Tony Romo: 'We didn't execute'

HOUSTON -- It seems the only thing the Dallas Cowboys' first-team offense did Saturday night was decline to make excuses for its sorry performance.

There was no point in putting lipstick on this preseason pig.

In fact, there were no points at all for the Cowboys' starting offense in Saturday's 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans. Dallas accounted for a grand total of 1 yard (in the wrong direction) during three possessions in the first quarter. Once it managed to move the ball, it kept coming up with creative ways to kill drives.

The Cowboys lost a fumble when Felix Jones didn't hear an audible. They ran out the clock while trying to run the hurry-up offense. Tony Romo threw a pick when he tried to squeeze a pass to Jason Witten. Oh, and they showed a penchant for poorly timed penalties.

"I don't think we played well," Romo said in an understatement. "We didn't run the ball well enough. We didn't execute well enough in the passing game. We had too many mistakes. That was not our best showing definitely. We need to get better."

Does that sound familiar? Romo made similar comments after the starting offense's poor performance last weekend in San Diego.

At least Romo & Co. actually managed to put the ball in the end zone against the Chargers. So what if that "drive" covered all of 8 yards? It's the only time they've reached pay dirt out of a dozen possessions this preseason.

Perhaps it'd be easier to dismiss the preseason sputtering if the Cowboys consistently finished drives last season. But they didn't, ranking second in the league in yardage but only 14th in points.

At the beginning of training camp, production in the red zone seemed to be the only thing preventing the Cowboys from being an elite offense. A little more than a month later, they've got a long list of problems, which is why the starters might get some playing time in the preseason finale.

Not that any panic buttons should necessarily be pushed in the preseason. However, there is certainly cause for concern.

That's especially true based on what we've seen the past two weeks. The starters have played four quarters and one series. They've accounted for only 185 yards in that span. That's butt-ugly by the Cleveland Browns' standards, much less the Cowboys'.

"I still am confident in what we have," Witten said. "I feel like we have a good offense. For whatever reason, we're not executing. We better be able to find a way to get in a rhythm, get some tempo, get some good plays going. I think it's just that we're all taking turns. It's not good when you're doing that."

Added offensive coordinator Jason Garrett: "I think there's a confidence level that we have. But the fact is that you need to go out there every day and prove who you are individually and collectively. We need to do a better job. We need to execute better. I think everybody understands that."

Maybe fatigue after five-plus weeks of training camp was a factor, although Romo and Witten denied it. Perhaps the Cowboys sorely miss starting offensive linemen Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier, although Garrett pointed out that good teams overcome injuries every year. Maybe the Cowboys can just flip the switch once the games actually matter and the coaching staff puts together a game plan.

"I think our team needs to look at each other and just continue to improve and get better," Romo said.

Continue to improve? This offense has regressed during the past two weeks.

Give the Cowboys credit for not coming up with a bunch of excuses. But they'd better start coming up with solutions soon.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.