As I watched the New York Giants dismantle the Atlanta Falcons yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder why that wasn’t the Cowboys playing in front of their home crowd, advancing to the round of eight. But really, were they that close to being a playoff team? Did they really have a chance to win that final game of the season and claim the NFC East? No doubt New Year’s Day was not a day of celebration for Cowboys players, coaches, ownership or fans. Instead the last game of the 2011 NFL season in the Meadowlands is a day they’d just as soon forget – again. But unfortunately that’s not an option as Jerry Jones and crew must now take time over the next few weeks and months to dissect just exactly what went right and wrong with another lost season that left the Cowboys on the outside looking in on the playoffs – again.
To recap the season:
An 8-8 record
3rd place finish in their division
Swept by both the Giants and Eagles
Lost 4 of their last 5 games (1-4 after Thanksgiving)
Only one of the 8 victories came against a team that finished with a winning record – San Francisco in week 2
Only 5 rushing touchdowns all season
Blew 4th quarter leads in 5 of their 8 losses
So what do we make of this team that finished another season mired in mediocrity? For the most part Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense played well. Of course there were a couple interception-laden meltdowns by the Cowboys QB (Jets and Lions come to mind), but for the most part he looked like an upper tier QB. The running game was finally starting to click when rookie standout DeMarco Murray suffered a broken ankle that ended his season. The Cowboys found another solid receiver in Chargers castoff Laurent Robinson, and I can’t think of many receiving crews that should be better than a combination of Robinson, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. I’m not, however, sold on Jason Garrett’s playing calling or clock management skills (I doubt anyone is including Jones).
What about the defensive side of the ball? Nobody in the locked-out off-season generated more publicity for the Cowboys than new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. From his pre-season prediction of a beat down of the Eagles (results: a 34-7 shellacking in the 1st meeting, and a 20-7 give-up in the 2nd), to his claim that this defense had more talent than any he’s ever coached, a lot of words were spoken without much being done on the field to back them up. For all of the chest pounding and blow-hardiness that Ryan had to offer, this was simply not a good defense. After giving up 37 points and 510 yards to the Giants in their first meeting, Ryan made the following promise before the final game, “We’re going to be great this week!” And what happened? They coughed up 31 points on 437 yards. Obviously his definition of “great” differs substantially than mine. I think Ryan sums up this team (players and owner included) in a nutshell. All talk no walk. And it’s been this way for years now.
So now Cowboys fans must endure another very long off-season, and wonder if there’s better days ahead. I seriously doubt it as long as the staus quo in Valley Ranch remains. Is the football structure of the Dallas Cowboys ever going to change as long as Jones is in charge? Should the General Manager of the Cowboys really also be the man in charge of marketing the team, booking Manny Pacquiao fights and NBA All-Star games? Can you picture Jon Daniels or Joe Nieuwendyk in those roles? Of course not. The GM should have a singular focus of building a winning team. But does anyone think Jones will ever admit that he’s not the best man for the job of GM? As much as fans hope and pray that he will, the simple answer is again “of course not.” And that’s a shame. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The Cowboys owner is not a stupid man by any stretch of the imagination, so maybe he’s just a little nuts?