SAN DIEGO — The visitor’s locker-room door at Qualcomm Stadium that temporarily separated the losing Dallas Cowboys from inquisitors featured thick iron bars and a coat of blood-red paint. Following Sunday’s 30-21 loss to the Chargers, there seemed symbolism in that door.
But what happened behind the iron-and-blood door is more telling.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo – whose measured demeanor is so often unfairly mistaken for nonchalance – had just led his team from whence it came: Back to .500 at 2-2. And at 18-18 since 2011. And at 106-106 since 2000. In the last 10 seasons, the Cowboys have started 2-1 six times. They have lost in their Week 4 game all six times.
The frustration etched on his face, Romo trudged into the locker room. He’d completed 27 of 37 for 244 yards with a pair of TD throws to Dez Bryant, accomplishments enough to contribute to a 21-10 halftime lead but yet not nearly enough.
Romo balled up his right fist and unleashed a punch into the glass front of a Pepsi machine.
“It’s tough to take right now,” said Romo later, having composed himself and having escaped his fistfight with the giant refrigerator unscathed.
And when Cowboys fans unclench their collective fist in order to point fingers … Romo’s fault? Sure. Just make your open hand includes a few dozen fingers.
Dallas victimized itself with a series of pass-catching gaffes. Dwayne Harris, Bryant (six receptions for 81 yards) and Jason Witten all took turns in that department, and the dropsies were topped off by rookie receiver Terrance Williams’ fumble at the goal-line with with 2:42 remaining in the game.
“You’ve got to make those plays,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Those aren’t easy plays. Those aren’t easy throws and easy catches, but those guys are capable of making them.”
Defensively, the Cowboys couldn’t solve quarterback Philip Rivers, who passed for 401 yards by abusing some of the best Dallas has to offer: Mo Claiborne, Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, who returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown late in the first half but then allowed Antonio Gates to get behind him for 56-yard touchdown catch that sealed the outcome.
“We can’t play one half,” said Lee, “and not play well in the second half.”
But .500 results – game by game and even half by half — is the way of the NFL and it can be argued it’s in the DNA of these Cowboys. Jimmy Johnson and his “Optimism Infection Theory” thrives on days like this. The “Blue Jersey Jinx” does, too. Maybe part of the problem is the almost universal believe that Dallas keeps “losing to inferior teams” when in fact the Chiefs and the Chargers at home (sites of Dallas’ two losses) are not all that inferior to a Cowboys team that hasn’t won anything in 16 years.
The Chargers are 2-2 and fully capable of being good and bad. Take a number. Stand in line. Join the club.
And the Cowboys? They are charter members of The NFL Parity Club. They are fully capable of dominating the Rams last week and then getting outscored 20-0 in a second half this week. And it all circles back to .500, back to even, back to a draw … Cowboys leaders like Tony Romo balling up their fists and punching away but the win-loss percentage as unmoved as that Pepsi machine.