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ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 02: Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball for a first down against Kurt Coleman #42 of the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on December 2, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Cowboys looked pretty good in week 13. Ignoring the fact that the Cowboys were playing the Vick, McCoy and Jackson-less Eagles, the team seemed to be working well all around on the big stage Sunday night. Tony Romo was an exceptional 22 for 27 passing with 303 yards, 3 touchdowns, and most importantly no interceptions. His throws were sharp all night – particularly to Dez Bryant down the sideline and a few in-stride beauties to Jason Witten over the course of the game. The line was… reinforced… no, that’s not the right word – passable. With Ryan Cook back at center, they were able to move their sieve of a right guard in Mackenzy Bernadeau back to his natural position, and Dallas only allowed two sacks on the day after allowing 12 over its prior three games.
The biggest boon, of course, was having DeMarco Murray back for the first time since an October 14th game in Baltimore. Murray ran 23 times for 83 yards, including a touchdown, and had 4 receptions for 19 yards. The Cowboys had been averaging only 61 yards rushing per game since their 227 yard output in the Baltimore game. All of a sudden, a return of Murray led to a 123-yard day for the Cowboys, and the ability to diversify the play calling for the entirety of the game. Dez Bryant has also found his niche in the Cowboys offense – physical domination on a simplified route scheme. Ever since his dismal 15 yard day against the Falcons, Dez has exploded for 475 yards and 6 touchdowns in four games, including two 145-yard masterpieces.
There were a few of the same problems, however. With a depleted secondary defense roster, the Cowboys have had a revolving door of safeties, nickel corners, middle linebackers, and nose tackles. The defense let Bryce Brown do his best Adrian Peterson impression, collecting 169 yards on 24 carries. This makes 6 out of the last 7 games that the Cowboys have allowed over 100 yards rushing. Nick Foles threw for 251 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions and was only sacked once.
The questionable time management continued as well. With 0:45 left in the first half and the Cowboys having just reached the Eagles 1-yard line, the Cowboys faced a decision. Having all three timeouts, and the clock running, it would have been wiser to let the clock dwindle to about 20 seconds before using the first timeout before the first and goal play. With two timeouts and a first down, Dallas could afford to run at least once, then have two passes into the end zone, saving a timeout for an emergency (such as a sack or Georgia Bulldogs situation where a player was tackled in the field of play) so that they could at least bring out the field goal team. Instead, Garrett used the timeout at the 0:45 mark, and the Cowboys scored on the next play, leaving an abundance of time for the Eagles. With three timeouts, the Eagles marched up the field and kicked a field goal to end the first half, resulting in three unnecessary points.
The Cowboys are known as “America’s Team.” They are also notorious for not covering betting lines. As 10-point favorites in this game, the Cowboys led 38-27 with 53 seconds remaining in the ballgame, and were punting away. The punt off Brian Moorman’s leg was a 63 yard bomb to the Philadelphia 2 yard line, where Damaris Johnson fielded the ball and returned it 98 yards for the Eagles touchdown, making it a one-score game. A solid front line block and Jason Witten snag from the hands team secured the victory for Dallas on the onside, but not before blowing up the 10-point spread and adding to the ever growing resume of cardiac Cowboys games.
So at 6-6, do the Cowboys even have a shot? An overtime win by Seattle against the Bears hurt the Cowboys' Wildcard chances, but with a Giants loss on Monday Night Football, the Cowboys are tied with Washington -- just a game behind New York for the division lead. The final slate for the Cowboys includes an away game against the Andy Dalton-led Bengals, who will have a heck of a time covering highlight reel receiver A.J. Green, followed by home games against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, before finishing against the Redskins in Washington. In the past 5 years, only 4 teams with a record of 10-6 or better have missed the playoffs. The odds become much murkier if the Cowboys can’t run the table and finish at 9-7, but they’d have to hope for a Giants collapse or mediocre play from the Bears or Seahawks down the line to hope for a spot.
Not all is lost, Cowboys fans. There is still hope for this depleted, injury-plagued team, but don’t call it a comeback yet.