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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Collapse-prone Cowboys must prove mental toughness

By Tim MacMahon

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys can’t deny that they have a close-out issue. That’s painfully clear.

This team has blown fourth-quarter leads of 12-plus points in three losses this season. To put that stat in horrific perspective, it had happened just twice in the previous 51 seasons of franchise history.

“I can’t think of a worse way to lose than that,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said.

Coach Jason Garrett admitted the obvious, saying the Cowboys had to get better at finishing games. That’s a lot easier said than done.

Fingers were pointed at Tony Romo for the first two collapses, as his turnovers keyed comebacks by the Jets and Lions. Poor special teams play, especially a blocked punt in the season opener, has also been an issue. The defense served as the collective goat in Sunday’s comeback loss to the Giants. And Garrett gets a good-sized share of the blame for some questionable play-calling and clock management.

And then there’s the issue of mental toughness.

“The best players in this league are the mentally toughest players,” Garrett said. “The best teams in this league are the mentally toughest teams.”

It can be argued that the Cowboys would be 10-3 if they were a mentally tough team. There is no debate that the intangible asset is at a premium at Valley Ranch right now, as the Cowboys likely have to bounce back from a gut-wrenching, high-stakes loss to the Giants by winning the next three games to make the playoffs.

“Mental toughness is a part of the game,” linebacker Bradie James said. “It’s always tested. I welcome the adversity we’re facing right now. All we can do is just respond.”

The Cowboys hope they’re a mentally tough team. They believe they are. But they know they better prove it the next three weeks.

“You know what? We’re going to see,” Scandrick said. “I think we are. Mentally, to put this one behind us, it’s going to take a lot. I feel that Saturday we’re going to come out and we’re going to prove that we’re mentally tough. I think we’re mentally tough, but until we come out and prove it, we don’t know.”