Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys had a tortuous journey through the 2011 season. The Cowboys were up and down throughout the season. They hovered around the .500 mark for the first half of the season. In the second half of the season, the Cowboys rose to the division lead, only to cede it to the New York Giants in the end.
Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Jay Ratliff had to battle through injuries. All Cowboys players had their share of highs and lows. No one—not even Ware—had a perfect season.
The 2011 season was an emotional saga for the Cowboys. Expressing the emotions of the season requires a song. A single song for the entire team would gloss over the details and leave little room for thoughtful asides. Thus, important players need their own songs to detail how the season went for each of them.
Following is a compilation of songs that capture the 2011 season for some of the more significant Dallas Cowboys players. If you don't like the selections or feel my musical taste is too narrow, then please comment with better suggestions.
"However much I make it out
It's never enough
However much I do."
No matter how much Tony Romo does to help the Cowboys succeed, many don't buy that he's good enough to take the Cowboys to the playoffs. Romo played through a broken rib and punctured lung to carry the Cowboys to victory against the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins in Weeks 2 and 3. He totaled four comeback victories on the season.
Romo put up some of the best statistics of his career. He was fourth in the NFL in passer rating (102.5), third in completion rate (66.3 percent) and fifth in passing touchdowns (31).
He had nine games with ratings of 100 or better.
Romo became more accurate in 2011. He had his best completion rate, fewest interceptions (10) and lowest interception rate (1.9 percent) in any of his five full seasons as a starter.
Nevertheless, many will still remember Romo's 2011 season for the lows. These followers will focus on his three interceptions that figured highly in the Cowboys' blown 24-point second half lead against the Detroit Lions in Week 4 and his fumble and interception that helped blow a 14-point lead against the New York Jets in Week 1.
Romo's detractors persist. Most recently, New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw said the Cowboys couldn't win a championship with Romo under center.
Romo could work hard towards this goal. He could build his competitive spirit and pile up big numbers. That would help the Cowboys get closer to a championship. However, if the Cowboys fall short with injuries to the offensive line and a defense that can't make critical stops like in 2011, Romo can't always make up for it.
If Romo brings the Cowboys deep into the playoffs but doesn't win it all, he might be faulted. He'd go down the same as Rex Grossman, who carried the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl XLI with the best quarterback play the Bears had seen in 21 years, yet was blamed for losing the Super Bowl while the porous defense wasn't.
To Romo's critics, whatever he does is never enough.
"They say he has no moon
They say he was born again
They say, 'Look at him climb.'"
DeMarco Murray became the next up-and-coming running back for the Cowboys in the middle of the season. Murray broke out in Week 7 with a franchise-record 253 yards on 25 carries. He went on to rack up 701 yards in four games from Weeks 7 to 10.
Murray would be surrounded by a great deal of hype and fantasy football speculation.
However, Murray would fall off after that. He would average fewer than four yards per carry in the ensuing three games and then fractured his ankle in a Week 14 loss to the New York Giants.
The excitement by Cowboys fans about Murray seemed premature. While Murray was a star at Oklahoma, he was untested before Week 7. He received six or fewer carries in his first four games and 10 in his fifth. His breakout game came against a weak St. Louis Rams defense.
Murray is human like anyone else. Just like other running backs, he relies on good blocking. His drop in yardage coincided with the illness of lead blocker Tony Fiammetta.
Too much excitement can lead to misbegotten thinking. As a line from the song says, "I say he should watch his a**, my friend. Don't listen to the crowd."
Thus, Murray has a shot a becoming a good running back. After he fully recovers, he could mature as a runner and develop better pass-blocking skills, which were lacking a bit in 2011. He might even become an All-Pro some day, but people shouldn't rush to declare him the next Emmitt Smith.
"Baby, you can start again
Laughing in the open air
Have yourself another dream tonight."
Dez Bryant has endured some obstacles as a young player. He's had his share of run-ins with the law, most recently his altercation with a member of Lil Wayne's entourage in a Miami nightclub in January.
He endured injuries in his second pro season. Bryant was greatly fatigued in his Week 1 battle with Darrelle Revis. He would battle a hamstring injury afterwards.
Bryant's 2011 season was good, but not great. He was second among Cowboys pass catchers in receptions (63), receiving yards (928) and receiving touchdowns (nine). However, he didn't have a 100-yard game and amounted more than 75 yards four times.
Still, it was an improvement upon his rookie season, as he boosted his numbers significantly upon the 2010 season.
Bryant should be able to grow even more as a receiver in 2012. He'll have ensured stability with Miles Austin locked in for the next few years. Further, Bryant has the talent to develop into a solid receiver.
Since he's young, Bryant can dream of greatness without off-the-field issues being much of a problem.
Essential Line: "Someone must have loved you, not the way that I do."
I didn't want to select two songs from the same artist. Although this song and the one dedicated for Dez Bryant were released under different performer names, it's basically the same artist since Brandon Flowers is the lead singer of The Killers. I couldn't resist picking this bar-style B-side.
This perfectly captures the Cowboys' acquisition (and reacquisition) of Laurent Robinson. Robinson had taken his shots with the Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams in the previous four years, but never really had a shot at being a significant wide receiver.
Jerry Jones gave Robinson his shot this season. Robinson came on in early September. The Cowboys released him after Week 1, but signed him back before Week 3. He didn't disappoint after that. Robinson set career highs in all receiving categories. He led the Cowboys in receiving touchdowns (11) and yards per catch (15.9).
With his breakout season, Cowboys fans were forced to wonder, like the title of this song, "Who let you go?"
Strangely, that question is answered partly with the Cowboys, although they didn't let him go to another team. Hopefully, Jones shows Robinson how much he and the Cowboys organization love him and re-sign him to a mid-range deal, perhaps for three years.
"I'm flunking out
I'm flunking out and I'm gone
But at least I offered my own disaster."
The lyrics of this song, like many songs by Of Montreal, are difficult to pick apart. Thus, the above line is one of the few I could piece together in the framework of this list.
Nevertheless, this song fit perfectly for Felix Jones' 2011 season. The past hasn't been nice to Jones. Year after year, Jones shows elusive quickness and great rushing ability, but is bitten by the injury bug.
2011 was no different. Jones broke out for 115 yards on 14 carries against the Redskins. Then, he languished for two weeks before becoming injured against the New England Patriots. He remained on the back burner as he healed until DeMarco Murray injured his ankle. Then, he ran off 100-yard games against the Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The past had been horrible to Jones. Since 2011 resembled past seasons for Jones, it only appeared grotesque. He endured the injuries and ups and downs that he saw in his first three seasons.
This could be a bad sign for Jones. If he can't be a reliable, durable back for the Cowboys, then they'll supplant him with Murray, and perhaps even move him.
"They couldn't stop Jack on the waters rapid
And they couldn't prevent Jack from feeling happy."
Jason Witten didn't have the most amazing season in 2011. Still, he had a fine season. Witten came just short of another 1,000-yard season, but he matched his best receiving average (11.9 yards per catch).
Witten had a methodical season, just as methodical as this song. He was the only Cowboys pass-catcher with three receptions in each game. He had 60 or more receiving yards in eight games.
While Laurent Robinson was up and down and Miles Austin and Dez Bryant dealt with injuries, Witten was the most consistent presence in the Cowboys receiving corps.
While Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had some of the best numbers for tight ends in 2011, that couldn't keep Witten from being happy.
Witten will continue doing his thing as a more conventional receiver than Graham and Gronkowski. He'll continue catching a good number of passes while also blocking a good amount.
"Turn up the lights in here, baby
Want you to see everything
Want you to see all of the lights."
Miles Austin was in and out of action in 2011. Of the 10 games Austin played, five were night games. Some night games were better than others for Austin. He caught touchdown passes in three of those five games. Against the Jets, Austin had five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.
The above line especially captures Austin's Week 14 performance against the Giants. Austin surely wants people to see his performance that night for everything it was. He had some big catches, including two on the final drive. On the other hand, he missed a pass from Tony Romo on third down on the next to last drive.
Initially, Romo was blamed for overthrowing Austin.
However, Austin told Romo after the game that he had lost the ball in the lights. Later, Austin told the Star-Telegram that he simply didn't react soon enough.
Whatever the case may be, Austin will have to do better under the night lights. Being the Cowboys' big-money receiver, Austin needs to step up and make critical catches in the clutch. SInce the Cowboys play several games each year in prime-time, Austin can't miss passes under pressure.
Essential Line: "You may believe it, but I don't believe in miracles anymore."
Jon Kitna used to be a hard-nosed starting quarterback. He once took hard hits and came back into the game after suffering a concussion. He took 323 sacks in his career and twice led the NFL in sacks taken.
In his time, Kitna was a premier tough guy.
Moreover, he had been relevant. Kitna had started nine or more games in seven seasons before 2011.
He was helpful for the Cowboys in 2010, starting nine games after Romo went down with injury.
2011 was different for Kitna. He couldn't take the blows he used to. Kitna was placed on injured reserve due to a back injury. At the end of the season, it was too much for him. He retired after a 15-year career.
Kitna went on to take a job coach high school football. In all likelihood, he signaled that his train wouldn't stop behind an NFL offensive line anymore.
"Your mom busts in and says, 'What's that noise?'
Aw, Mom, you're just jealous
It's the Beastie Boys
You gotta fight for your right to party!"
Sean Lee couldn't let a broken wrist get him down. He was the key to the Cowboys run defense in 2011. Due to his proficiency at sniffing out ball carriers, the Cowboys were No. 4 in run defense through Week 7.
The Cowboys couldn't stop anything on the ground if Lee missed much time. Thus, Lee fought hard to come back early. He missed just one game and took shots so that he could play with a smaller cast. As time went on, Lee moved on to just playing with a brace.
Lee worked hard on his technique to be efficient playing with the brace, using it to punch and swing ball carriers.
He had to do what he could to come back quickly. Other players could stand to stay out for a few games and not worry. However, as vital as Lee is to the Cowboys defense, he couldn't sit back as the Cowboys defense suffered. He had to fight for playing time.
Considering his success in the latter part of the season, Cowboys fans can expect Lee to continue to fight hard in the coming seasons.
"Last night, she said,
'Oh, baby, I feel so down, so you turn me down
When I feel left out
I turned around
I know this for sure
I'm walking out that door."
This song perfectly captures the attitude the Cowboys may have to take after the 2011 season regarding Terence Newman. Newman allowed receivers to easily take catches on him. Calvin Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown on him in Week 4.
Newman had an interception against the Patriots in Week 6, but was burned late in the game.
He gave up key catches in Week 14 against the Giants.
Jerry Jones will have to make a decision on Newman. He'll have to weigh Newman's effectiveness against his cost. The best thing may be to cut Newman, turning him down and saving $4 million on the salary cap.
Essential line: "Another inch sacrificed for your brother in the nick of time."
DeMarcus Ware had to grind through a tough, yet rewarding season in 2011. He had 14 sacks in the first eight games. That included four against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8.
Then, Ware quieted down. He had only four sacks in the seven weeks following the Eagles game. He suffered through a stinger down the stretch. Ware played through it with little choice.
After all, the Cowboys pass rush would have been scarce without him.
That's the life for NFL players. Players like Ware put themselves through the mill to make their teams succeed at the risk of injury and long-term health. Ware could feel the effects of his stinger for years. Despite that, he'll continue to play hard through the coming seasons.
Besides, playing in the NFL, as some might cynically say, is just another way to die.