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News » The Dallas Morning News Jean-Jacques Taylor column: 10 plays that shaped that shaped the Dallas Cowboys' season

The Dallas Morning News Jean-Jacques Taylor column: 10 plays that shaped that shaped the Dallas Cowboys' season

The Dallas Morning News Jean-Jacques Taylor column: 10 plays that shaped that shaped the Dallas Cowboys' season
Jan. 1--Most of the time, a few plays here or there define a team's season. This time, the Cowboys' season fell apart on a picturesque fall day in Arizona.

You simply saw the end product in Philadelphia, where the Eagles humiliated Dallas, 44-6.

Not only did the Cowboys lose to Arizona on a blocked punt in overtime returned for a touchdown, they lost Tony Romo for three games, rookie sensation Felix Jones and punter Mat McBriar for the season and their cloak of invincibility after suffering consecutive losses.

A team that began training camp with Super Bowl aspirations finished 9-7 and didn't even make the playoffs.

"This game is tough. It always seems to come down to a few plays," tight end Jason Witten said. "We had the penalty in the Washington loss. The loss in Arizona where Tony gets hurt. We had the plays at the end of the Baltimore game, and we think we're going to have a game-winning drive against Pittsburgh, but it doesn't work out that way.

"But that's Football. You can't feel sorry for yourself. It happens every game. It's about making plays."

He's right.

Dallas didn't make nearly enough of them. That's why this is the most disappointing season in franchise history.


The Injury

Game: Oct. 12, Cowboys at Cardinals

Play: Chike Okeafor sacks Tony Romo

Score: Tied, 24-24, in overtime

Situation: Cowboys' ball, first-and-10 from Dallas 15

Significance: More than two months after the play, Deon Anderson still doesn't like talking about the missed block that resulted in Tony Romo's broken finger. "It was kind of a physical mistake," he said, "and it was kind of a mental mistake." Romo fumbled on the sack, though he recovered. More important, he broke his right pinkie. His next two passes were incomplete, forcing the Cowboys to punt. Arizona blocked the kick, returning it for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Fallout: Romo missed the next three games -- Dallas went 1-2 -- and the the Cowboys eventually lost four of six games and fell out of contention in the NFC East.

Taylor's take: This game, more than any other, affected the Cowboys' season. When it ended, they had lost Romo for three games and Mat McBriar (foot) and Felix Jones (hamstring) for the season. We all know they would've beaten the raggedy Rams with Romo in the lineup and, maybe, their cloak of invincibility wouldn't have been ripped off. That was the first real indication that we had overrated the Cowboys and that they were content to underachieve.


The catch and run

Game: Dec. 27, Cowboys at Eagles

Play: Correll Buckhalter 59-yard reception

Score: Tied, 3-3, one play into the second quarter

Situation: Eagles' ball, third-and-7 from the Philadelphia 35

Significance: The Cowboys had just answered Philadelphia's first scoring drive with an impressive 15-play, 68-yard drive to tie the score. Get a stop and they could try to seize control of the game. Instead, Donovan McNabb's improvisational skills, took over. He eluded the rush and moved to his right. Buckhalter, who was blocking on the play, found some room in the middle of the field, and McNabb hit him in stride with a 3-yard pass. Buckhalter did the rest, running through arm tackles by Terence Newman and Anthony Henry until Adam Jones pulled him down at the Dallas 6.

Fallout: Buckhalter's catch and run triggered a 41-0 burst during the second and third quarters, ensuring that Philadelphia would be going to the playoffs while Dallas stayed home.

Taylor's take: This was the most shameful, gutless performance in a big game in franchise history. The sad part is, I knew this game was over at 17-3. You just knew this dysfunctional team filled with players concerned more about their own agendas than winning wouldn't find the gumption to rally. The Eagles would've scored 60 if Andy Reid weren't such a classy guy.


The Touchdown

Game: Oct. 19, Cowboys at Rams

Play: Donnie Avery catches 42-yard touchdown pass from Marc Bulger

Score: Dallas, 7-0, midway through the first quarter

Situation: Rams' ball, first-and-10 from Dallas 42

Significance: Winless St. Louis had scored four offensive touchdowns in its first five games. If not for Detroit, the Rams would've easily been the league's worst team. All Dallas had to do was show up with backup quarterback Brad Johnson, play well early and wait for them to lie down. It never happened. On the Rams' first series, Marc Bulger completed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery, who ran past Anthony Henry, tying the score.

Fallout: The worst thing you can give a bad team is confidence. St. Louis had plenty after Avery's touchdown. The Rams led 21-7 after the first quarter, 24-7 at halftime and 31-7 after three quarters. Steven Jackson finished with 160 yards and a ridiculously easy 56-yard touchdown around right end in the fourth quarter.

Taylor's take: After seeing his team get scorched by the Rams' raggedy offense, Jerry Jones lit into the players after the game and answered questions for the first time about Wade Phillips' future. Phillips stripped defensive coordinator Brian Stewart of his play-calling duties after the game, though he didn't admit it publicly for another six weeks. Of course, he should've taken over at the season's start. This game haunted the Cowboys all season.


The Interception

Game: Dec. 20, Ravens at Cowboys

Play: Tony Romo throws interception

Score: Dallas, 7-6, with 43 seconds left in the first half

Situation: Cowboys' ball, third-and-2 from Dallas 37

Significance: In a game in which points were expected to be at a premium, Tony Romo threw a ball up for grabs toward Terrell Owens with dangerous Ed Reed lurking. Reed intercepted the pass at the Baltimore 20 and returned it to the Ravens' 49. Two passes to running back Willis McGahee gained 34 yards, Matt Stover ended the half with a 37-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Ravens a lead they never relinquished.

Fallout: The Ravens entered halftime with momentum. When they went ahead 16-7 in the third quarter, it made the Cowboys one-dimensional because it became a two-possession game. The loss removed all of the Cowboys' margin for error. They had to beat Philadelphia on the road to make the playoffs.

Taylor's take: That one play changed my entire opinion about Tony Romo because it removed any doubt about his immaturity as a player. It reinforced the notion that he still fails to grasp the importance of protecting the Football. You can't win meaningful games in December with that approach. He's finding that out. Maybe the embarrassment of this December will be enough to make him change.


The Punt Return

Game: Dec. 7, Cowboys at Steelers

Play: Santonio Holmes returns punt 35 yards

Score: Dallas, 13-3, with 8:57 left in the fourth quarter

Situation: Cowboys' ball, fourth-and-6 from Dallas 18

Significance: Bradie James' big hit had keyed a tremendous goal line stand one possession earlier that should have secured a win over Pittsburgh. Instead, Bruce Read's special teams unit gave up yet another big play. On a frigid night, Sam Paulescu's punt sailed down the right side of the field. Santonio Holmes scooped it up on one bounce and returned it 35 yards to the Dallas 25, setting up a field goal that pulled the Steelers within a touchdown. "It was supposed to be kicked on the other side of the field," said Kevin Burnett, who led the Cowboys in special teams tackles. "When it went to the other side, we were all out of position to make a play."

Fallout: Holmes' return gave the Steelers hope. They tied the score late in the fourth quarter on a 67-yard touchdown drive and won it when DeShea Townsend intercepted Tony Romo's errant throw intended for Jason Witten. Pittsburgh scored 17 points in the final seven minutes to win.

Taylor's take: This game nearly destroyed the team as allegations of covert meetings and secret plays between Romo and Witten took center stage. Terrell Owens, Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams each met with Jason Garrett, and then the offensive players met to discuss locker room snitches. Underachieving teams always search for somewhere to place blame.


The Penalty

Game: Sept. 28, Redskins at Cowboys

Play: Cowboys penalized for too many men on the field

Score: Washington, 23-17, midway through the fourth quarter

Situation: Redskins' ball, third-and-2 from Dallas 31

Significance: Instead of forcing Shaun Suisham to attempt a pressurized 48-yard field goal, the Cowboys let him off the hook by being called for having too many players on the field. Pat Watkins, who said he considered calling timeout because of the confusion, was the guilty party. Washington ran six more plays and milked 3:32 off the clock before Suisham's 29-yard field goal gave the Redskins a 26-17 lead.

Fallout: When you lead the league in penalties, sooner or later it costs you games. This was just the first one. Penalties also played important roles in December losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Taylor's take: The Cowboys played sloppy, undisciplined Football much of the season, and it cost them penalties, timeouts and, eventually, games. Instead of attacking the issue, Wade Phillips usually became defensive. Too bad. The ridiculous penalty was simply a harbinger for a team that wound up leading the league in penalties.


The Hit

Game: Nov. 16, Cowboys at Redskins

Play: Keith Davis tackles Clinton Portis for a 1-yard gain

Score: Redskins, 10-7, early in the third quarter

Situation: Redskins' ball, first-and-10 from Dallas 43

Significance: The Cowboys needed someone -- anyone -- to deliver a big play in yet another must-win to remain in playoff contention. Keith Davis, starting because Roy Williams' broken forearm ended his season, drilled Portis as he ran off right tackle. That hit galvanized the Cowboys. The drive ended with a punt, and Dallas took charge defensively to win the game.

Fallout: Terence Newman shut down Santana Moss, who had dominated the Cowboys the past couple of seasons. Newman had an interception and a fourth-down deflection that clinched the win. The Cowboys used him to shadow the other team's best receiver the rest of the season.

Taylor's take: Something happened to this defensive unit from the moment Davis made his huge hit. Suddenly, the Cowboys became considerably more physical -- and it lasted for weeks. The Cowboys allowed three touchdowns in the next four games.


The Fade

Game: Oct. 26, Buccaneers at Cowboys

Play: Roy Williams catches 2-yard touchdown pass

Score: Tampa Bay, 6-3, late in the second quarter

Situation: Cowboys' ball, first-and-goal from Tampa Bay 2

Significance: After a dismal performance against the Rams, Brad Johnson wasn't much better against the Bucs. But he made one of his best passes at the perfect time. His lob to Roy Williams, making his Texas Stadium debut after being acquired from Detroit, gave the Cowboys a 10-6 lead with four seconds left in the first half. The 6-4 Williams grabbed the pass over 5-9 Phillip Buchanon and flashed the Hook 'em Horns sign.

Fallout: The Cowboys had to win the game to realistically stay in the NFC playoff race. But it was the only touchdown Williams scored with the Cowboys. Surely, Jerry Jones expected more from a player who received a six-year, $45 million deal with a $9 million signing bonus.

Taylor's take: Like everyone else, I figured Roy Williams would make the Cowboys offense even more explosive. Silly me. Williams, a nonfactor since the Cowboys acquired him for a bevy of draft picks, including a first-round choice in 2009, has not caught more than three passes or had more than 51 yards receiving in a game. You can blame Williams, who has been hampered with plantar fasciitis. Or you can blame Tony Romo for relying too much on Jason Witten. Or you can blame Jason Garrett for not figuring out a way to get him more involved.


The First Down

Game: Dec. 15, Giants at Cowboys

Play: Jason Witten catches 11-yard pass from Tony Romo

Score: Dallas, 14-8, with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter

Situation: Cowboys' ball, third-and-9 from New York 49

Significance: The fist pump was out of character. Jason Witten couldn't help himself. "It was a big game. It was a big play. And it had been a long week," he said. "Usually, I just throw the ball to the referee, but I was pretty emotional." That's because the perennial Pro Bowl tight end found himself in the middle of a drama when ESPN reported that Terrell Owens was jealous of the relationship between Witten and Tony Romo. Witten caught the ball 3 yards shy of the first down but broke a tackle and lunged for the needed yardage.

Fallout: Tashard Choice burst up the middle on the next play for a 38-yard touchdown run as the Cowboys beat the Giants, who were without Plaxico Burress and Brandon Jacobs. All the Cowboys had to do was win their final two games to secure a playoff spot. You had to know this team wouldn't take the easy route.

Taylor's take: This dysfunctional bunch found a way to win a game it should have won. Wade Phillips' pass rush continued to dominate with eight sacks of Eli Manning, and the Cowboys kept the Giants out of the end zone. But at this point, Jason Garrett's offense hadn't looked good against a quality defense in weeks.


The Performance

Game: Nov. 23, 49ers at Cowboys

Play: Terrell Owens catches 75-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo

Score: San Francisco, 6-0, early in the second quarter

Situation: Cowboys' ball, third-and-8 from Dallas 25

Significance: The Cowboys were struggling with another bad team when Terrell Owens ignited the team with a sensational 75-yard catch-and-run. He shrugged off tacklers the last 20 yards to complete the play. Owens, who had not had a 100-yard performance in 13 games, had 128 yards in the first half. He finished with seven catches for 213 yards and a touchdown.

Fallout: Owens' big play served as a catalyst. Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware had sacks on the 49ers' next possession, and Carlos Polk blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety. Dallas scored a season-high 22 points in the second quarter and led 32-9 at one point in the fourth quarter.

Taylor's take: T.O.'s 200-yard game turned out to be an aberration. It was his only 100-yard performance of the season, although that's not nearly as troubling as his eight games with fewer than 40 yards. He drops too many passes, and Jason Garrett didn't do a good enough job of consistently moving him around to put him in position to get yards after the catch. Then again, maybe he's just starting the decline that happens to every terrific player.

To see more of The Dallas Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dallasnews.com. Copyright (c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 2, 2009

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