The Cowboys head into a matchup against the Vikings sporting a .500 record. And that trail of mediocrity leads right to some familiar feet.
Napoleon didn’t know much about the NFL. But his view on mediocrity reads like a scouting report on the Dallas Cowboys.
“When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing themselves to the level of their mediocrity.”
The NFL’s great enterprise is the Super Bowl, though in Dallas a simple playoff win now qualifies. Much of the futility can be traced to two men of questionable stature.
You can’t really call Jerry Jones small. If he stood on all the money he’s made with the Cowboys, Jones would make every other NFL owner look shorter than Napoleon.
And Tony Romo towers above most of his peers, at least for the first 58 minutes of most games. But Jones and Romo have made Dallas the premiere member of the .500 Club.
The Cowboys are 4-4 heading into Sunday’s FOX Game of the Week game against the Minnesota Vikings. Dallas is 16-16 the past two seasons and a mathematically improbable 132-132 since 1997.
A common thread is a lack of leadership when it's needed most. When the going gets tough, freaky things happen to the Cowboys. Interceptions, blocked extra points, missed field goals, bobbled snaps, Dez Bryant tantrums. That’s not all on Romo and Jones, but they set the headless-chicken tone.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram analyzed the 40 games Jason Garrett has coached since being named head coach. Naturally, the Cowboys are 20-20 in those contests.
Twenty-three games were decided by three points or less, went into overtime or came down to one pivotal play. The Cowboys were 10-13 in those games, but the analysis said Dallas would have gone 14-9 if not for some avoidable gaffe.
The latest was last week’s 31-30 loss to Detroit, where Matthew Stafford faked a spike and lunged into the end zone with 12 seconds left. That was almost as painful as the 51-48 loss to Denver, when Romo capped off a brilliant day by throwing an interception to set up the Broncos' clinching field goal.
The play reignited the debate whether Romo is a choke artist or just a misunderstood QB genius. There are stats to back up both sides. The glaring one is that when his team leads by a touchdown or less in the fourth quarter, Romo has more interceptions than any other quarterback over the past seven years.
If Napoleon were an opposing scout, he’d say Romo is more comfortable being one of the soldiers. Force him to be a general in the final seconds and wait for the strategic error.
Then there is Mr. Take Charge. The Cowboys have had six coaches and 15 starting quarterbacks since their last Super Bowl. The one constant is the owner/general manager.
With one playoff win since 1996, a normal owner would have fired the GM years ago. Jones runs the show and everybody knows it. Except for Bill Parcells, it’s been that way since Jimmy Johnson left in ’93.
Last year, Johnson said the Cowboys had a country club atmosphere. Jones responded by saying he’d make things “uncomfortable” around headquarters. He took away play-calling privileges from Garrett and gave them to assistant Bill Callahan. He replaced defensive coordinators.
The staff may have been quaking, but players seem as comfortable as ever. After Bryant threw his sideline tantrum last week, Jones went into his usual coddling mode.
“He’s a very passionate player and he competes and works and does all the things that give him collateral to use with his teammates and with me relative to a few awkward moments on the sideline, over-expression of passion,” Jones said. “He’s bought enough slack with me.”
Do you think Johnson would have put up with his sideline turning into a circus? He said fear must come from the coach, not the owner.
Nobody fears Garrett. When the Cowboys need discipline in the final minutes, they see a likable coach with no authority. When they need their quarterback to make a big play, there’s no telling what they’ll get. But you know the end result.
“We are an average team, an 8-8 team,” linebacker Sean Lee said after the Detroit downer. “Until we find a way to win these kinds of games, that’s all we’ll ever be.”
Mind-numbing mediocrity would be OK in Tampa Bay and Phoenix. It’d be a huge step up in Jacksonville. But this is Big D, America’s Team and all that.
Many seniors at Dallas high schools weren’t even born the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl. The good news is mediocrity should be good enough to win the NFC East this year. The bad news is those seniors may celebrate their 20th reunion before the Cowboys sniff another ring.
Jones is 71 and will retire when they pry his cold, dead fingers out of the bean dip in his skybox. Romo just signed a six-year, $108 million extension.
As long as they are around, Dallas will remain one of the richest, gaudiest and more entertaining shows on the NFL earth. But when it really matters, Cowboys fans don't need Napoleon to tell them what's coming.