The playoffs have not even begun and already it is time to look back on the Dallas Cowboys 2013 campaign, because they are, of course, done.
This time, it was not Tony Romo playing his guts out and then throwing a gut-wrenching interception that ends the season. It was his backup. Kyle Orton. You remember him. The Bears traded him away for Jay Cutler and then John Elway and his Broncos booted him in favor Tim Tebow. Kyle Orton. The one Jerry Jones paid big bucks to come in and not make crucial mistakes at crucial moments. The “best” backup quarterback in the NFL.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch…
Jason Garrett has wrapped up his third full season at the helm. (I say that tongue-in-cheek, because we are not clueless. We know who is at the helm of this team.) Garrett has finished each season at 8-8. He has been a pitch-perfect Baritone, if football were a choir. He is not too high, so no Tenor. He is not too low, so no Bass. He is right smack-dab in the middle, where the most common folk dwell. Or, if this were a fairy tale, he would not be Papa Bear’s porridge, which is too hot, or Mama Bear’s too cold porridge. He would be Baby Bear’s just right, lukewarm porridge.
Jones and Garrett have the team right where it belongs and right where it will stay until something drastic changes at the top of this organization. While the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins take turns going worst to first and first to worst, the Jones-Garrett railroad is steady as she goes. It just doesn’t go that far. It is always a stop short of football success. The end of the season is the end of the line, because when the season is on the line, the same familiar failures repeat themselves.
As painful as it may be, let’s take a look back the key games that defined the Cowboys 2013 season.
- The Illusion. The Cowboys defeated the NY Giants 36-31 in an exciting season opener. It seemed like a great win, despite the fact that forcing six turnovers didn’t equal a blowout victory. Now that we know what the Giants were this year, this win is not as impressive as it seemed at first blush.
- The Apparitions. Weeks two and five pitted your Cowboys against two of the AFC’s best, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. Who knew in week two that the Chiefs, after squeaking by the Cowboys 17-16, would remain undefeated through nine games? As it turns out, not a bad loss there. And then there is the Broncos. They would be the AFC’s best team. Peyton Manning would shatter yardage and TD records. And the Cowboys were one Romo interception from scoring the upset of the season. Alas, these games were but ghosts of Christmases past and yet to come. They were typical of the almost but not quite there Cowboys.
- The Abominations. In week eight, the Cowboys suffered a crushing loss to the Detroit Lions, 31-30. The defense set a club record by yielding 623 yards to the Lions. No Cowboys team had ever been so generous. Two weeks later, Drew Brees and the Saints would help the Cowboys set a new mark, as they would gain 625 yards in the game. The Saints would gain 40 first downs, an NFL record. IN week 14, the Chicago Bears, behind the heroics of backup QB Josh McCown, put up 45 points and never punted a single time. Any of these games, on its own merits, would be a terrible and troubling loss. As a Trifecta, they mark perhaps the lowest point for the once-fabled Cowboys defense in franchise history.
- The Apoplectic. Perhaps no loss was more infuriating to Cowboys’ fans than the 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers. At halftime, the notion the Cowboys could lose that game was unimaginable. They led 26-3. The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers. Matt Flynn looked overmatched. But of course, he wasn’t. He was just another backup quarterback the Dallas D managed to make look like a world-beater.
- The Affirmation. For all the Tony Romo nay-sayers who say he always chokes in the big moments, I give you week 16 and the improbable last-second touchdown pass from Romo to DeMarco Murray. With a herniated disc that would require surgery in a matter of days, hopping on one foot, obviously in excruciating pain, Romo exorcised some demons and kept the Cowboys ship buoyant and viable for a week 17 winner-goes-to-the-playoffs game against the hated Eagles.
- The Inevitable. Week 17 and the Cowboys are playing an NFC East opponent for the division crown. All the cards are on the table. And, as most Cowboys fans and followers suspected, the Cowboys folded. This time, it was not the defense being unable to get stops. They did get crucial stops, especially the last stop, when the Eagles took the ball with three minutes and change and yielded it back with just under two minutes left. The Cowboys had a timeout in their pocket and decent field position. They were down 24-22 and only needed to get into position for Mr. Automatic Dan Bailey to win the game with his toe. The very first play from scrimmage ended the drama and the season. Kyle Orton throws a bad ball to a covered Miles Austin and that was that.
And so we come to the premature end of another Dallas Cowboys season. There was the good. There was the bad. There was the ugly. Ultimately, however, there was what there has been for a long time: the average.
And so the so-so season ends and the soul-searching begins. Well, for everyone but the delusional owner of the team. He already has all the answers.