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Victory, poise gone in blink of an eye

DETROIT -- With 12 seconds left against the Detroit Lions, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant stood face-to-face on the sideline.

They were screaming. And cussing. And gesturing.

At each other.

DeMarcus Ware, inactive because of a quadriceps strain, pushed Witten away, and the 6-4, 265-pound defensive end finally yanked Bryant by the collar and snarled at him until he calmed down enough to finish the game.

Don't ever think these dudes paid millions to play a kid's game don't care. They do.

We saw that passion on full display on the Dallas Cowboys' sideline throughout their game Sunday afternoon at Ford Field -- and yet it wasn't enough.

Detroit 31, Dallas 30.

That's 11 times since the start of the 2010 season, the Cowboys have lost by three points or less. Only Miami (13) has more kick-in-the-gut losses in that span.

The emotions were still on display after the loss. More than one player declined to speak about the loss. Others spoke softly. And quickly.

You could see the anger in head coach Jason Garrett's blue eyes and hear the disgust in his voice as he described different plays in this most disappointing of losses for the Cowboys.

This is the kind of loss that might require a little more than the usual 24-hour mourning period.

After all, the Cowboys were 62 seconds away from their fifth win and ending the first half of the season with a three-game winning streak and a good vibe heading into next week's game against Minnesota.

Six plays later, Witten and Bryant were seemingly about to fight after Detroit drove 80 yards in six plays without a timeout.

"You get 16 opportunities to compete your ass off and that's what we try to do," Garrett said. "We were in great position to win that ballgame and we didn't get it done.

"When you put your guts out there for three hours, collectively, sometimes it's hard to swallow those kinds of defeats."

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised the Lions moved the ball easily when it mattered most. The Cowboys have faced four good passers this season. Each has torched their defense.

Stafford finished with 488 yards passing as the Cowboys became the first team in the league's 93-year history to surrender 400 yards to four opposing quarterbacks.

Calvin Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown as the Lions gained 623 yards, the most a Cowboys' defense had ever allowed in a game.

Still, the defense forced four turnovers.

And if the offense hadn't been abject through three quarters, then the Cowboys would've had a substantial lead. Instead, the Cowboys turned those four turnovers into just 10 points, which meant the Cowboys were never in control of the game, especially the way Detroit was moving the ball.

Teams that are plus-4 in turnover margin are now 54-2. You can't make this stuff up.

Dan Bailey's 44-yard field goal with 1:02 left gave the Cowboys a 30-24 lead, and his touchback on the ensuing kickoff meant Detroit would have to go the length of the field to win.

The Cowboys employ defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the master of the Tampa 2 defense, which means they should be better equipped than most teams to handle end-of-the-game situations.

That entire defense is built around not giving up the big play.

On second-and-10 from the Detroit 37, Stafford found Kris Durham streaking down the left sideline. Stafford placed the ball perfectly between cornerback Orlando Scandrick and rookie safety Jakar Hamilton for a 40-yard gain to the Dallas 23 with 33 seconds left.

A defense simply can't yield a big play in that situation.

Stafford hit Johnson for 22 yards on the next play, and scored on a quarterback sneak with 12 seconds left after faking as if he were going to spike the ball to stop the clock.

The Cowboys blew fourth-quarter leads of 20-10, 27-17 and 30-24.

"We lost as a team today," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "No one is pointing fingers. There's a lot of football left in the season.

"You gotta play to the whistle. You gotta finish it. We had a chance to finish it on defense and we didn't."

Now, the Cowboys have breathed life into the other clubs in football's worst division. The New York Giants lost their first six games, but are just two games behind the Cowboys after consecutive wins.

Washington and Philadelphia are only a game back. The Cowboys have wasted an opportunity to forge a substantial lead.

At least Witten and Bryant had calmed down in the locker room. Witten even gave Bryant a hug.

Later, Bryant talked about the passion he has for football and winning. None of this is new.

Bryant has thrown sideline tantrums in other games. And this won't be the last.

Heck, Witten came off the field screaming on the series before Bryant had his meltdown. But the cameras didn't follow Witten as he ranted for more than a minute.

Like Bryant, he was frustrated with yet another poor offensive performance. After the game, Garrett and Jerry Jones downplayed the sideline argument between Witten and Bryant.

So did Romo.

But if the Cowboys don't find a way to start consistently winning these types of games, the frustrations will continue.

Next time, Ware might not be around to stop it from escalating.