silent when the Cowboys needed them most.