The silence of losing echoed from every corner of the Dallas Cowboys locker room Sunday afternoon.
After seven defeats in a row, the Cowboys ought to be accustomed to the sound.
They dress quietly. They leave quickly. A few of them linger to politely answer the media’s questions.
There really isn’t much to say, though, is there?
What was supposed to be a dream season — an Owner Jones Return-to-Glory Tour — has unraveled, seemingly beyond all reasonable hope.
When quarterback Tony Romo returns, as expected, next Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, he will find a Cowboys team wallowing closer to irrelevance than contending for first place.
“I think right now our main concern is just trying to get a W,” said receiver Dez Bryant, who was all but hushed by the 10-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It’s been eight weeks since Romo, who suffered a broken clavicle, was placed on the NFL’s Injured Reserve/Designated to Return list.
Not that anyone has been counting.
During the game Sunday, Cowboys believers on Twitter were wistfully counting down the minutes until Romo is allowed to return.
“46 minutes until Romo is the starter again.”
“12 minutes and counting to Romo Time!”
“We’ve got Romo back,” owner Jerry Jones assessed, “but that’s not something we should consider here.
“We had an opportunity today, and we’ve had opportunities to win without Romo and didn’t take advantage of them. And that’s a flaw.”
It can’t all be the absent Romo’s fault, Jerry was admitting. If so, that would mean laying the blame for the seven-game losing streak squarely on the shoulders of stand-in quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden.
“I think the effort’s outstanding, the fight is outstanding,” coach Jason Garrett said. “But you have to do what winning teams do in critical moments. We didn’t do that today.”
Nope, they didn’t. Too many flaws.
After Sunday’s results, the Cowboys have the basement of the NFC East all to themselves. They are 2-7, two games worse than Philadelphia and Washington.
The Cowboys’ running game is as unsettled as it was on the day they decided to let leading rusher DeMarco Murray agree to a free-agent deal with the Eagles.
Sunday’s leading rusher against the Bucs was Darren McFadden, who had only 32 yards on 17 carries.
As a team, the Cowboys had only 12 first downs and 216 net yards.
Bryant, who bristled at media criticism last week, caught five passes for a relatively silent 45 yards. But more to the day’s point, he dropped a third-and-1 pass in the fourth quarter and then surrendered meekly on Cassel’s Hail Mary attempt at game’s end.
As Tampa Bay’s Bradley McDougald was intercepting the final pass in the end zone, Bryant was complaining to officials that he had been pushed.
Afterward, Dez said he was “not trying to make excuses, but ... it was just an unfortunate situation.”
Seated at his locker, Bryant politely answered every media question.
Was it a rough week for him, someone asked?
“To be really honest about this situation, yeah,” Dez said. “But I’m not going to say it had anything to do with my performance.
“Like I said, we were just in a lot of unfortunate situations today.”
When Romo was sidelined, the prevailing feeling was that if the Cowboys could just win two or three games, they would be poised for a December run at the NFC East title when Tony returns.
Alas, the reality after Sunday is that not even a Romo-led seven-game winning streak can be guaranteed to get the Cowboys to the playoffs.
After seven defeats in a row, the Cowboys are defined by their postgame silence — dressing quietly, leaving quickly.
Welcome back to the house of flaws, Tony Romo.