Until the last 12 seconds, it was going to be a game where you could say the Cowboys just found a way.
They found a way, all right. A way to lose.
The worst thing about Sunday’s Motor City Meltdown for the Cowboys isn’t that they let a win slip through their fingers.
What makes Lions 31, Cowboys 30 especially damaging is that it’s the kind of loss that can unravel a team.
You saw some of that unraveling on the sidelines by receiver Dez Bryant, who started throwing tantrums late in the third quarter.
His worst came after the Lions took the lead with 12 seconds left. First Jason Witten tried to calm him down, then DeMarcus Ware had to step in. But not before Witten wound up screaming at Bryant.
When the two most respected and accomplished players on the Cowboys can’t get you to settle down, you’ve got issues. Bryant has been a model player all season until this point, but now he’s just brought the wrong spotlight back onto his struggles with maturity.
The parties involved will say it was all “in the heat of battle” stuff. But how you perform under that heat is how battles are won and lost.
One can only assume that Bryant was upset that he wasn’t involved more when the Cowboys were clearly struggling on offense. He’s got a point.
Bryant caught only three passes. Two of them were touchdowns.
He was targeted just six times. That was second-most on the team, but just a fraction of the targets his Lions counterpart saw.
Calvin Johnson had a monster game with 14 catches for 329 yards. You think maybe he and the Lions were inspired by Bryant’s quotes earlier in the week saying he could do anything Johnson could do?
What Bryant said was hardly trash talk, but it only takes a tiny spark to enflame the pride of a superstar like Johnson. Perhaps next time Bryant will simply praise an opponent and not get baited into making comparisons.
Then again, Bryant was probably just as motivated to back up his words and the Cowboys promptly forgot about him for almost the entire first half. How many times do the Cowboys need to learn to keep Bryant involved in games early and often?
Even without Bryant being a major factor, the Cowboys’ offense found a way to score 30 points. Even without being able to contain Johnson, the Cowboys’ defense found a way to force four turnovers and give the offense a chance.
Had they won, they would be 5-3 after having won back-to-back games on the road. That’s the stuff of playoff-bound teams.
Instead, they are 4-4 and back on course for another 8-8 rollercoaster season. The good news for Dallas is that 8-8 might win the NFC East.
The next four-game stretch of the schedule looks soft, save for the Nov. 10 trip to New Orleans. The Cowboys get the struggling Vikings next at home, then after New Orleans they get a bye week followed by the struggling Giants and the struggling Raiders.
But unless they’re playing the Rams, every game is a struggle for these Cowboys. Despite big changes in personnel and coaching philosophy, the Cowboys continue to be a team that can’t give its fans any sense of confidence.
If the Cowboys want to get out of the 8-8 rut they’ve been in the last two seasons, they have to find a way to change that.