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Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Year In Review: Cowboys' top headlines from 2012

By Calvin Watkins

The year got off to an inauspicious start for the Dallas Cowboys, as 2012 began with a loss to the New York Giants on New Year's Day, costing them a playoff berth.

Revenge is sweet as the Cowboys avenged the loss with a Week 1 victory over the Giants to start the 2012 season. But things quickly soured after a Week 2 loss to Seattle, which started a slide of five losses in seven games during which Sean Lee was lost for the season.

Jason Garrett had much more to manage during this turbulent season, including an unthinkable tragedy -- the death of practice squad player Jerry Brown. Dez Bryant was arrested prior to the season. And Rob Ryan had to deal with the loss of five defensive starters to injury along the way.

Oh, and Sean Payton had his contract extension with the New Orleans Saints voided because of wording in the deal, which led to speculation that Jerry Jones might make a coaching change after the season.

Yes, it was another drama-filled season with the Cowboys. Here are the top headlines from 2012:

5. Stunned in Seattle

Felix Jones fumbled the opening kickoff in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks -- and it all went downhill from there in a 27-7 loss. The Seahawks blocked Chris Jones' punt for a 10-0 lead and the Cowboys never recovered. After an impressive victory against the New York Giants in the season opener, the Cowboys had a chance to move to 2-0 for the first time since 2008. That didn't happen. When the day was over, Tony Romo attempted 40 passes, Sean Lee was blindsided, and the Cowboys rushed for only 49 yards while Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks ran roughshod over Dallas' defense for 182 rushing yards. The Cowboys' offense was shut out in the second half, and Dallas went on a downward spiral, losing five of seven games.

4. The evolution of Dez Bryant


Just before training camp, the Cowboys' greatest fears were realized when wide receiver Dez Bryant turned himself in to DeSoto police on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge after an incident with his mother. The charges were later moved to conditional dismissal as long as Bryant doesn't get into any more trouble for one year.

On the field, Bryant's season developed into something special. He picked up his first 1,000-yard receiving season, will be a contender for the Pro Bowl and, during one stretch, scored eight touchdowns in six games. More importantly, Bryant became a dependable player for the Cowboys -- Tony Romo even said Dez was becoming a student of the game. Toward the end of the season, Bryant suffered a broken left index finger, but it didn't deter him from playing as he caught a touchdown pass in a clutch victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

3. Tony Romo surpasses Troy Aikman for TD mark

Dez Bryant caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo on Dec. 2, 2012. The catch-and-run tied the game with the Philadelphia Eagles 17-17. More importantly, it allowed Romo to surpass Hall of Famer Troy Aikman as the Cowboys' all-time touchdown leader with 166. Romo took over the reins from Drew Bledsoe in 2006 and emerged as the franchise quarterback that owner Jerry Jones had been searching for since Aikman's retirement. This season, Romo has been inconsistent -- at one point leading the NFL in interceptions -- but he's won three straight games to improve his dismal December record to 11-13 and has the Cowboys in the thick of the NFC East race.

2. Playoff hopes flame out in final week


With a chance to get into the postseason on Jan. 1, 2012, the Dallas Cowboys lost to the New York Giants 31-14 at MetLife Stadium. It was the second time in four seasons that the Cowboys could have reached the playoffs with a victory in the regular-season finale.

One bright spot , however, was the emergence of running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 897 yards before his 2011 season ended with a fractured ankle. During the offseason, the Cowboys parted ways with Laurent Robinson, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after catching 54 passes for 858 yards and a team-leading 11 touchdowns as the No. 3 receiver. Rob Ryan's first season with the Cowboys saw his defense give up five fourth-quarter leads. Purged from the roster were veteran players such as Bradie James, Terence Newman and Abram Elam.

1. Cowboys prevail after emotional 48 hours


Dan Bailey's 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds gave the Cowboys a dramatic 20-19 victory Dec. 9 over the Cincinnati Bengals, ending an emotional 48 hours for the franchise. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, nose tackle Josh Brent crashed his car in Irving, Texas, killing the lone passenger -- practice squad player Jerry Brown. Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter and sent to jail on $500,000 bond, which was later reduced to $100,000.

Coach Jason Garrett told the Cowboys' players of the crash and its tragic result on the plane before the team's charter flight to Cincinnati. The team held emotional meetings Saturday night to allow players to reveal their feelings about two players who were well-liked. The Cowboys hung the jerseys of Brent and Brown in the visitors locker room and laid Brown's jersey on the bench during the game. After the Cowboys' victory, Garrett embraced Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, who held Brown's jersey. As he jogged off the field, Ware held the jersey up high. Garrett said it was the most emotional game he's ever been associated with.