The Dallas Cowboys can’t win.
Not when it comes to intensified national scrutiny surrounding the presence of defensive end Greg Hardy on their roster.
And definitely not without quarterback Tony Romo.
It was the Philadelphia Eagles’ turn to take advantage of the injury-riddled Cowboys in a 33-27 overtime victory Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.
Jordan Matthews caught a 41-yard touchdown on the first drive of overtime.
It was the sixth consecutive loss for the reeling, but defiant Cowboys — a feat last matched when they went 1-15 in 1989 — raising a question of whether the season or Hardy matters anymore.
The Cowboys (2-6) have not won since Romo suffered a fractured collarbone in Week 2. They had hoped to keep their season and playoff hopes alive until he returned Nov. 22.
The Cowboys have to play one more game without Romo.
But now too much damage might have been done on the field.
The Cowboys, who have play at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) next Sunday, remain in last place in the NFC East and would have to go 7-1 the rest of the way to get to 9-7.
A disappointed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said it feels like 1989 all over again for his seemingly snake-bit team, considering that five of the season losses have come down to the fourth quarter or overtime.
But he said all they can do is stay the course.
“We understand. We can add and subtract,” Jones said. “We know what is ahead of us. We just are very disappointed for everybody concerned that we haven’t won more games. It feels like that. It seems like we can’t buy a turnover. We can’t seemingly get ourselves in position to win one of these ballgames. There’s not but one thing to do: put our head down and go forward and try to get better and try to get better and play Tampa.”
The walls are also seemingly closing in on the team off the field concerning Hardy following the release of photos from his domestic violence incident in May 2014 while he was still a member of the Carolina Panthers.
Hardy tweeted out an apology on Saturday though he didn’t talk after the game.
Jones said the Cowboys were committed to giving him a second chance.
“Greg has a commitment to us,” Jones said. “He has a commitment to do the right thing. We expect him to do the right thing. He has a commitment to his teammates and our team. The way it’s set up in the NFL, relative to behavior, and in fact we wanted to give Greg a second chance. And you lose that in the NFL if you don’t do the right things. If he will do the right things, if he will take advantage of the opportunities that he has got there and this second chance, then we’ll see how it goes.”
It all rings hollow now with the team amid a losing streak and seemingly on the brink of being out of the playoff chase at the midway point the season. Hardy was signed to help put the Cowboys over the top and turn last year’s 12-4 NFC East champs into Super Bowl contenders.
Jones said he never thought the Cowboys would be in the position they are in. But he is not looking back now.
“I would never weigh what our efforts have been in the off-season, what our efforts were in the draft, what our efforts were to put our team together. I would never at this juncture ever say anything other than we’re here to compete. We’re not competing at a high enough level to meet our goals and we have to figure out a way to compete; that’s on everybody’s shoulders.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the team understood there would be criticism when they signed Hardy, and he continues to stand by the decision.
“We’ve decided to give him a second chance,” Garrett said. “He’s worked hard for our football team up to this point. He knows what the expectations and standards are. We’re going to hold him accountable to those.”
It was Hardy and the Cowboys defense that couldn’t hold up in overtime or throughout the fourth quarter Sunday.
Dan Bailey made a 44-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright to force overtime. It was the third time in the fourth quarter that the Cowboys had bounced back from deficits to tie the game.
Quarterback Matt Cassel passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. But he remains winless since taking over for Brandon Weeden three games ago. The Cowboys are now 0-7 without Romo since last year and 6-15 since 2006.
The last time a Cowboys quarterback not named Romo won a game for the Cowboys was the final game of the 2010 season.
“It’s difficult to swallow when you compete hard for four quarters and you go to overtime and the result is what it is,” Cassel said. “This team competes. We just haven’t had the results that we wanted. We just have to figure out a way to win. There is half a season left. I hate standing up here every week and saying that but it’s the truth. We got to get the momentum turned the other way.”
Darren McFadden had 27 carries for 117 yards. Cole Beasley had nine catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Dez Bryant had five catches for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford passed for 295 yards and Matthews had nine catches for 133 yards and the game-winner. But the Eagles gashed the Cowboys on the ground with 35 carries for 172 yards, including 18 for 83 and a touchdown for former Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. Ryan Mathews also added 11 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Philadelphia turned a 14-14 game to 21-14 early in the fourth quarter when linebacker Jordan Hicks, a rookie from Texas, returned an interception 67 yards. Hicks stepped in front of a pass intended for McFadden and ran untouched for a touchdown with 12:47 left in the game.
“He made a good play on the ball,” Cassel said. “Bad things happen from time to time.”
Rookie Lucky Whitehead returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards to the Eagles’ 24.
Three plays later, Bryant outjumped a group of six players in the back of end zone to tie the game at 21-21 with 10:52 to go.
Caleb Sturgis’ 31-yard field goal made it 24-21 with 7:22 to go, then Bailey followed with a 41-yarder to keep the game tied at 24-24 with 2:54 to go.
Sturgis added a 53-yarder with 1:46 left in the game. Then Dallas marched to the Eagles’ 26 where Bailey’s 44-yard field goal tied the game with 2 seconds left.
Once in overtime, Bradford’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Matthews clinched it for the Eagles. Matthews beat rookie safety Byron Jones, who had lost his footing while trying to make the tackle.
“It’s frustrating to make plays early on, but not make the play the game on the line,” Byron Jones said.
The Cowboys are saying the right things in the locker room and trying to stay positive but frustration is setting in.
“It’s frustrating, it’s definitely frustrating,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “Six in a row is too much. We are way better than that. That’s what’s frustrating about it. We still got hope. We will get this thing fixed. We just got to figure out how to win. We are not going to give in. I get tired of saying that every week. But I’m going to keep saying it until it becomes actuality. We will fight to the end.”
The question is, will they win again?