The Dallas Cowboys‘ 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 5 showed every side of America’s Team in one game. There were plenty of positives in the game but despite all of them, the same underlying theme that has plagued them for the last two decades ultimately sealed the Cowboys’ fate. That’s especially true for Tony Romo, who played the best game of his life yet it will go overlooked because of one negative play that wasn’t his fault.
Now we’re not here to discuss that one play until we’ve beaten the topic into the ground, but rather the many factors that led to that one polarizing play that ultimately doomed the most polarizing player in Cowboys history. However, Romo and his six-year, $108 million contract extension will take the blame for it.
The Cowboys’ play-calling has been horrendous since the turn of the century and it was even questionable between 1994 and 2000 after Jerry Jones ran Jimmy Johnson out of town following back-to-back Super Bowl wins. The team has been more trigger-happy than Barney Fife in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and it starts at the top before trickling down to today’s play-callers on the sidelines at AT&T Stadium.
After a dominating performance by DeMarco Murray in Week 3, it appeared the Cowboys had finally remembered that running the football sets up big passing plays — a formula that wins games. But then Dallas abandoned the run in a Week 4 loss and apparently forgot that the handoff is a legal football play in the fourth quarter against the Broncos.
The Cowboys did not run the ball at all once the final period began on Sunday. Down by five following a critical takeaway at midfield, Bill Callahan never even looked at his chart of running plays when the fourth quarter started. Sure, the Cowboys scored on that drive to take the lead and then again on the ensuing drive to go ahead once more after Denver tied it up, but that eventually doomed Romo on the Cowboys’ final drive when the Broncos’ defense knocked Tyron Smith into Dallas’ signal-caller while simultaneously reading the play perfectly to make the game-winning interception.
The pass was working, but why in the world did the Cowboys not look to milk the clock with the ball and the game tied at the 9:37 mark in the fourth quarter? There was no need to hurry up and score! The trigger-happy, undisciplined approach just made Dallas’ offense predictable and proved that Jason Garrett still doesn’t know how to manage the clock.
The Broncos obviously do even though they have the most dynamic passing attack in the history of football. Knowshon Moreno carried the ball 19 times in the game for 93 yards and a touchdown that came in the fourth quarter when Denver was down by a touchdown. Moreno was given the ball on each of the Broncos’ final three drives in the fourth quarter, all of which resulted in points, including the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Murray had only 12 carries the whole game — none in the fourth quarter, even when the game was tied or Dallas was ahead.
The Broncos also sprinkled in runs from Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball to keep their offense balanced and Moreno fresh. No other Cowboys running back received a carry in the game besides Murray.
The point of this is not to compare the Cowboys to the Broncos because that’s just stupid. However, Denver showed that even the most prolific passing offense in recent memory still uses a balanced attack to win historic shootouts, even in the most crucial moments.
The Cowboys’ undisciplined, trigger-happy ways have cost the team dearly in the last 20 years and such was the case again on Sunday, yet the only thing people will take away from the game is the ignorant headline: “Tony Romo blew the game for the Cowboys with a late interception.” That wasn’t the story of the game and neither was Romo’s 500 yards and five touchdowns — the story is the same one that’s been told a thousand times in Dallas and will probably be told another thousand before it changes.