GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Every year, Jason Garrett opens camp by telling his players the importance of the ball. He has a sign inside the team’s meeting room detailing the importance of the ball. He often cites statistics about the importance of the ball.
And yet, it doesn’t seem to stick.
The Cowboys turned the ball over six times in Saturday’s 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Dwayne Harris lost a fumble on a punt return. Lance Dunbar fumbled at the tail end of a 43-yard catch. Dez Bryant fumbled at the end of a 27-yard catch. Kyle Orton was intercepted twice. Alex Tanney was intercepted once.
“It’s not winning football,” Tony Romo said, sounding a lot like Garrett. “It’s not championship football. We’re going to get that corrected. It’s too important. It’s the No. 1 thing you stress every day."
The Cowboys were still in the game -- as meaningless as the outcome was -- because the defense held the Cardinals to field goals.
Against Oakland, the demise of the offense was red zone penalties. On Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium, it was the turnovers.
It’s been that way far too often for far too many seasons.
The Cowboys piled up 194 yards on offense in the first half and did not score a point. If you want to use Bill Parcells’ 100-yard formula, then the Cowboys should have had 14 points in the first half. Instead, they went scoreless.
Romo’s average per attempt was 14.2 yards. Bryant had catches of 25 and 27 yards. Miles Austin had a 16-yard catch. Dunbar had his big play.
Arizona deserves credit for taking the ball away, but Orton's interceptions were poor throws, if not poor decisions. Tanney was attempting to deliver a late comeback and was picked on third-and-15. The Bryant and Dunbar turnovers took away at least six points, if not 14.
“You can see how we played well in a lot of different areas, and a lot of individual players can do good things," Garrett said, "but if you give the ball up like that, you have no chance.”
Garrett called the mess a “teachable moment,” and he’s right.
“Thank God it happened in a preseason football game,” Garrett said. “We can learn from it. It’s got to start getting better come Monday morning.”
It had not been much of an issue in Oxnard, Calif., especially with the emphasis the defense has put on ripping the ball out on every play. In all but two of the Cowboys’ padded practices, they had 19 turnovers from July 20 to Aug. 13.
But it was a major issue Saturday, and that’s all that matters.
“You just can’t win that way,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We know that. It’s disappointing for us. We’ve got to get that fixed quick. There’s no room for that in this league.”
Sadly, they know it and still can’t prevent it. At least not on Saturday.
“When the season’s over, we will be a good football team from that perspective,” Romo said.
If they’re not, then they will be stuck in mediocrity again.