It's not as though the Dallas Cowboys lose a lot. In fact, dating back to Tony Romo's debut as the starting quarterback, which took place seven years ago this week, only nine teams have lost fewer games than Dallas has.
But during this era—you know, the one featuring Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten—it seems as though "America's Team" has found more unique, shocking and heart-breaking ways to lose than anybody else in football.
Let's reflect on seven years of bad luck by remembering 15 ridiculous Cowboys losses...
Nov. 5, 2006: "Vanderjagt has it blocked!"
In Romo's second career start, the Cowboys are lining up for a 35-yard field goal to break a 19-19 tie with six seconds on the clock. Mike Vanderjagt's kick is blocked by Troy Vincent and returned by Sean Taylor to the Dallas 44-yard line.
Overtime, right? Nope. A facemask penalty on Kyle Kosier gives Washington an untimed down with the clock expired. Nick Novak's 47-yard field goal wins it for the rival Redskins.
Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, who at that point had 31 years of coaching experience, said per ESPN.com, "Gosh, I don't know if I've experienced anything like that."
Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells:
Whatever it was, it was a bad mistake by somebody on our team. It was a tough one, a very unusual end to a game.
Jan. 6, 2007: "Oh, and it's fumbled by Romo!"
In Parcells' final game as Dallas' head coach, the Cowboys botch a go-ahead field goal from only 19 yards out with just over a minute to play, losing a wild-card playoff game to Seattle.
It was just one of those things. It looked like a good snap. I can't tell you what happened after that. We're an extra point from being down to the eight teams left. That's what's the hardest thing.
I know how hard everyone in that locker room worked to get themselves in position to win that game today and for it to end like that, and for me to be the cause is very tough to swallow right now. I take responsibility for messing up at the end there. That's my fault. I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win, and it's going to sit with me a long time.
Jan. 13, 2008: "That's my quarterback...we lost as a team."
They blow a fourth-quarter lead against the division rival Giants in the divisional playoffs, squandering a 13-3 season. Dallas becomes the first No. 1 seed in the NFC to lose in the first round of the playoffs since the league adopted its current postseason format in 1990.
Romo plays poorly, one week after spending part of his team's first-round bye on a Cabo vacation with girlfriend Jessica Simpson. That, of course, leads to this...
Romo reflected on the loss, per ESPN.com: "It hurts. It's tough right now."
Oct. 12, 2008: "Cardinals blocked it!"
They score 10 points in the final two minutes to force overtime in Arizona, and then they win the coin toss to start the extra frame. Unfortunately, they take a sack on the first play of OT and have a punt blocked and returned for the game-winning touchdown three plays later.
The Cowboys win the turnover battle 3-1 and outgain Arizona by over 100 yards, but it's a loss, preventing Dallas from starting the season 5-1.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, per ESPN.com, remarked on bizarre ending, saying, "I can't remember one that was this crazy, especially toward the end."
Romo, who broke his pinky finger in overtime:
This season isn't going to go straight down this narrow path and be a nice and cozy Sunday drive.
He was right. The Cowboys would lose six of their next nine games and miss the playoffs.
Dec. 7, 2008: "And the Steelers have scored 14 points in 24 seconds."
They blow a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in Pittsburgh, the icing on the cake coming when Romo throws a pick-six to Deshea Townsend to break a tie with less than two minutes to play.
And Dallas linebacker Bradie James was even more fatalistic:
We did all the things we had to—up until a point. But evidently we didn't do enough to get a win. We didn't make enough plays to win. I said the best defense would win the game, and they won the game.
Sept. 12, 2010: "Alex Barron tackled him!"
Against the odds, Dallas tries to run an offensive play with the first-half clock about to hit double-zero. It bites them in the ass when Tashard Choices fumbles and Washington's DeAngelo Hall runs it back for the only touchdown the Redskins would score all day.
Still, the Cowboys have what looks like the game-winning touchdown when Romo hits Roy Williams on the final play of the game, but that is wiped out due to a holding call on Alex Barron—the Cowboys' 12th penalty of the night. Barron was only playing because regular right tackle Marc Colombo was injured.
Prior to the play, the 'Boys appeared to be in disarray despite coming out of a timeout.
"Everybody is messed up," remarked NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth. "They're going the wrong direction. Everybody's asking questions. How can you screw this up after a timeout?"
Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips addressed the confusion, per ESPN.com: "That was my fault before the half. We should have taken a knee."
Nov. 25, 2010: "I lost the ballgame."
With a four-point lead and just over three minutes on the clock, Romo hits Williams in stride for a huge first down into New Orleans territory. The Saints have just one timeout and the two-minute warning to stop the clock, so the game is pretty much over...as long as they don't turn it over.
But Williams is stripped on the end of his catch-and-run, coughing it up on the Saints' 11-yard line. From there, Drew Brees methodically leads the New Orleans offense down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
It was a Thanksgiving Day disaster in Dallas.
Williams, per ESPN.com:
I lost the ballgame. I let my teammates down. I need to fall down. We run the clock down and win the game. I was trying to make a play and they did a good job. It's late in the game. That's the nail in the coffin. We had the momentum going our way. We were there. That was a W. I get tackled, we get in the end zone and we win. I fall down and we win.
Dec. 25, 2010: "You can't make this stuff up!"
Dallas scores a touchdown to take a 26-24 lead on Arizona with less than two minutes to play, but David Buehler misses the extra point. That allows the Cardinals to win it with a field goal on the final possession, which they do.
In 2010, 98.9 percent of the 1,221 extra points attempted were successful.
Buehler, per ESPN.com:
I'm not feeling too good. I feel bad for Stephen [McGee]. He drove the team down there and got the touchdown. PATs are something that is something automatic. You have to put them through the uprights. I think I just rushed it a little bit.
Sept. 11, 2011: "I have no idea what Tony Romo saw."
The New York Jets score 17 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes to beat Dallas by a field goal in the 2011 opener. The final three points come directly after Romo tosses an interception to Darrelle Revis with less than a minute to play.
Earlier in the quarter, the Cowboys also had a blocked punt returned for a score.
Romo took the blame following the defeat, per ESPN.com:
We win that football game if I don't do what I did. It's hard to swallow...We lost the game because of me.
Oct. 2, 2011: "And in a flick, a team that was down by 24 points can turn this into a 10-point game."
Romo throws three second-half interceptions as the Cowboys blow a 24-point third-quarter lead to Detroit. The Dallas defense was also owned by Calvin Johnson, who had two fourth-quarter touchdown grabs, the first of which came against triple coverage and the second of which came despite the 'Boys having 12 men on the field.
Romo tried putting the loss into perspective, per ESPN.com:
Today and over the next week or two, it's going to be difficult to look back at it, but at some point here, we're going to move on.
Dec. 4, 2011: Yeah, the one in which they iced their own kicker
The Cardinals once again beat the Cowboys in agonizing fashion, this time after head coach Jason Garrett essentially ices his own kicker on what would have been the game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter.
Dan Bailey hit his first attempt from 49 yards, but missed the one that counted. And then Arizona scored on its first possession of overtime to hand Dallas a painful December loss.
Garrett, per ESPN.com:
The play clock was running down. We just wanted to make sure that he had a real clean opportunity at it. It was at about 6 [seconds] and we were still getting settled in, so we banged a timeout to give him the opportunity to get the snap, hold and kick as clean as possible.
Dec. 11, 2011: "Unbelievable...unbelievable."
The very next week, they blow a 12-point lead with less than four minutes to play against the division-rival Giants. They have a chance to put it away with just over two minutes to play, but Romo overthrows a wide-open Miles Austin:
Amid that chaos, Mat McBriar shanks a 33-yard punt, facilitating the collapse. They'd have a chance to tie it with a last-second field goal, but this time the Giants would ice Bailey, who would once again make the first attempt before New York's Jason Pierre-Paul blocked the one that counted.
If that choke job doesn't take place, the Giants probably don't go on to win the Super Bowl. They'd lost four in a row entering that matchup and would only end up winning the division by a single game.
Linebacker Bradie James said the Cowboys understood the gravity of the situation, per ESPN.com: "We knew what was on the line. But those guys made one more play than we did."
And so did Romo: "This one's going to hurt, it's going to sting, but we've got to figure out how to do things a little better..."
And Sean Lee, per the Dallas Morning News:
We put ourselves in a position to win and just didn’t finish it. The defense was on the field and I have to find a way to make a play at the end of the game. Our team has to make a big play at the end of the game, and we didn’t do it. That’s why we lost.
And finally, Jason Garrett, discussed how he thinks his team had done in pressure-packed moments, per ESPN.com:
I think at different times we've done a really good job handling fourth-quarter situations, and other times we haven't. Sometimes guys make penalties in certain situations because they're trying to do too much. We've talked about that, maintaining your poise and simply doing your job.
Oct. 28, 2012: "A miracle touchdown for Bryant!" (Or not.)
Another blown fourth-quarter lead against the Giants at home. This time, though, they had that lead only after coming back from a 23-0 deficit. Regardless, the 'Boys had the ball and a chance to win it in the final minutes, but Dez Bryant was ruled out of bounds by about an inch on what would have been the game-winning touchdown catch with six seconds left.
Said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, per ESPN.com:
I couldn't quite believe they were able to hit a touchdown in that situation. I kind of kept looking for the replay. You know the game was not going to be over until that clock hit zero.
Just tough when you think you've won the game. It switches as that moment. You put a lot into it, obviously. We put a week's worth [of emotion] in that one game.
Oct. 6, 2013: "Moral victory"?
In one of the most memorable games of the year thus far, they score 48 points—matching their highest total this century—but still manage to lose to the red-hot Denver Broncos, 51-48. It's the most points Dallas has ever scored in a losing effort. Making matters worse, they gave up 10 points in the final three minutes, with a late Romo interception costing them the game.
Up until that point, Romo had outplayed Peyton Manning in arguably the best game of his career. But all people can remember is that pick from deep in his own territory, which we analyzed in depth right here.
It was also a unique loss because the Broncos deliberately stayed out of the end zone while making sure to also pick up a first down on the final play from scrimmage.
Owner Jerry Jones, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
I know what’s going to happen to me when I say this, but that’s a good team. This is a moral victory. It’s not a loser talking here. We can build off this. I feel as good as you could possibly feel at 2-3. We are going to win enough games to get where we want to be.
Oct. 27, 2013: The one in which they lost on a fake spike
They give up 24 fourth-quarter points and choke with two separate 10-point leads in a last-second loss to the Detroit Lions. Calvin Johnson goes over 300 yards receiving as Dallas loses despite winning the turnover battle, 4-0. They get too conservative in the fourth quarter, and a useless Tyron Smith holding penalty that stopped the clock on the final drive is probably the difference between a win and a loss.
Smith, per ESPN.com:
It was a tug. It's a technique issue, but I have to clean up that mistake and make sure it doesn't happen again.
But the worst part is that the game-winning touchdown came on a freelanced fake spike from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford at the Dallas 1-yard line with just 12 seconds to play. The Cowboys weren't ready, and Stafford reached the ball over the goal line.
|Non-SB winning teams with the most tight losses, 2006-2013|
|One-score losses||Total losses||One-score loss rate|
|New England Patriots||18||26||69%|
|San Diego Chargers||29||45||64%|
|Pro Football Reference|
Stafford noticed that Dallas' defense didn't look prepared for his TD leap, per ESPN.com: "I was yelling that I was going to spike the ball. But their linebackers were just standing there."
Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher acknowledged that the Cowboy defense was back on its heels, saying, "He kind of caught us off-guard."
And Lions guard Larry Warford: "I was just as fooled as the defense was."
Since the start of the '06 season, Dallas has lost 15 games by a field goal or less, which is tied for the eighth-highest mark in the league, and 32 games by one score or less, which is tied for 10th. But as a percentage of their overall loss total, the numbers becomes more glaring.
Here's a look at the teams that have the highest percentage of losses by one score or less since 2006. We've excluded Super Bowl-winning teams Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indy, New Orleans, Green Bay and the Giants, just because dominant teams rarely ever get beat by large margins and that would skew the results.
|One-score losses after giving up the lead, 2006-2013|
|One-score losses after leading||% of total losses|
|Green Bay Packers||21||53%|
|New England Patriots||13||50%|
|San Diego Chargers||22||49%|
|Pro Football Reference|
In fact, the Cowboys are the only team in the NFL—all 32 teams included—that have lost more than 55 percent of their games by one score despite at one point holding the lead:
Is it bad luck, bad coaching, bad players or just a potent combination of all of the above? Maybe it's just karma, Cowboys fans. Everything seemed to go your way 20 years ago, and now the Football Gods are getting even.