Dez Bryant didn’t catch it.
Time and time again in Sunday’s 28-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers at wet and historic Lambeau Field, Bryant didn’t catch it.
There was nothing controversial about it.
Just like last January in the NFC divisional playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys season is likely over because of it.
A Cowboys offense that has lacked punch all season needed its best player, who is finally healthy, to give them a spark and carry them through as they continue to cling to slim hopes of reviving what has already been a dreadful season.
Bryant responded with a nightmarish performance in what was arguably the worst game of his career with one catch for 9 yards on six targets. He had two drops and had another pass bounce out of his hands in the end zone for an interception.
Bryant blamed the wet weather for his poor play, which was aided and abetted by another poor throwing game from quarterback Matt Cassel, who completed just 13 of 29 passses for 114 yards and an interception. More importantly, he led an offense that converted just 1 of 11 third-down chances.
It left a deflated owner Jerry Jones no choice but to jump off the bandwagon after the game, saying that maybe the Cowboys, who have played the majority of the season without quarterback Tony Romo, just aren’t as good as he thought they were.
“The game was sobering,” Jones said. “We’ve got more work to do than just getting Romo healthy. And I’m not just saying that to be magnanimous here for everybody. We’ve got a lot of work.”
Not only did the Cowboys (4-9) lose for the eighth time in nine tries without Romo at quarterback, but it marked the seventh time this season that the Cowboys scored one or no offensive touchdowns in a game. They’ve lost five of those contests.
Robert Turbin’s 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the only score for the Cowboys. Darren McFadden added 111 rushing yards.
“We weren’t as efficient as we needed to be on offense,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Third downs were not very good. We had some opportunities to throw and catch.”
With no help on offense, the defense simply ran out of gas and was run over at the end.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 22 of 35 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers rushed for 230 yards, including 124 by running back Eddie Lacy.
A Cowboys season that has been on life support for months is running on empty as well. The Cowboys already are guaranteed their first losing season since going 6-10 in 2010 when Garrett took over for Wade Phillips at the midway point.
This will be Garrett’s first losing season as head coach.
It is one small step closer to being the fourth time in five years that he has failed to lead the Cowboys to the playoffs.
Dallas is two games behind the Washington Redskins (6-7) and the Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) with three games to go in the race for the NFC East title. Washington beat Chicago 24-21 and Philadelphia beat Buffalo 23-20 on Sunday. The New York Giants play at Miami Monday night.
The Cowboys still have a slight chance if they win out, depending on some tiebreakers. There is no more margin for error, considering the Redskins and Eagles play each other, guaranteeing at least one will get to seven wins.
Jones has all but given up on the team’s slim playoff chances.
“Very. Very [slim],” Jones said. “I’m not trying to be smirky when I say it, but very slim, but that’s not for me to say with these guys that put it out like this.”
For the Cowboys to truly make a run to salvage their season, they needed a win in Green Bay.
It’s something they couldn’t truly grasp on offense or defense as Bryant’s drops were offset by a defense that got worn down and continually missed tackles.
That was most evident in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys seemingly still in the game down 14-7 with 8:15 to go. On third-and-9, Rodgers broke two tackles and scrambled for 11 yards and a first down.
Four plays later, James Starks turned a second-and-25 into a 30-yard touchdown run right up the middle.
Lacy added a 1-yard score against a tired Cowboys defense on the next drive.
“Unfortunately, when they are on the field as much as they are, they were able to run the ball,” Garrett said. “I thought the tackling late in the game wasn’t as good as it should have been. That’s a big back, a big strong back. Our guys probably were worn down. They were on the field way too much. We were close there. A one-score game with 6 or 7 minutes to go.
“And when we didn’t make a couple of critical tackles ... they were able to turn it into a larger margin than that.”
The writing on the wall for the Cowboys came on the game’s second possession.
After forcing a game-opening punt, the Cowboys drove from their 24 to the Packers’ 2, keyed by McFadden’s 50-yard run.
On first down, McFadden lost a yard.
On second down, Cassel threw incomplete to Witten.
On third down, Cassel’s high pass bounced off Bryant’s hands and was intercepted in the end zone by Sam Shields for a touchback.
“It was a slant and we weren’t able to cash in on it,” Garrett said. “Not being able to cash in and get on the board hurt us.”
Said Bryant, “It’s a timing thing. I knew Matt was getting flushed out a little bit. When I came around it was too late. I was trying to find him. But I couldn’t find him. The ball came and it was a little too high. If I would have seen him I would have gotten my whole body underneath it. But things happen.”
Bad things happened all night for Bryant, who had a drop in the second quarter as well as a catch that was reversed on replay.
Already down 7-0 thanks to a touchdown pass from Rodgers to Starks, a third-down, 28-yard catch by Bryant at the Packers’ 38 was challenged and overturned, forcing a punt. The play conjured up memories of the controversial non-catch in last season’s NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau that the Packers won.
Eleven plays later, Rodgers threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers with 2:40 left in the first half and giving the Packers a 14-0 lead.
Bryant, who switched gloves three times in the game, followed with a drop in the third quarter. He said wet weather got into his head.
“It did play a factor,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to lie. Our whole mindset was to not even let that be an issue which was an issue. I’m jumping when I shouldn’t even have to jump. I’m too busy focusing on trying to catch the ball [with my body] cause I’m too afraid of putting my hands out there ’cause it’s going to slip straight through them.
“It is what it is. It’s an opportunity we can’t get back. All I can do and us as a whole can do is learn from it and move forward and get better. That’s it.”
You can also say that about a Cowboys season that began with hopes of building on last year’s 12-4 campaign and using the playoff loss to the Packers as motivation for a push to the Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years.