When the Dallas Cowboys packed for San Antonio and told four veterans -- Marion Barber, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Marc Colombo -- not to come with them, it only added to a summer of uncertainty.
The Cowboys, like every NFL team, were about to enter training camp with no off-season. And they were heading to camp with a new head coach, having promoted Jason Garrett after he finished the previous season as the interim coach, and a new defensive coordinator, the bombastic Rob Ryan.
Then, before the first preseason game, they released their Pro Bowl center. Andre Gurode became a fifth key veteran to leave the team. And they told their No. 1 pick, tackle Tyron Smith, to plan on playing the whole season at right tackle.
So it was hard to know what to expect from the 2011 Cowboys.
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The 16 games they played in 2011 did little to clear anything up. They won half of them and lost half of them.
They got a good year from their quarterback, but ran for only five touchdowns (24 NFL players had more by themselves, including Barber and two quarterbacks). They were one of the NFL's best sack teams, but they couldn't make a clutch stop down the stretch.
They made the right decision on a field-goal kicker (Dan Bailey had one of the best years by a rookie in club history), but they were not a threat on kickoff or punt returns.
They committed themselves to youth on the offensive line, but it had mixed results. One rookie, Bill Nagy, went down with a broken ankle. Another, David Arkin, couldn't even get active for one game. Second-year center Phil Costa was physically overwhelmed, and his shotgun snaps were sometimes erratic. But Smith came to own right tackle, and rookie Kevin Kowalski gained enough trust that the Cowboys plugged him in during five games.
The Cowboys might have been good enough to win 11 or 12 games. They let five slip away. They stole one or two. They played for the NFC East championship in Week 17.
No matter what they accomplished, the Cowboys in 2011 weren't good enough to be a playoff team. That much was certain.
The numbers don't lie
1-4 Cowboys’ record in their last five games. After Week 12, they were 7-4 and in first place in the NFC East.
115.9 Tony Romo’s passer rating over the last five games. He threw 10 touchdown passes to one interception and completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 1,158 yards in those games.
36 Times Romo was sacked this season, the most he’s been sacked since he took over as starting QB in 2006.
5 Rushing TDs for the Cowboys, tied for second-fewest in the league.
1 Interception by the Cowboys defense in the last five games. Linebacker Sean Lee intercepted a tipped pass in the Cowboys' first meeting with the Giants.
15 Interceptions by the Cowboys defense on the season, tied for 17th in the NFL. Only 10 came from players in the secondary.
5.6 Yards allowed per play by the Cowboys, tied for fifth-worst in the league.
7.6 Yards allowed per pass attempt, ninth-highest in the NFL.
1,236 Passing yards allowed in their last four losses (309 a game).