Injuries and close losses shaped the Dallas Cowboys’ 4-12 season.
After a hype-filled training camp and a 2-0 start, including a wild win over the New York Giants in the opener at AT&T Stadium, the season began to unravel when quarterback Tony Romo broke his collarbone in Week 2 against Philadelphia.
The injury to Romo set off a chain of events in which four quarterbacks would get starts and the team would suffer losing streaks of seven games, including two that went overtime, and three games to close the season.
“I’m taken aback by the fact that we’re sitting here with four wins after this year,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It was never anticipated. In fact, I thought we had one of the best off-season jobs of addressing our needs and really acquiring some serious talent where we had the most need. The year before I was a little skeptical. Last year, you all made me Executive of the Year. This year, I think I’m on the way out.”
There were some highlights during the season.
Kicker Dan Bailey, guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick and tackle Tyron Smith each made the Pro Bowl. Running back Darren McFadden became the seventh player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards. He finished with 1,089. Jason Witten became the second tight end in NFL history to have 1,000 career receptions.
Still, the 4-12 record speaks loudest.
“Clearly, we didn’t get the job done for a lot of different reasons. We didn’t handle the adversity of the season very well,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I think our team fought. We battled, we scratched and clawed. Those are important things, but you have to do the necessary things to win football games in this league.
“We’ve done that in the past. We didn’t do that this year, certainly not on a consistent basis.”
Here’s a game-by-game look at the season:
Cowboys 27 Giants 26
Romo rallied the Cowboys from a 10-point deficit in the final 5 minutes to beat the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium in the season opener. Romo directed a 72-yard, game-winning drive with 1:29 left and threw an 11-yard touchdown to Witten with 7 seconds to go.
Notable: Wide receiver Dez Bryant fractured a bone in his right foot and rookie defensive end Randy Gregory suffered a high ankle sprain.
Cowboys 20 Eagles 10
Romo broke his left collarbone in the third quarter, but the defense dominated Philadelphia and backup Brandon Weeden threw a fourth-quarter touchdown to Terrance Williams as the Cowboys moved to 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
Notable: The defense, led by Sean Lee’s 14 tackles and a key third-quarter end zone interception, forced the Eagles into five three-and-out possessions. Former Cowboy DeMarco Murray had 13 carries for 2 yards for the Eagles.
Falcons 39 Cowboys 28
With Weeden starting in place of the injured Romo, the Cowboys built a 28-17 halftime lead at AT&T Stadium against Atlanta, but collapsed in the second half for their first loss of the season. Joseph Randle scored three rushing touchdowns and Weeden passed for 232 yards with one interception. However, the Falcons closed the game with 25 consecutive points.
Notable: The Cowboys played without nine starters due to injuries and suspensions. Falcons receiver Julio Jones had 12 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns and backup running back Devonta Freeman added 141 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Saints 26 Cowboys 20 (OT)
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Spiller 13 seconds into overtime to beat the Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Saints kicker Zach Hocker missed a 30-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in regulation. Less than 2 minutes earlier, Weeden threw a 17-yard touchdown to Williams to tie the game.
Notable: Lee suffered a concussion and Lance Dunbar injured his left kneegame. The Cowboys saw their 10-game road winning streak dating to 2013 come to an end. The overtime finish in just 13 seconds was the fastest in NFL regular-season history.
Patriots 30 Cowboys 6
Tom Brady threw two touchdowns and ran for another as the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots overpowered the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. New England led 13-3 at halftime. Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain, who both missed the first four games of the season because of NFL suspensions, combined for 13 tackles and three sacks.
Notable: The Cowboys lost their third consecutive game for the first time under Garrett.
Giants 27 Cowboys 20
Dwayne Harris returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Giants held off the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. Harris left Dallas for New York in the off-season during free agency. Quarterback Matt Cassel made his starting debut for Dallas. He passed for 227 yards, but was intercepted three times, including one returned 58 yards for a touchdown.
Notable: McFadden rushed for 152 yards on 29 carries and scored one touchdown. Eight of his carries were for first downs. He also had a touchdown on a screen pass nullified by a penalty. Randle started, but left the game with a back injury.
Seahawks 13 Cowboys 12
Seattle’s Steven Hauschka overcame an earlier block with a 24-yard field goal with 1:06 left in the game at AT&T Stadium to send the Cowboys to their fifth consecutive loss. Bryant played for the first time in seven weeks and had two catches. Bailey had four field goals.
Notable: Hardy had four tackles, one tackle for loss, three hurries, one interception and one pass defensed for Dallas. In a scary moment, Seattle’s Ricardo Lockette suffered a concussion on punt coverage after a hit by safety Jeff Heath and fell motionless to the turf. After more than 10 minutes of treatment, he was carted off the field and had full movement.
Eagles 33 Cowboys 27 (OT)
Sam Bradford threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews in overtime to send Dallas to its sixth consecutive loss. Bailey made a 44-yard field goal to force overtime at AT&T Stadium. Cole Beasley had nine catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Bryant had five catches for 104 yards and one touchdown. McFadden had his second 100-yard game with 117 on 27 carries.
Notable: Lee suffered a concussion in the third quarter. Hardy was the subject of public outcry over the weekend after the release of photos from a domestic violence incident in May 2014. He tweeted his regrets on Saturday. Hardy had three tackles, one sack, and two hurries, but was not in the locker room for media availability.
Bucs 10, Cowboys 6
Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Jameis Winston scored on a 1-yard bootleg with 54 seconds left in the game at Raymond James Stadium to hand Dallas its seventh consecutive loss. The touchdown came one play after a Cowboys fumble recovery was nullified by a holding call on Heath, who had two interceptions in the game. Bailey made two field goals, but snapped his string of 14 consecutive makes with a second-quarter miss.
Notable: The losing streak is the longest since Dallas went 1-15 in 1989. Bryant had two dropped passes, including a crucial third-and-1 play with 4:08 left in the game.
Cowboys 24 Dolphins 14
Romo returned to the lineup for the first time since a Week 2 fractured collarbone and threw two touchdowns at Sun Life Stadium as the Cowboys beat Miami to snap a seven-game losing streak. McClain returned an interception 12 yards for a touchdown and McFadden rushed for 129 yards on 29 carries.
Notable: Romo and Bryant connected for their 50th touchdown, passing Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin (49) for the most quarterback-wide receiver tandem touchdowns in franchise history. Witten played in his franchise-record 197th consecutive game. The previous mark was 196 by Bob Lilly.
Panthers 33 Cowboys 14
Carolina returned two interceptions for touchdowns to build a 23-3 lead and Romo was knocked out of the game with a fractured left collarbone on the final play of the third quarter in the Thanksgiving loss at AT&T Stadium. Carolina kicker Graham Gano made four field goals and Cam Newton ran for a touchdown as the Panthers remained unbeaten at 11-0.
Notable: In the aftermath of terrorists’ attacks around the world, the NFL beefed up security and law enforcement presence at NFL stadiums. Tactical officers wore full gear at AT&T Stadium and were carrying assault rifles. Some had dogs.
Cowboys 19 Redskins 16
Bailey made a 54-yard field goal with 9 seconds left in a classic Monday Night Football road win against Washington at FedEx Field. Bailey had four field goals. Witten had five catches to become only the second tight end with 1,000 career catches in NFL history. A 46-yard kickoff return by Lucky Whitehead and two catches by Bryant put the Cowboys in position to win in the final 44 seconds.
Notable: Cassel started in place of the injured Romo and passed for 224 yards. The win ended the team’s nine-game losing streak with backup quarterbacks, including 0-7 this season. Lee and McClain, blitzing most of the night, combined for 23 tackles.
Packers 28 Cowboys 7
Eddie Lacy rushed for 124 yards and Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdowns as Green Bay wore down then ran over Dallas at the wet and historic Lambeau Field. The Cowboys’ only score came on a 7-yard run by Robert Turbin. McFadden had 111 yards on nine carries.
Notable: Bryant had only one catch for 9 yards. He also had two drops on six targets. Cassel completed 13 of 29 passes for 114 yards and one interception. His longest completion was 19 yards.
Jets 19, Cowboys 16
Randy Bullock made a 40-yard field goal with 36 seconds left as the New York Jets shook off the Cowboys in a rare Saturday night game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys were officially eliminated from the playoffs. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed a 43-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins to set up Bullock’s kick. The Cowboys, making a switch from Cassel to Kellen Moore at quarterback, tied the game at 16-16 on Bailey’s field goal with 1:55 left.
Notable: Cassel started, but was replaced by Moore in the second quarter. In his NFL debut, Moore passed for 158 yards, one touchdown and was intercepted three times. McFadden had 100 yards on 16 carries.
Bills 16, Cowboys 6
Mike Gillislee ran 50 yards for a touchdown with 2:25 left in the game as Buffalo broke free from the Cowboys. Moore, in his first NFL start, completed 13 of 31 passes for 186 yards and one interception. Bailey made field goals of 46 and 22 yards. He missed a 50-yard try. McFadden had 19 carries for 99 yards.
Notable: Bryant and cornerback Morris Claiborne didn’t make the trip to Buffalo. Witten set a franchise record with his 118th consecutive game with a catch dating to Nov. 16, 2008. He caught a 12-yard screen pass early in the second quarter. The previous mark was 117, shared by Witten and Michael Irvin (1990-98). It was his only catch in the game.
Redskins 34 Cowboys 23
Kirk Cousins threw three first-quarter touchdowns as the playoff-bound Redskins rolled past the Cowboys in the regular-season finale. McFadden gained 92 yards on 12 carries to put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He is the seventh player in club history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. Moore passed for 425 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble.
Notable: Williams led the team with eight passes for 173 yards – both career-highs. Lee was inactive with a hamstring injury as the Cowboys finished 1-7 at home.