Might the Dallas Cowboys mission be two-fold Sunday?
They not only will be trying to keep their playoff hopes alive with a victory against the Indianapolis Colts but also hope to prevent further sullying the home turf at AT&T Stadium.
There is legitimacy to that thought process during what has been a surprisingly successful, but increasingly curious, 2014 season. The Cowboys have a 10-4 record but are still not assured of a playoff spot.
For as much pride as the Cowboys take in the 7-0 road record that has fueled their success, there is the flip side of a 3-4 mark at their $1.2 billion palace in Arlington.
Not only do the Cowboys have a losing mark, but they have a three-game losing streak — the antithesis of a home-field advantage.
To steal a line from the elderly lady in a popular Geico commercial, “This is not how it works. This is not how any of this is supposed to work.”
The Cowboys can’t understand it and are at a loss for words trying to explain it.
All they know is that for them to make the playoffs they need to find a way to beat the Colts.
“I don’t know,” responded quarterback Tony Romo, when asked for a reason why the Cowboys seemingly play better on the road than at home. “Don’t have a good answer for you. We’ve played well on the road. We’ve played some games well at home, too. We just need to do better as a whole and execute better and I look forward to doing that this week.”
Center Travis Frederick was flummoxed by the question and the entire situation. He, like the rest of the Cowboys, maintain it’s about executing and playing your best no matter where the game is. But he also understands the natural order of things, and the Cowboys’ play at home versus the road is out of order.
“I don’t know why,” Frederick said. “I don’t feel any different in the locker room. It feels the same to me. So I don’t get it. I’m just as confused.”
Some fans are throwing around the idea that it’s better for the Cowboys to get in the playoffs as a wild-card team rather than a division champion to avoid playing at home and have all their playoff games on the road.
“I’m not going to go as far as to say that,” Frederick said. “But it’s weird to me. It’s confusing. It doesn’t make any sense. They talk about you want to win at home and do well on the road, wining half the games. Well, if you win all your games on the road and half at home it’s the same thing. It’s about winning games. It’s not about where it is.”
It is about where it this week, because the playoffs are at stake.
Initially, the belief was that AT&T wasn’t a good home-field advantage because so many opposing fans were able to get tickets.
But the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans taking up roughly 40 percent of the seats in the first three home games was offset by the Cowboys going 2-1 in those contests. Cowboys fans dominated the stands and provided a raucous atmosphere in the next four games against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys lost three of those four games.
One factor in the Cowboys’ performance in the four home losses was Romo’s iffy status, a contrast to his Most Valuable Player caliber of play in the rest of the games.
Romo played in the opening loss against the 49ers after missing much of training camp recovering from back surgery. He didn’t look comfortable and was intercepted three times.
In the 20-17 overtime loss to the Redskins, he suffered fractures in two small bones in his back, causing him to miss the 28-17 loss to the Cardinals the following week.
The 33-10 loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving Day featured Romo’s worst performance of the season. He was intercepted twice and had a season-worst passer rating of 53.7. He admitted he didn’t handle the short week well while managing his back issues.
Plus, the Cowboys have played tougher teams at home. Their home opponents have a combined record of 48-50. Their road opponents are 39-59.
“Ultimately, it’s about execution — just blocking, tackling, throwing, and catching,” Romo said. “We just have to do it better, narrow the focus and go out there and do your job.”
Coach Jason Garrett is not ready to change the routine of treating the home game like a road game and having the players take the bus to the stadium together.
“I think we look at all those things, and we try to make the best decision,” Garrett said. “You don’t want to just make change for change’s sake. But if it’s something that we think can positively impact our team, we’ll look at it.”
Defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey said he addressed the issue with his teammates, starting with their focus on Friday night before going to the team hotel.
He said it’s not about AT&T Stadium. It’s about them.
“We can definitely get it fixed,” Mincey said. “It’s energetic in AT&T Stadium. We’ve just got to be more focused, come out there the way we did earlier this year. I’m highly confident that we will get over that hump.
“The time is now. When you know how close you are to something, you work a little harder to get to it. We’re right there on the brink of being great.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr.
Home is where the L’s are
The Cowboys have been perfect on the road this season. At home? Not so much. A breakdown:
Points per game
Points allowed per game
Yards per game
Yards per game allowed
All-time at AT&T
The Cowboys are 25-22 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium:
By kickoff time