Earlier on Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys were in the process of impersonating a pretty good football club.
Let me stress, pretty good.
Later in the afternoon, however, it became very obvious what was observed earlier was strictly an impersonation.
In the real world of the NFL, 60 minutes each Sunday is usually enough time to separate the fakers from the eventually winners. Given enough second-half time, the Cowboys did the separating.
In a frustrating, 17-16, loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, you could say the Cowboys let one get away, or you could say the Chiefs simply took the W, and in both cases you might be right.
“Absolutely,” said tight end Jason Witten, when asked the let-one-get-away question. Coach Jason Garrett, however, declined to participate in that same theory, offering praise for the Chiefs.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself, because nobody else is,” added Witten, “and you can’t say here we go again.”
Sorry, Jason, but the here-we-go-again cloud did seem to hang over Arrowhead Stadium when this thing was over.
The Cowboys took control of the game in the first half, led 10-7 at intermission, then came out in the third quarter with a brief but dominant show of offensive force.
But somewhere down there in the red zone, the here-we-go-again wheels started to come off. A field goal had to salvage a prime scoring opportunity, and after that it was strictly the Bad News Cowboys the rest of the way.
The second half wounds, all self-inflicted, were deep and painful.
One lost fumble.
A second lost fumble.
A costly drop by Dez Bryant, who was making circus catches in the first half.
And finally, a pass interference call on cornerback Mo Claiborne that basically sealed the loss. Even if it was a borderline flag that fell on Mo, his dive over the back of a receiver usually always has an official reaching for the hanky.
“It was certainly a pivotal call in the game,” said Garrett, who noted his view was on the other side of the field.
But while the Cowboys’ defense had its lapses, including a failure to stop the run as the clock ticked away at the end of the game, this was a loss, of course, that falls heavily in the laps of the offense.
Take away Dan Bailey bailing out failed drives with two sonic-range field goals (51 and 53 yards), plus adding a 30-yard chip shot, and the scoreboard math is reduced to one touchdown for the afternoon.
The killer for the Cowboys came at the end of a long and seemingly well-orchestrated drive after taking the second half kickoff.
Tony Romo was on target, and all appeared well once backup running back Lance Dunbar ripped off 12 yards, making it first-and-goal at the KC 5.
A touchdown there, and a 17-7 lead, and …
But we go again. Red-zone rot happened.
Romo was sacked on first down, because the interior of the offensive line failed to block massive nose tackle Dontari Poe. How do you lose a guy who weights 350 pounds?
On second down, this time from the 12, DeMarco Murray got back to the 4-yard line on a check-down throw from Romo. But the false-start snake bit again, with the flinch this time coming from guard Ron Leary.
That made it third-and-goal from the 9, where a flip outside to Terrence Williams had no chance of going anywhere. It’s three points, instead of seven, and the offense would never be the same.
The Cowboys would also never lead again, when Kansas City immediately drove 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown at 14-13.
Aim low, right for the foot. That’s where the Cowboys kept shooting themselves. Dunbar lost a fumble at midfield after catching a pass. The Dallas defense had a hold, however, and KC came away with a field goal, and a four-point lead off the Dunbar turnover.
On the next possession, Romo then lost a fumble at the Cowboys 35, separated from the ball on a blindside sack. But the defense came to the rescue, sparked by a Bruce Carter sack. This time the Chiefs had to punt. No points there.
Down four points, the Cowboys were still right there, particularly when Dez had a Romo fourth-quarter bomb laid perfectly in his hands inside the 50-guard line.
Bryant’s hands failed him. He flat dropped it, after having beaten the cover guy by a good 3 yards. That was a touchdown bomb waiting to happen. The Cowboys are still waiting for a second-half touchdown.
Speaking of frustration, the Cowboys were at the KC 35 with a first down late in the fourth quarter.
Romo, on target most of the afternoon despite plenty of pressure, then seemed to lose his aiming eye.
His out-route throw was behind Witten, and almost picked, on first down, He made a bad out-route throw to Miles Austin on second down, and then threw very short and not accurately to Witten on third down.
All three passes went to the left side in the same area. Weird, and not pretty. Romo blamed one throw on a “hot” read and said on the other two, the play called didn’t develop downfield.
Granted, while Romo takes the fandom cussing in that series, he’s also at the mercy of what’s going on elsewhere. And the Chiefs do play good defense.
Bailey toed up a 53-yard field goal to cut the lead to one, but then the Dallas defense couldn’t get the Chiefs off the field. KC ran it like the Cowboys say they want to, but couldn’t again on this day (37 yards rushing).
Cue the frustration. It was definitely that kind of a loss.