Cowboys' season in peril at midway point

ATLANTA -- The Dallas Cowboys came into the season with a Jerry Jones-infused sense of urgency to make the playoffs and possible run to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.

Now they just might be playing with their football futures under the disdainful eye of a disappointed owner.

What else can be said about a 3-5 record at the midpoint of a seemingly lost season after Sunday's devastating 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons before 70,840 fans at the Georgia Dome.

No one is shocked more than tight end Jason Witten, who set the tone at the start of training camp when he declared that the Cowboys were on a mission this season and that it couldn't be the same old story.

So far, that's what it's been for the Cowboys, the same self-inflicted wounds. The same missed opportunities. The continued lack of a scoring punch and the inability to rise to the occasion. All were on full display against the undefeated Falcons (8-0).

"Never would have thought we would be at this point with this team," said Witten, who said the loss dampened his historic achievement of catching seven passes to surpass Hall of Famer Michael Irvin as the team's all-time leading receiver. "You can't look back."

The Cowboys are not without hope as the schedule gets easier over the second half of the season starting next Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles (3-4), followed by games against the Cleveland Browns (2-7) and then the Washington Redskins (3-6) on Thanksgiving Day.

The Cowboys' final eight opponents have a record of 24-40, compared with their first eight opponents' record of 42-21.

Still, nothing is guaranteed for a Cowboys team that can't seemingly get out of its own way.

The loss to the Falcons came down to the Cowboys not being able to cash in on two red-zone opportunities in the first quarter and instead settling for field goals.

Quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown, missed a wide-open Cole Beasley in the back of the end zone on one possession.

A scoring drive in the second half was killed by a dropped pass by receiver Kevin Ogletree, leading to a failed 54-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

And then a defense that had played stout throughout the game failed to come up with the big play when the Cowboys needed it most.

After Romo drove the Cowboys down the field and hit Ogletree for a 21-yard touchdown to narrow the score to 16-13 with 5:21 remaining, the defense couldn't get the ball back.

The Falcons drove 66 yards on 12 plays and basically ran out the clock before kicking a late field goal. Nickel back Orlando Scandrick gave up two crucial first downs with a missed tackle and a holding penalty.

"I'm very disappointed that we didn't have a chance to play better," Jones said. "We're 3-5. The team we just played is 8-0. I thought we could play well against this team. I thought we could match up against this team. I'm very disappointed. As far as how we do each game from here on out, we'll see how we play."

How the Cowboys do from here on out puts coach Jason Garrett on the hot seat. He is 16-16 as Cowboys coach since the midway point of 2010 season when he took over for Wade Phillips.

Jones likes Garrett and the direction of the team under him, but the Cowboys are 4-9 in the past 13 games.

The focus on Garrett just got a little hotter with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, a Jones favorite, possibly becoming a coaching free agent at the end of the season.

Garret is also disappointed with the Cowboys at the midway point, but he is not giving up and said the team will stay together.

"We have to keep looking at ourselves to see what we are doing," Garrett said. "You have to stay together, you have to go back to work. You can't worry about what happened before. You can't worry about the future. You have to keep banging away. We have to find away to do more."

Or else.

The present and future are now at stake.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


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