Broken Cowboys pick up pieces from loss to Packers

Broken Cowboys pick up pieces from loss to Packers

Published Dec. 16, 2013 9:18 a.m. ET

ARLINGTON, Texas - Green Bay 37, Dallas 36, a playoff-path game in which the home-standing Cowboys held a 26-3 halftime edge, is a loss that left offensive locker-room spokesman almost Jason Witten speechless.

"Words,'' the tight end said, "really can't describe it.''

Meanwhile, defensive locker-room spokesman Brandan Carr did Witten just two words better.
"Debacle,'' Carr said. "Meltdown.''

Otherwise, the AT&T Stadium locker room was a desolate place, occupied by too few words, too few explanations and the stench of a befuddling team that was stubbornly intent on throwing the ball even if it killed 'em. …

And it did.

There are familiar and odious signs of fracturing now that Dallas is 7-7 and letting what once was a golden ticket to the NFC East title slip though its untrustworthy fingers. Dez Bryant left the field before the final buzzer, a subliminal sign that his personal emotions are of greater importance than the team's. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan petulantly declared to the media that he is not contractually obligated to talk to reporters. And even head coach Jason Garrett broke character in letting it be known who is to blame for a most costly turnover.

Green Bay finally got its lead after Sam Shields' interception with 2:58 left in the game and Dallas up 36-31. The Cowboys faced a second-and-6 and had at their disposal DeMarco Murray, who by halftime had 11 carries for 93 and a touchdown.

Callahan sent in the call – one designed and supervised by Garrett and one allowing Romo a great deal of decision-making freedom. It's not an "audible'' or an "option play.'' It's a "packaged play.''

The QB is allowed decide on the fly – often as the ball is being snapped – whether to hand off to the runner or throw one of a couple of route options.

Romo made his decision not to give the ball to Murray. He wanted a slant route to Miles Austin.
Wrong decision.

The Cowboys offensive line run-blocked (as they must on a packaged play). Packers rusher Clay Matthews came unblocked into Romo's face. And then the quarterback started improvising … the slant route went down the seam. Romo – by virtue of his "gunslinging'' DNA – thought he saw something "big'' when "little'' would've done just fine – and threw a bad ball intercepted by Shields.
The play and its aftermath symbolize so many things that are wrong with the Cowboys' infrastructure.

*If the Cowboys' wisest option there is to run (and it was, even with extra Packers in the box, as Murray gained at least four yards on 14 of his 18 carries, had four runs of 10 yards-plus and finished with a 7.4-yard average), the head coach shouldn't allow a packaged play to be sent in the game.

There are times for offensive aggression; Dallas was very vertical in the first half and almost hit on a variety of big plays that nearly prevented Dan Bailey from kicking five "settle-for'' field goals in the game. But there are also times when a coaching staff needs to reel in its "gunslinger'' mentality and appreciate the valor in discretion.

*If this franchise really believes Romo is "Peyton Manning-like'' in his decision-making, as owner Jerry Jones has suggested, it has failed in its evaluation of the club's highest-paid player.
*If Callahan (and a host of players) believe they are not obligated to the media, that means they have no obligation to Cowboys fans/"stockholders'' and indicates they think the NFL occurs in a vacuum. It does not. Their salaries reflect fans' interest. Fans are interested in understanding their team's personalities and their team's performance.

When you have a fourth-quarter lead and you are gashing an opponent on the ground and you run 15 plays in the quarter and 13 of them are passes? The audience would like to know why.
*This ballyhooed offense will never be gifted with a defensive effort the likes of which we saw in the first half. Dallas got nothing out of sometime-standouts like Carr, DeMarcus Ware or Jason Hatcher. Still, it rode a bunch of guys named "Bosworth'' and "Heath'' and "Holloman'' and "Lawrence'' and "Selvie'' to just three points allowed before intermission.

It will never get better than that. The Cowboys still have a path to the NFC East title – amazingly, because Philadelphia and the rest of the division is at least as inept – but they'll never again do it with this defense flirting with 30-minute shutouts.

*Garrett's honesty about the play in question is appreciated … but out of character.
"It was a run call that (Romo) threw the ball on,'' said Garrett, adding later, "Bill calls the plays.''

We won't say that's the head coach throwing Romo and Callahan under the bus; we will say it's uncharacteristically frank.

And when somebody breaks character, it's often because so many things around him are also broken.