ARLINGTON -- Probably the saddest part of the Dallas Cowboys seemingly shocking collapse against the undefeated Detroit Lions on Sunday was not that it happened in record-setting fashion, but that it had a familiar feel to it.
No Cowboys team had ever blown a 24-point lead to lose a game in franchise history.
It tied for largest blown lead by a home team in NFL history and was the fifth largest lead blown in NFL history, regular season or postseason, according to Elias Sports Bureau and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As cornerback Terence Newman said in the postgame locker room after the Cowboys choked away a 27-3 third-quarter lead in an eventual 34-30 loss before 78,122 fans at Cowboys Stadium, “It’s not like this is our first rodeo.”
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Disappointment and frustration abound among the Cowboys because it was a game they seemingly had in hand.
It was also reminiscent of past collapses, just none so epic.
“There have been a lot of games we felt like we were in control and came out on the losing side," said tight end Jason Witten, when asked if he has been a part of a loss like Sunday’s.
The most frustrating and mind-boggling part of the results seemed to be the familiarity in the person deemed most responsible — star-crossed quarterback Tony Romo, who was intercepted three times in the second half to spark the Lions’ comeback.
Two of the interceptions were returned for touchdowns in the third quarter — a 34-yarder by former Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who was also the best man in Romo’s wedding, and a 56-yarder by cornerback Chris Houston.
The final one interception by linebacker Stephen Tulloch set up the game-winning touchdown, a 2-yard pass from Matt Stafford to Calvin Johnson with 1 minute, 39 seconds left in the game.
It was Romo who had two crucial turnovers in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets in which the Cowboys blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead for the first time in franchise history. He went from goat to courageous hero the past two weeks by leading the Cowboys to comeback victories over the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins despite playing with a fractured rib. He took pain-killing injections to play Sunday. He is back in the goat role again after the collapse, giving the Cowboys a 2-2 record heading into the bye week.
“It hurts,” Romo said. “It doesn’t feel good right now. The games obviously turn on turnovers. It is the most important stat in a game. That is why you protect the ball. It’s my No. 1 job, and I didn’t do a well enough job of that. I’m not taking anything away from them. They made a play when they had to. I shouldn’t have allowed them to have that chance.”
Romo completed 34 of 47 passes for 331 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions in the game. He threw touchdowns of 25 and 6 yards to Dez Bryant in the first half and a 1-yard touchdown to Witten in the third quarter for a 27-3 lead.
However, he was 11 for 19 for 97 yards with the three crucial interceptions the rest of the way. He became the first Cowboys player since Ryan Leaf to have two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game.
The Cowboys’ defense is not without blame in the loss. After shutting down the Lions for much of three quarters, they could do nothing the stop the comeback in the fourth. Make that they couldn’t stop Johnson in the fourth. All five of Johnson’s catches and both touchdowns came in the fourth quarter as the Lions moved to 4-0 for first time since 1980.
On a day when Romo tied Danny White for the club record with the 20th three-touchdown game of his career, it’s his penchant for crucial turnovers that rings most familiar.
“He’s a tough player,” Witten said. “We have been down this road a lot with him this year. He’ll bounce back. He’s our guy. We will fight through just like we saw in New York. He’s our guy."
Coach Jason Garrett echoed Witten saying the Cowboys believe in Romo as did owner Jerry Jones. Jones said the team will live and die with Romo’s successes and failures.
“I put the mistakes right in with what he does well,” Jones said. “As Tony goes, we’ll go.”
Under Romo, the Cowboys are a middling team with two weeks to think and prepare for a matchup at the New England Patriots on Oct. 14.
They were on their way to a 3-1 record with the 27-3 lead in the third quarter, giving them a much-needed boost and helping them get off the roller coaster -- which dates back for more than a decade.
The Cowboys are 90-90 since 2001 — a spate of mediocrity that is also quite familiar. Romo has lost seven of the past 10 starts.
“We had a chance to go into the bye 3-1,” Witten said. “It would have set us up. We let it slip. We are .500 team and battling. That is our mind-set.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr.