The Dallas Cowboys can't blame its 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on turnovers or bad breaks or even penalties (although they still drew five more flags than their opponent). The difference for the Cowboys Sunday night in Atlanta was that the Falcons made more plays than Dallas did.
The Falcons are simply the better team. They converted 50 percent of their third downs. Dallas converted just 30 percent. They controlled the clock for 32 minutes and 43 seconds. Dallas controlled it for just 27 minutes and 17 seconds. They had three 30-plus-yard plays. Dallas had two.
Turnovers weren't a factor, because there weren't any. The Dallas Cowboys simply aren't as talented or as poised as the Atlanta Falcons, which is why it's no surprise that they lost a prime-time game to Atlanta on the road. And if not for two uncharacteristic field goal misses from Matt Bryant, it wouldn't have been so close in the fourth quarter.
On offense, the 'Boys weren't able to do anything until they got desperate and let Tony Romo do his thing on what felt like an effortless fourth-quarter touchdown drive. The problem was that they didn't get into that mode until it was too late. Dallas should have been desperate from the opening kickoff.
On defense, the 'Boys just couldn't make plays when it mattered. Orlando Scandrick will become the official goat because of a missed tackle on a 31-yard Michael Turner pickup and a costly defensive holding penalty in the fourth quarter, but Morris Claiborne was beaten often as well, and several defenders couldn't lock guys up when they needed to. If not for a superb performance from Bruce Carter, this wouldn't have been as close.
What this indicates is that Dallas isn't ready. It's another sign that this version of the team can't compete with big boys in big moments. They're consistently outcoached and outplayed by teams they have to be able to go toe-to-toe with if they're going to be a Super Bowl contender.
Right now, they're only a borderline playoff contender. At 3-5, they can only afford one, maybe two losses during the second half of the season. Look at this team and the effort they put forth Sunday night in Atlanta and try to claim with a straight face that you can see it making a run like that. I know I can't.
I believe in these Cowboys, but I don't think they have the killer instinct to be great. That is something that can be developed over time, and there are a lot of quality pieces in place, but this is a team that simply isn't ready for January football.
That could change between now and January 2013. But if it doesn't, there's no telling what a famously impatient Jerry Jones might do.