Commentary

No surprise: Cowboys' swoon complete

Correcting propensity to play their worst football down the stretch must be top priority

Updated: January 2, 2012, 2:48 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Dallas Cowboys made bad plays. And dumb plays. And when it mattered most, Orlando Scandrick failed to make a fourth-quarter play -- not that we should've been surprised.

The late-season swoon is now complete.

A locker room with way too many faux stars has once again played losing football when it mattered most.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Al Bello/Getty ImagesVictor Cruz's 43-yard reception on third down against Orlando Scandrick pretty much ended the Cowboys' chances at a rally.

Jason Garrett's team didn't quit the way Wade Phillips' team did when it lost by 38 points to Philadelphia in a win-and-get-in-the-playoffs scenario in 2008.

That said, the Cowboys get paid handsomely to play hard and display personal pride.

They don't get credit for not quitting. Sorry, the standard simply has to be higher than that.

New York 31, Dallas 14.

Dallas has now missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. The Cowboys have made the postseason just four times this millennium, and they're 120-120 overall with one playoff win since 1997.

Can a team be any more average than that?

The Cowboys failed to compete in the first half and trailed 21-0 at halftime. Dallas is now 0-28 when trailing by at least 21 points at the midway point.

Somehow, the Cowboys still had an opportunity to make this a game in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 21-14, they needed one more defensive stop to get the ball with a chance to tie the score.

Instead, Scandrick gave up a 43-yard completion to unstoppable Victor Cruz, setting up a field goal that essentially ruined any realistic comeback hopes.

"I'm surprised we didn't make any plays," Jerry Jones said. "That's when you make plays, right there. But we didn't."

Scandrick, who signed a five-year, $27 million extension before the season, wasn't the only player who failed to make a play in the Cowboys' most important game of the season.

In the first quarter, Alan Ball failed to pounce on fumbled punt inside the Giants' 40 with Dallas trailing 7-0. Later, Abram Elam whiffed on Ahmad Bradshaw's 5-yard run instead of tackling him for a loss.

Gerald Sensabaugh tried to run with a fumble instead of falling on it and the ball squirted out of his hands and into Eli Manning's waiting arms.

There's more.

On the Cowboys' first series, Tony Romo badly missed a wide open Dez Bryant for what probably should've been a touchdown. In the second quarter, Romo threw a pass when he was about three yards past the line of scrimmage, wiping out a 22-yard completion to Bryant at the Giants 14.

Terence Newman's gaffes had the biggest impact on the game.

First, 283-pound tight end Bear Pasco hurdled Newman to convert a third-and-9 from the New York 5 because Newman didn't try to wrap him up.

Three plays later, Newman let Cruz turn a 5-yard out into a 74-yard touchdown.

And let's not forget DeMarcus Ware being called offside for the seventh time this season, which negated a fumble recovery by Sean Lee.

Simply embarrassing.

You can't make this stuff up. Even if you did, no one would believe you.

But that's what this team has done the entire season. It finds more creative ways to lose than any other team in the NFL.

Garrett's top priority this offseason is to figure out how to stop that. The first step is acknowledging there's something in this team's DNA that prevents it from playing well in the last month of the season.

Remember, the Cowboys were 7-4 with a one-game lead in the NFC East when December started. Garrett insisted to anyone who asked that he didn't see any common denominators in the Cowboys' lack of late-season success.

Well, he needs to look harder.

He needs to find out exactly why this team consistently fails when it matters.

If it's the players, then he must cut some of them. If it's the assistant coaches, then he needs to fire some of them.

And if he needs to hire an offensive coordinator to handle the play-calling, so the Cowboys don't lose four games because of dumb play-calling (Detroit and New England) or time-management issues (Arizona and at home against the Giants), then he absolutely, positively must subjugate his ego and do it.

Garrett can't waste the type of seasons the 31-year-old Romo had in 2011, when he passed for more than 4,000 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Romo was one of just five quarterbacks with a touchdown/interception ratio of more than +20. The others: Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (+39), New Orleans' Drew Brees (+32), New England's Tom Brady (+27) and Detroit's Matthew Stafford (+25). Of course, each of those quarterbacks is in the postseason.

"It's disappointing to have a quarterback as well as he's competing and not make the playoffs," Jerry said. "This is one of my biggest disappointments in football, period."

Jerry can blame lots of folks, starting with himself since he's the GM who put this team together.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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