Commentary

Cowboys come up empty in end

Defense, Bryant failed to make the big plays when it counted in 17-16 loss

Updated: September 16, 2013, 4:33 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Dallas Cowboys' first loss of the season didn't have anything to do with the crowd -- no matter how much the players and coaches talked about Arrowhead Stadium's tough environment after the game.

These Kansas City Chiefs bear little resemblance to the raggedy 2012 team, but let's not act like they're headed to the Super Bowl.

They're not.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesJason Garrett's Cowboys showed flashes of brilliance during Sunday's game against the Chiefs. But they couldn't come up with the big plays when it mattered.

And as good as Andy Reid's offense has been over the years, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin shut it down most of the game.

The Cowboys lost because their offense couldn't make a drive when it counted most and their defense couldn't stop one. They lost because the defense didn't force a turnover and the offense gave it away twice.

They lost because Dez Bryant, phenomenal all day, dropped a deep pass in the fourth quarter and Dwayne Harris just missed recovering a muffed kickoff after the Cowboys pulled within a point late in the game.

Just about every NFL game is decided by one play here or there. The Cowboys failed to make one when it mattered most Sunday.

Kansas City 17, Dallas 16.

But don't lump this loss with the one to Seattle last season that left the Cowboys at 1-1 after two games, just like this season.

That's too easy. And it's wrong.

Seattle was a debacle because the Cowboys self-destructed from the opening kickoff and never gave themselves an opportunity to win. The Cowboys gave themselves multiple opportunities to beat Kansas City Sunday.

They just wasted them.

"We did some things that gave us a chance to win this game and put ourselves in position," Romo said. "Ultimately, we [lost], and that's all that matters. No one cares about the other stuff.

"Four weeks from now, this will still be a loss. That's tough."

Every loss starts with an examination of Romo, who completed 25 of his first 30 passes for 243 yards -- and he threw away two of those first five incompletions.

Romo bruised his ribs last week, and he took a painkilling injection before the game.

But he hardly resembled the same player after a 4-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter that ended with 346-pound Dontari Poe tackling him. He completed just five of his final 12 passes and missed badly on several of them.

And with eight seconds left, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan called a screen pass instead of a Hail Mary, even though the Cowboys were at their own 4. You have to wonder if the rib injury prevented Romo from heaving the ball 40 or 50 yards downfield.

FYI: Romo is now 7-16 when he throws the ball more than 40 times in a game. Romo threw 40-plus passes 13 times in his first 78 games under coach Jason Garrett. He's now done it in 10 of the past 18 games.

He's 4-6 in those games and 1-1 this season. So much for Garrett and Bill Callahan lessening Romo's burden.

Or, perhaps, this is the result of Romo's additional influence.

As you would expect, Romo refused to use his rib injury as an excuse. Garrett and owner Jerry Jones each said the quarterback never complained about the injury.

Instead, Romo praised Kansas City's aggressive defensive scheme, which seemingly blitzes much more than it doesn't.

Those blitzes create opportunities for big plays in the passing game because the Chiefs play so much man-to-man, the main reason Bryant caught five passes for 100 yards in the first quarter.

He finished with nine catches for 141 yards, but most of the questions after the game revolved around the one pass he didn't catch.

Romo, making his best throw of the second half, lofted a ball deep down the right sideline and hit the usually sure-handed Bryant in the hands.

He dropped it.

Instead of a 30-yard gain -- maybe a touchdown -- the Cowboys punted. On their next possession, the Cowboys moved to the Kansas City 35, but the drive ended with three consecutive incompletions.

None came close to their target.

The Cowboys settled for a 53-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 3:50 left, pulling within a point.

Knile Davis muffed the kickoff, but it bounced up to him at the Kansas City 16 just as Harris tackled him.

One more defensive stand by a unit that had allowed 77 yards on Kansas City's first possession and just 169 yards on the next nine possessions and the offense would have one last chance to win it.

The defense couldn't make a stop.

At that time, Jamaal Charles had eight carries for 8 yards. He carried eight times for 47 yards on the drive, and the Cowboys didn't get the ball again until 16 seconds remained.

By then, it was too late for the Cowboys to do anything except think about the litany of missed opportunities.

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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