Even the return of Tony Romo likely won’t save the Dallas Cowboys now.
And why should it?
If they can’t muster the energy, fortitude and skill to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with their prospective season seemingly on the line, they might not deserve to be saved.
What else is left to say after Sunday’s 10-6 loss to the Buccaneers in front of 64,133 fans at Raymond James Stadium?
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A team that has continually been unable to make plays when it matters most and get stops at critical times suffered its seventh consecutive loss when quarterback Jameis Winston scored on a 1-yard run with 54 seconds left.
The touchdown came one play after the Cowboys blew a game-saving fumble by Winston when safety Jeff Heath was called for defensive holding.
It is very disappointing. I’m disappointed.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
And one series after star receiver Dez Bryant dropped a pass on third down that would have given the Cowboys a first down to likely ice the game.
It was the third time in the streak that the Cowboys (2-7) have blown a fourth-quarter lead. It was the sixth loss when the game was within one score in the fourth quarter.
“It is very disappointing. I’m disappointed,” owner Jerry Jones said outside a pensive locker room. “We had high expectations to say the very least for this year and so I’m disappointed for the people who count the most, our fans, and I’m disappointed that we’re not making a better showing.”
The Cowboys, who came into season hoping to build on last year’s 12-4 mark and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years, have not won since Tony Romo went down with a fractured collarbone Sept. 20. He is slated to return for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
The Cowboys had hoped to end their losing streak against the Buccaneers and make a final run to the playoffs with Romo over the final seven games.
They have faint hope in the mediocre NFC East. The Cowboys remain in last place in the division, but no one has run away with the division. The New York Giants (5-5) lead the way. The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins are 4-5.
There being absolutely nothing positive that you can say about where we are after the ball game.
Still, the Cowboys have nothing about themselves to feel good about following the loss to Tampa Bay (4-5).
“There being absolutely nothing positive that you can say about where we are after the ballgame. We obviously had a chance to win that ballgame and didn’t,” Jones said.
The Cowboys are no longer talking about trying to salvage their playoff hopes. They are focused solely on winning one game and ending the losing streak.
“It’s disappointment and frustration,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “We had them. We held them and we let them off the hook.”
The Cowboys won’t be able to win a game until they find a way to make winning plays at the end on offense and defense.
It has been a problem throughout the seven-game losing streak, which is the longest for the Cowboys since they went 1-15 in 1989.
It was a huge problem on Sunday.
Romo’s return will help, considering that no other quarterback has won a game for the Cowboys since the final game of the 2010 season with Stephen McGee at the helm.
Matt Cassel, who took over for Brandon Weeden four weeks ago, lost his fourth consecutive game. The Cowboys are 0-7 without Romo this season, 0-8 since 2014 and 5-17 since 2006.
“We keep saying we are going to get this thing turned around,” Cassel said. “We truly believed. Unfortunately, we keep getting in these tight games where we are not able to finish.”
Cassel completed 19 of 30 passes for 186 yards. With running back Darren McFadden shut down (17 carries for 32 yards), the passing game was unable to make the Buccaneers pay.
No question. Regardless of anything, I am supposed to have had that.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on dropped pass in fourth quarter
Still, the Cowboys possibly had a chance to seal the game with a third-and-1 pass to Bryant with 4:13 to go at the Dallas 18. But Bryant was unable to come up with what he described as a catchable ball in tight coverage by cornerback Sterling Moore.
“No question. Regardless of anything, I am supposed to have had that,” said Bryant, who caught five passes for 45 yards. “Like I said, I was expecting something, but I feel I adjusted well to it real quickly. I didn’t execute the way I needed to.”
The game ended on a Cassel interception in the end zone by free safety Bradley McDougald on a throw to Bryant, who appeared to give up on the play too early because he thought defensive pass interference was going to be called.
Bryant, who blew up on a reporter in the locker room last week, resulting in a national story, took full blame for not making a play on the ball in the end zone.
“That’s how I feel. It was just unfortunate,” Bryant said. “Me, too busy worrying about a call. I felt like I still should have tried. It threw me off a little bit. But it was OK.
“They didn’t call it. The attitude I have, I’m supposed to try my best to fight through situations like that. I didn’t because I was expecting something, and that’s on me. I’m not going to sit here and make a ton of excuses because I know the standard I have for myself.”
Jones said the Cowboys have every intention on playing Romo the rest of the way — though he has no expectations of his making a huge difference and saving the season if the team continues its ways in the clutch.
“We’ve needed these last two, three, four ballgames,” Jones said. ‘”We’ve been in a situation where we’ve needed wins, and we’re not getting them. That’s a hard price to pay even though we’ve got a chance to be a better team with Romo.
“But still, we’re not getting it done. That’s beginning with me. That goes right where that responsibility is and we should be able to do better than we’ve done the last seven games.”