In a 16 game season, it may be difficult to believe that you can lose your post season birth in less than 5 minutes and in only 2 plays. “Welcome to our world.” We are Cowboys fans.
Clue: It’s not the Giants game
You might assume that I am going to go back to the Giants game at the end of the season where the Cowboys were in control of their own destiny. Just win and they were hosting a playoff game. But actually when you look back on that game, Eli Manning and the Giants were just getting hot and beginning to make their Super Bowl run.
The Cowboys on the other hand, were coming into that game with no momentum whatsoever and with injuries to key players like their young star running back Murray. The Giants were ahead 21-0 at the half and you might say this one was over before it began. No two plays make a difference in this one.
The time of the crime: Week 4, 10/2/11
I’m going all the way back to week 4 on October 2, 2011. It’s not often that your season can be blown that early in the regular season but it shows you what makes the NFL regular season so exciting. Each game can really matter but you just may not realize the repercussions until later.
The Opponent: The Lions
Now it may be coming back to Cowboy fans like a nightmare which is how the second half of this one unfolded. The Cowboys were up 20-3 at the half against the Lions and were basically dominating the game. At the time, these two teams were playing for a wildcard spot at the end of the season but they just didn’t realize it.
Discovery: 4 minutes and 30 seconds of bad football is all you need to blow a season.
Up 27-3 in the 3rd quarter, the Cowboys were in cruise control when disaster struck.
PLAY # 1- At the 10:15 mark of the third, Romo dropped back and threw a pick to former Cowboy, Bobby Carpenter who took it back for a TD. “OK, we still have a nice lead. Shake it off, burn some clock and put together a scoring drive.”
PLAY #2– At the 5:45 mark, and on the very next drive, Romo threw another pick to Chris Houston (from Austin, Texas) who took it 56 yards for a TD.
The momentum turned 180 degrees and although the Cowboys defense had an opportunity to preserve a win late in the game, they just couldn’t get it done. But they shouldn’t have been put in a back to the wall situation anyway. Can’t really hang this one on the defense. They lost to the Lions 34-30.
What if the Cowboys hold on to a 24 point second half lead?
The Cowboys would have finished the season 9-7 (instead of 8-8) and the Lions would have finished 9-7 (instead of 10-6). The tie breaker would have gone to the Cowboys who won the head to head battle clinching a wildcard birth.
Of course we don’t know if Dallas wins that Lions game minus those two pick sixes, but I’m convinced they would have won and consequently made the playoffs as a wildcard. And that just might have reduced the tension a little bit in the off-season around Valley Ranch.
By no means do I intend to blame Romo for them failing to make the post season. Statistically Romo had a great 2011 season and without him, they certainly would have lost more games. He displayed guts while playing with cracked ribs but it just shows you how fragile an NFL season can be. Just a couple bad plays can haunt you later.
As the Cowboys begin OTAs this week, I hope Head Coach Garrett reminds them that every single play matters more than you may realize and it only takes 4 minutes and 30 seconds of poor play, to blow your season.