The free fall continues for the reeling Dallas Cowboys.
But while they might be in dire straights after their fourth consecutive loss, this is not a team coming apart at the seams.
At least not yet.
Defensive end Greg Hardy’s sideline tantrum, following the 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that lifted the New York Giants to a 27-20 Sunday, was attributed to passion and emotion by coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones.
Hardy had confrontations with special teams coach Rich Bisaccia and receiver Devin Street among others, resulting in injured receiver Dez Bryant playing the role of peacemaker.
What is not up for debate is the desperate situation the Cowboys find themselves in after Sunday’s meltdown before 80,319 fans at MetLife Stadium.
The Cowboys had hoped quarterback Matt Cassel, starting for the first time in place of Brandon Weeden, could provide an answer.
Cassel, however, threw three interceptions, all on consecutive possessions in the second half as the Cowboys lost their fourth consecutive game since Tony Romo suffered a fractured collarbone.
The Cowboys added a fourth turnover when receiver Cole Beasley muffed a punt with 1:26 remaining in the game, killing their final chance at a comeback.
Any hopes of the Cowboys (2-4) keeping their season alive and staying in playoff contention until Romo returns Nov. 22 comes down to them winning Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
“The challenge is daunting,” Jones said. “We should and will look at Seattle and go quarter by quarter and that’s all that we need to be looking at. We don’t, we can’t afford to look down the road. We’ve got to get a win. We have dug ourselves a real challenge.”
The Cowboys have as many losses as they had all last season when they went 12-4 before losing in the NFC divisional playoffs.
They are in last place in the NFC East behind the Giants (4-3); the Philadelphia Eagles, who played at Carolina Sunday night; and the Washington Redskins (3-4).
Cassel, who was acquired in a trade with Seattle on Sept. 22, completed 17 of 27 passes for 227 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
“It lies on my shoulders obviously,” Casssel said. “I have to correct those. I’ve got to give our team a better opportunity to win. If you don’t take care of the ball in this league, it’s tough to win. I’m not going to make excuses. It lies on me. I’ve got to do a better job.”
Cassel’s first interception came six plays after the second-half kickoff with the Cowboys up 13-10.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie jumped a stop route intended for receiver Terrance Williams and returned the ball 58 yards for a touchdown.
Six plays later, Cassel gave it up again.
Safety Brandon Meriweather intercepted a floating pass intended for Williams at the 1.
The Giants turned that turnover into a field goal and a 20-13 lead.
Cassel followed with his third interception on the next possession as Rodgers-Cromartie undercut a throw intended for Brice Butler.
“Obviously, the three big plays for him were the interceptions,” Garrett said. “We can look at each of those and try to explain what happened. But you can’t turn the ball over. If you look at three interceptions, you look at a kickoff return and fumbled punt at the end of the game. It’s too difficult to overcome those kinds of mistakes.”
It was the kickoff return that proved to be the breaking point for Hardy.
It came after Cassel drove the Cowboys 80 yards to tie the game. He connected with Williams for 21 yards on third-and-9 and then tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Street to make the score 20-20 at the 7:14 mark.
But that’s when Harris, who played with the Cowboys from 2011-2014 before joining the Giants as a free agent last March, took the kickoff back 100 yards.
Hardy then went off on the sideline in an effort to fire up his teammates, but ultimately got thrown out of the special teams huddle.
“He wanted to get in there and kind of get after some of the guys a little bit, maybe get them fired up,” Bisaccia said. “It was just not the right time. It’s really not an issue. I just had to communicate what we were going to do next on the return, so I just really wanted him to move on so we could get going.”
Hardy, who had three tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss in the game, refused to explain himself afterward, offering up a series of “no comments.”
Garrett said he wants guys with passion and emotion , guys who are invested. That’s how he described Hardy.
“He was coming off the field,” Garrett said. “When that happens, you encourage guys, you get guys excited. I believe from my vantage point that’s what he was doing.”
Jones went even further in support of Hardy: “He’s, of course, one of the real leaders on this team and he earns it. He earns it with the respect from all of his teammates. That’s the kind of thing that inspires. I don’t have any issue with him being involved in motivating or pushing in any part of the football team because he plays and walks the walk.”
The loss offset a strong effort from running back Darren McFadden, who had 152 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown. Not only was it a season-high, but was also his best game since a career-best 171 yards in 2011 when he was still with the Oakland Raiders.
The Cowboys will look to build on McFadden’s performance against the Seahawks on Sunday, when they could also get Bryant back for the first time since the season opener when he suffered a fractured bone in his foot.
None of it will matter if they can’t find a way to win without Romo. The last time the Cowboys won a game without Romo at quarterback was in the 2010 season finale, with Stephen McGee.
The Cowboys are 0-5 the past two seasons without Romo, including 0-4 in 2015. They can’t go O-fer if they hope to have something to play for when he returns.
Jones said the Seattle game is a must win.