Come season’s end, there is always room for reflection for any team that didn’t make the playoffs.
The Dallas Cowboys are doing some reflecting of their own which includes possible roster and coaching staff changes.
Team owner Jerry Jones recently said that things are about to get uncomfortable in Valley Ranch, going so far as to state that he’s willing to do some “unconventional” things to make the Cowboys better. “If you don’t do something, almost unconventional, then you really don’t break out of that cycle.”
We’ll see just how far Jones goes with those changes, but in the interim, Dallas has a lot to build upon for 2013.
While Tony Romo threw a back breaking interception against the Washington Redskins to end the Cowboys season, he did throw for a career high 4,903 yards, and shattered his personal best in completions with 425.
2012 may have been a defining year for Tony Romo, but there were other moments that characterized the Cowboys season, and we are going to take a look at 10 of them.
All summer long, the Dallas Cowboys toiled away trying to figure out who would fill the void at the slot receiver position.
They had Kevin Ogletree, but he wasn't working out. They drafted a couple of guys, signed a few more, and thought about reaching out to more than that.
There was Andre Holmes, then Saleem Hakim, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley, Danny Coale, and the list goes on.
To start the year, Dallas went with the veteran Ogletree. Either the other guys were too young or didn't show enough in camp to warrant the starting slot.
Ogletree rewarded the Cowboys faith in him by torching the New York Giants for 114 yards, two touchdowns, and eight catches.
He was electric that night, and was Romo's top target. To top things off, the Cowboys beat the hated Giants to start the year, and many thought that Ogletree's performance was just a sign of things to come.
Those that thought Ogletree had turned a corner were right, he just didn't seem to make a wrong turn.
Sure, Ogletree had a career year with 436 yards with four touchdowns and 32 catches, but the team expected much more out of him.
He was inconsistent, going three games without a catch and failing to go for more than 30 yards in a game after Week 8 of the season.
Ogletree's season encapsulated the Cowboys year. They won five out of six games to put themselves back into playoff contention, but lost their last two games, failing to reach the postseason.
I believe that Dwayne Harris will push for the slot position next season, but for 2012, Ogletree's hot start only led to a cool finish.
Tony Romo had four multiple interception games in 2012, but his first came against Chicago in Week 4.
By Week 4, the Dallas Cowboys were sitting at 2-2 heading into their Monday Night match-up with the Chicago Bears.
Dallas had a pretty tough schedule coming up. They would face the Bears, the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Giants, and the Atlanta Falcons all within the next five weeks.
So a victory against a tough Chicago defense was crucial for them at that point in the season.
As Romo did in the season’s final game against the Washington Redskins, he proved that sometimes the moment is too big for him. Some of the interceptions weren’t his fault, like the pass to receiver Dez Bryant where he was supposed to cut his route off but didn’t.
But in the end, it all goes back to the quarterback.
Fans remained optimistic that the Cowboys could turn it around, but seeing Romo turn the ball over five times in one game should have been a red flag that the 2012 season wouldn’t be as great as many hoped.
The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to get their season back on track against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.
In the game, the Cowboys racked up 227 rushing yards with starter DeMarco Murray getting 93 of them.
The Cowboys fell behind by just seven points heading into halftime, but a touchdown by Ravens return man/receiver Jacoby Jones would alter the game.
After the Cowboys scored a field goal to start the half, they kicked off to Baltimore, hoping that their defense would get a stop. Dallas was down by just four points when Jones wrapped his fingers around the ball.
As soon as he stepped foot out of the end zone, he took off for glory, and the record books. Jones sprinted 108-yards down the field, tying an NFL record for longest kick return in history.
That return put the Ravens up by 11, forcing the Cowboys to go into cardiac mode, one of their 2012 calling cards. Dallas made a furious comeback, inching their way back to just one point behind the Ravens in the fourth quarter.
But their attempts to break the Ravens lead weren’t enough, and they ended up losing by just two points.
Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey had a shot to win it in the end, but he missed a 51-yard field goal with just six seconds remaining in the game.
Without Jones’ return in the 3rd quarter; it’s easy to believe that this game would have been in the win column for the Cowboys.
The Dallas Cowboys lost a spark to their offense when DeMarco Murray went down with a foot injury against the Baltimore Ravens.
Murray missed six games due to a sprained foot, not returning until Dallas faced the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13.
During his absence, the Cowboys amassed just 230 yards on the ground through the legs of Murray's replacement, Felix Jones.
The Cowboys lost three games without Murray in the line-up. When he returned, Dallas won three straight, with Murray rushing for at least 53 yards in each winning game.
May not seem like much, but Murray adds another dimension to the Cowboys offense. Dallas' play action works better, and Murray has better vision and running ability than Jones.
Murray may be developing a fondness for injuries, but when he's on the field, the Cowboys have a better offense.
The word hope is used pretty liberally around sports these days. Each and every team has hope that one day, and during one game, it will come together and it all will turn around.
The Dallas Cowboys were full of it after watching second-year man Dwayne Harris return a Philadelphia Eagles punt 78 yards to pay dirt.
Dallas was tied with the Eagles at the end of the third quarter, and it looked as if the game would be decided in the final minutes.
But when Eagles punter Mat McBriar, also a former Cowboys player, let the ball explode off of his foot into the cool air of Lincoln Financial Field, and into the waiting arms of Dwayne Harris, something big was about to happen.
Harris caught the ball, weaved his way through traffic, and carried the Cowboys to victory against Philly.
His touchdown not only broke the tie, but it gave the Cowboys a much needed confidence boost. They scored two defensive touchdowns after Harris' score, beating the Eagles 38-23.
It also gave hope to the Cowboys that their season wasn't dead yet.
Their win against the Eagles set-off a run of five wins in six games for Dallas, thrusting them back into the NFC playoff picture.
When mentioning anything about the Dallas Cowboys 2012 season, injuries have to be a part of it.
Just to note a couple of key injuries for Dallas. They lost star linebacker Sean Lee to season-ending toe surgery in October. The team then lost linebacker Bruce Carter to a dislocated elbow against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day.
That’s not to mention Orlando Scandrick’s broken hand, DeMarcus Ware’s dislocated shoulder and hyperextended elbow, DeMarco Murray’s sprained foot, Jay Ratliff’s sports hernia, Dez Bryant’s finger, Morris Claiborne’s concussion, and Kenyon Coleman’s torn triceps.
The Cowboys limped to a record of 8-8, and one has to wonder how their season would have turned out if some of their key players would have remained healthy.
The Dallas Cowboys organization was in a state of mourning, and shock, after learning of the death of linebacker Jerry Brown.
Early Saturday morning before the team’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals in December, Brown was riding as a passenger in the vehicle of Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent.
Brent lost control of the car and it crashed, killing Brown.
Since then, Brent has been charged with intoxication manslaughter.
Dallas played with a lot of emotion that day, with some players unable to control their tears once the final seconds ticked off the clock. Learning of the death of a teammate just hours before kick-off is enough to deal with. Having to play a game with that much heaviness on one’s heart is another.
The Cowboys did a great job of honoring their teammate by beating the Bengals, and marching off the field with his jersey held high.
By this point in the season, the Dallas Cowboys were either losing games by the skin of their teeth, or winning them that way.
Their Week 14 game against the Cincinnati Bengals was no different as they bested Cincinnati 20-19.
The win didn't come easy, but nothing for the Cowboys did in 2012. They had to fight for every single victory, as was evidenced in this game.
This moment was memorable for the Cowboys because it was another snapshot of how the Cowboys were winning games: By razor thin margins.
As the ball was snapped and time ticked off of the clock to zero seconds, Bailey's 40-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, giving the Cowboys their seventh victory of the year.
The Cincinnati game was also the first game after the team learned of the death of linebacker Jerry Brown.
Another tight game for the Dallas Cowboys means another close finish.
In Week 15, the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers tangled down in Dallas. Both teams were fighting for a playoff spot, and both teams came in pretty banged up.
The Cowboys have enough injuries to fill an infirmary, while the Steelers were dealing with a hurt James Harrison and Ben Roethlisberger.
But this game wasn't defined by injuries, a bad Tony Romo turnover, or inept coaching, it was actually identified by good, hard nosed football.
Oh, and bad decisions.
As the Steelers and Cowboys headed into overtime, the Steelers would win the coin toss and receive the ball.
Because the Cowboys defense was minced up at times during the day by Big Ben, fans were a little nervous to see if they would tighten up against Roethlisberger in the game's extra period.
Their fears didn't last long as Big Ben tossed a pick to Cowboys $50 million man Brandon Carr. He returned it 36-yards down to the Steelers one yard line, setting up a game winning field goal from kicker Dan Bailey.
With the win, the Cowboys were headed for a showdown with NFC East rival Washington Redskins for the division crown.
The way Tony Romo played against the Washington Redskins was part of the defining moment for the Dallas Cowboys in 2012.
It was his interception with 3:33 remaining in the fourth quarter that summed up Dallas this season.
The Cowboys had a chance to win the game late in the fourth, but as Romo dropped back to look for a receiver, he found DeMarco Murray running away from the line of scrimmage.
As he floated the ball in the air for Murray, Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson snatched the ball out of the air, effectively ending any hopes of a Cowboys comeback, and putting an end to the Cowboys season.
Romo was off against the 'Skins, but his inability to make knowledgeable decisions when the game and season were on the line is right in step with the Cowboys year.
If the offensive line couldn't protect Romo, it was a receiver dropping a pass. If not for an ill-timed penalty, the Cowboys would call two straight fade routes on the goal line.
So, while Romo will take the blame for losing the game for the Cowboys against the Redskins, he cannot be held responsible for all seven losses.
Next season, the Cowboys simply have to become a more disciplined outfit if they want to make the playoffs.
The penalties, dumb mistakes, dropped passes, and bad decisions do not define a good NFL team.
Romo also has to do his fair share of soul searching. Are his critics right that he folds in big games?