Quick Read: After latest loss to Buccaneers, the Cowboys’ season is over
That’s all the Dallas Cowboys needed during the seven-game stretch in which quarterback Tony Romo was out of action with a shoulder injury.
Just one freakin’ win — and the Cowboys couldn’t do it.
Even in a division where none of the other three teams have shown the consistency needed to run away with the NFC East title, Dallas is done following Sunday’s 10-6 loss at Tampa Bay.
Not since Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989 have the Cowboys experienced a seven-game losing stretch. Never before in the franchise’s 56-year history has Dallas lost four straight games when leading at one point in the fourth quarter.
Both came to pass after the Cowboys did themselves in once again.
Defensively, Dallas should have recovered the football and sealed the victory in the final minute when Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston fumbled before leaping over the Cowboys goal-line. However, the turnover was overturned when safety Jeff Heath went from hero to goat. Heath — who had intercepted Winston twice earlier, including at the Cowboys 9-yard line on Tampa Bay’s previous possession — was flagged for holding Bucs wide receiver Russell Shepherd.
Winston took advantage of his second chance on the very next play, scoring untouched on a one-yard bootleg to give Tampa Bay its first lead of the game with 54 seconds remaining.
The Cowboys obviously would have enjoyed a much better chance for a comeback if Romo was under center. But don’t blame replacement Matt Cassel entirely for Dallas falling short. Wide receiver Dez Bryant, who had a key third-down drop on the Cowboys’ previous possession, made no attempt to catch a deep Cassel pass that was intercepted by Bucs safety Bradley McDougald in the end zone to seal Tampa Bay’s victory.
The Cowboys have beaten themselves in plenty of other ways since Romo was hurt in Week 3 against Philadelphia. Running back Joseph Randle — who Dallas brass believed was ready to help replace departed NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray (Philadelphia) — went from starter to getting released and subsequently suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The quarterbacking struggles of Cassel and Brandon Weeden have kept Bryant from excelling when returning from his foot ailment in Week 6. The offensive line isn’t as dominant as touted during the preseason. Weak-side linebacker Sean Lee (concussion) is hurt once again and the rest of the defense fades when it’s needed most. Dallas has now gone seven straight games without a fourth-quarter sack.
Dallas is losing off the field as well. The iconic star on the side of the team’s helmet has gotten tarnished by the continued employment and enabling of defensive end Greg Hardy as the fallout continues from his 2014 domestic violence case.
At 2-7, the Cowboys have given Romo no room for error when he returns next Sunday at Miami (4-5). Dallas would have to win-out playing a schedule that includes a Thanksgiving Day game against Carolina (9-0) as well as three other road contests at Washington (4-5), Green Bay (6-3) and Buffalo (5-4). The New York Jets (5-4) and Redskins come to AT&T Stadium in Weeks 15 and 17 respectively.
There also are no guarantees a 9-7 record would win the NFC East either.
Romo looked on helplessly from the sideline Sunday as the Cowboys collapsed again. He was wearing a blue shirt bearing one of head coach Jason Garrett’s mottos — fight.
Unfortunately for Romo, the battle is already lost for the 2015 Cowboys.