When people look back on the Cowboys' 2012 season, there are only two things they will be concerned with: wins and losses. Yesterday's game falls into the latter column, but only because the Pokes violently shoved it out of the former.
It was a game that the Ravens won over the span of about five minutes of actual game time, taking advantage of the various Achilles' heels of the Cowboys. There were a lot of positive takeaways from this one, but in a tight division, a "W" was the only one that would have really mattered. With a chance to level vengeance on the town that so wronged the Rangers, the Cowboys instead pulled a choke-job of their own. Let's observe a few things and then hand out some awards.
Cowboys End-of-Half Management Critically Poor: Despite having their way with the Ravens offensively and defensively for most of the game, the ends of both halves cost the Cowboys dearly. Both of Baltimore's final drives in each half ended in a touchdown, each of them putting strain on the Cowboys offense to come up with a massive answer on the next possession. With 41 seconds remaining in the first half, I'm surprised that Jason Garrett didn't try to salvage a field goal out of the final drive. The Cowboys started from their own 30 yard line, with one timeout left, so there was enough wiggle-room to try to make something happen. The last offensive snap the Cowboys had prior to that drive was intercepted, so perhaps Garrett was a little leery of shoveling even more momentum toward Baltimore's sidelines. This wouldn't be the biggest clutch misstep for the Cowboys though; more on that later.
Health and Conditioning Issues Hit The Offense: Against the Bears, the Cowboys were saddled with injuries throughout the defense. While a couple of those carried over to this week's game (Anthony Spencer, Barry Church), the offensive side of the ball was dinged up this time around. Demarco Murray was sidelined with a sprained foot halfway through, and both Felix Jones and Dez Bryant took chunks of time off to fight fatigue and cramping. Injuries are a part of the game, but it becomes tough to win a game when you're spreading the depth of your skill-position guys too thin, and fatigue cannot be an excuse at this level.
Fox Continues To Probes the Depths Of Viewer IQ: Typically the broadcast crews of Fox do a fair job of keeping attention on the game and not sounding overtly uninformed or condescending, but this game offered the opposite in a few such instances. Late in the first half, play-by-play man Thom Brennaman displayed suspicious clairvoyance when he noted that Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin's name hadn't been mentioned yet on the day. Boldin would then immediately proceed to gobble up 54 yards on three straight receptions. Later in the game, Brennaman would put in the call yet again, this time for Demarcus Ware, who would stunt inside of Sandra Bullock's kid and pin Joe Flacco to the turf. The calls gave the game a very WWE flavor, although perhaps not as much as Brennaman's constant "They're not gonna get this play off" anytime the play clock dipped below 6 seconds.
In the age of high-minded analysis like "C'Mon Man" and "He's a Beast", Fox has opted to turn the velocity up on our feeding tubes with "Let's Go Back." Instead of simply showing a replay during the game, Fox puts up a graphic telling you "Ok, we're about to show you something that just happened and then talk about it. Don't be confused, this is not live. It's called a ree-play, can you say that? Very good!"
Of course, there can be no talk about the NFL on Fox without mentioning the everyone's favorite non-annoying, completely relevant dancing robot, Cleatus. Did you know Cleatus has a twitter feed? Surely he's got some in-depth statistical dissection on tap, right? Well, if you're the type who worries about a bionic uprising, here's a bit of solace.
Now Let's Go Back to the awards.
Pyrite of the Week Award: The offensive line. With center Phil Costa coming back into the mix on the line, it was unclear what to expect from a unit that had severely underperformed outside of the season opener. The lowest of expectations, the Cowboys front man-handled Haloti Ngata and company, paving the way for a record rushing day against the Baltimore defense. Despite losing Demarco Murray, the running back arsenal of Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar plowed their way to 227 yards. As a bonus, the line kept Tony Romo from having to do too much improvisational scrambling by maintaining a tight pocket most of the game. A few costly penalties were still an issue (Doug Free), but overall the line was light years better than we've seen lately. The question remains, will this be their level of play going forward, or a smash in the pan?
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Most Infuriatingly Meaningless Stat of the Game: Time of Possession. The Cowboys held the ball for almost exactly twice as long as the Ravens on Sunday. In the second half, the Ravens offense was on the field for six minutes with only one minute of possession in the third quarter. The time-of-possession stat in this case became more of an indictment of the Cowboys offense, as they couldn't quite finish off drives with seven-pointers.
The Tony Romo 95% Great, 5% Really Really Bad Award: TIE Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey. After a completely nightmare of a performance against the Bears, Bryant responded in a big way by catching 13 balls for 95 yards and two touchdowns. But it was the 14th ball that most people will remember. With a chance to tie the game on a two-point conversion, Romo threaded a ball to Dez's back shoulder, only to see it sail straight through the receiver's hands and into the turf. Fortunately for Dez, Jason Garrett had a much more mind-incinerating way to lose this game in store.
Bailey, meanwhile, would throw his hat into the scapegoat ring on the team's final possession. Leading up to the last drive, Bailey had been rock-solid. His kickoffs were solid, including the one eight yards deep in the endzone that Jacoby Jones somehow returned for a touchdown. Dan's field goals had been true, keeping the Cowboys in the game as the Ravens' lead withered away. Then, with 40 seconds left in the game, Jason Garrett decided to inject a little drama. Bailey executed a perfect nutmeg on the onside kick, allowing Andre Holmes to recover. With plenty of time to get at least four or five plays off before a field goal attempt, the Cowboys managed two. Such terrible clock-chopping saddled Bailey with the task of attempting a 51 yard field goal that should have instead been in the low-40s range. Bailey barely misses wide left, ballgame.
A winnable game that came down to a few key plays once again slipped through the Cowboys' fingers. Last year, these types of losses weren't learned from. Will this year be any different? Dallas goes on the road next week to face a beatable Panthers team. If they play like they did for the snoop lion's share of this game, they should have a victory, but if these same tiny errors keep occurring, the alarms will be cranked up full blast.