So much for the talk about the streaking Dallas Cowboys taking advantage of a soft schedule and possibly clinching the NFC East title Sunday against the New York Giants.
The talk was about as dumb as the Cowboys’ play and decision making in a 19-13 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, snapping a four-game winning streak.
Things seemingly always happen to the Cowboys when they come to University of Phoenix Stadium. Never mind that many, if not half, of 62,180 fans were Cowboys fans. This was the third loss for the Cowboys here on the final play of the game, including visits in 2008 and 2010.
The Cowboys were their own worst enemy with missed opportunities early, critical penalties and then calling a questionable timeout preceding their own attempt for a game-winning field goal in the waning moments.
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Dan Bailey’s miss from 49 yards with 2 seconds left came after he made one only to have it nullified when coach Jason Garrett called a timeout, essentially icing his own kicker.
When the Cardinals got the ball to start overtime, they made quick work of the mistake-laden Cowboys, who committed seven penalties in the game and came up empty on five drives across midfield.
Former Stephenville quarterback Kevin Kolb’s screen pass to running back LaRod Stephens-Howling gashed a blitzing defense.
He then broke several tackles en route to a 52-yard game winning touchdown for a 5-7 Cardinals team that has all but been eliminated from the playoffs.
The Cowboys (7-5) control their own destiny in the NFC East as they remain one game ahead of the New York Giants (6-6), but missed a chance to take a two-game lead into Sunday night’s showdown.
“Certainly we can still control our destiny,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I think we can look at it that way. The team has got to be able to do that. We know this thing is about getting setbacks. This is definitely a setback. We’ve got to come back out here and play. We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us.”
The miss by Bailey was his second of the day and seemingly out of character for the rookie sensation who came into the game with a streak of 26 consecutive makes, including game-winners on the final play of victories against Washington and Miami.
After he missed a 53-yarder in the first quarter, the Cowboys had confidence in Bailey on the final attempt, although they didn’t do him any favors with the timeout.
“The first one I felt like I hit it good,” Bailey said. “It went in. We called a timeout. But it’s my job to regroup and come back and make the next one. I didn’t do that. No excuses. I should have made it despite the circumstances.”
Garrett made no apologies for the final circumstances as he said the clock was running down and he didn’t want to get called for a delay of game.
That doesn’t explain why the Cowboys allowed the clock to run down after a play in which they spiked the ball.
That decision was curious considering they had just made a first down with a 15-yard pass from quarterback Tony Romo to receiver Dez Bryant to get them in field-goal position with 26 seconds left.
Instead of calling timeout after the catch, Romo ran to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball with 8 seconds left.
Those mistakes don’t include the block in the back penalty on cornerback Orlando Scandrick, negating a 35-yard punt return by Bryant that would have given the Cowboys a first down at the Cardinals’ 25-yard line.
But the decisions not to call a timeout and then ice their own kicker with a timeout were the most damaging in the end.
“Obviously you want to get the kicker as close as you can,” Garrett said. “You want to manage the situation. We chose to manage the situation this way. It didn’t work out for us this time.”
Romo, who completed 28 of 42 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown, said he couldn’t tell whether Bryant had made a first down and didn’t want to call a timeout to give Arizona a chance to win it if he had come up short.
A testy Jones said, “The explanation I got is it was to let time run off the clock. I’m not going to agree or disagree right here. But the point is it was to let time run off the clock.”
There was plenty of blame to go around.
The defense allowed only 49 total yards in the first half, but gave up 276 in the second half and couldn’t tackle in the overtime. The running game was a non-factor.
If the Cowboys are to continue to control their own destiny and not have another December meltdown as in past years, they must be better against the Giants.
No one knows that more than Romo, whose career record is 7-11 in the month of December.
“There were a lot of mistakes out there,” Romo said. “You can be very disappointed in the things we did as a football team. Any time you lose, it’s a setback. We just need to get better and be ready next week.
Clarence E. Hill Jr. 817-390-7760