This isn't about Tony Romo, the apparent choker, or any individual players or coaches. Instead, it's about the Dallas Cowboys as a franchise and their systemic inability to close out seasons.
Since the Tony Romo era started in 2006, the Cowboys are 59-37 during the first 12 weeks of the regular season and now 12-17 during the final four weeks. Sometimes the first total runs into the early part of the 12th month on the calendar, and sometimes the second total runs into January, but let's keep things simple and conclude that the Cowboys have a baffling inability to win when it matters most.
It mattered quite a lot Monday night in Chicago, and yet Dallas failed to show up in a humiliating 45-28 loss to the Bears.
The circumstances favored the Cowboys in a big way, aside from the fact that the calendar now reads December and they were officially trying to maintain their NFC East lead.
Dallas was coming off a virtual bye week after playing on Thanksgiving. They were facing a Chicago team lacking its starting quarterback, they were getting top linebacker Sean Lee back and they were going up against a depleted defense that had been historically bad against the run in the previous seven weeks.
Without Henry Melton, Lance Briggs and a handful of key defenders, the Bears had surrendered an abysmal 5.9 yards per carry since Week 7, which ranked dead last in football by a wide margin. That paper-thin front seven was rocked early by DeMarco Murray, who entered this week averaging 4.9 yards per attempt.
It was a mismatch made in football heaven.
It didn't take long for the Cowboys to capitalize, as Murray was halfway to the 100-yard mark at the conclusion of Dallas' first drive. At that point, there was no reason to believe this wouldn't be a prime-time blowout.
But then someone reminded the Cowboys that it was December. You'd think they'd have felt it in the coldest regular-season game in team history, but it didn't hit them until after Murray dominated that opening touchdown drive.
Naturally, the Bears proceeded to score 42 of the next 49 points. The Cowboys defense couldn't stop Matt Forte or 34-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown, who they made look like some sort of combination of John Elway and a late-career Rich Gannon.
It marked only the second time in 30 years the Cowboys lost despite getting a 145-yard individual effort on the ground. Only 11 teams have surrendered 45 points in the NFL this season, and yet Dallas has done so on three separate occasions. They're now one of only six teams in NFL history that have given up 450 or more yards six separate times in one season.
Don't expect anything to change between now and the season finale against Philadelphia Dec. 29, because this team seems to lose its ability to mask its deficiencies when the going gets tough in the final month.
|Dallas Cowboys since 1991|
|First 12 weeks||Last 4 weeks|
|1991-1996||52-20 (.722) -- 2nd in NFL||18-6 (.750) -- 2nd in NFL|
|1997-2013||112-42 (.549) -- 7th in NFL||23-42 (.353) -- 29th in NFL|
|Pro Football Reference|
The Monte Kiffin experiment has failed, no matter how you break it down.
Bruce Carter and Brandon Carr aren't the players they were supposed to be, and Sean Lee can't stay on the field. Morris Claiborne has been a bust when healthy, but he's got the same problem as Lee.
Anthony Spencer, who was their best defensive player last year, is long gone. Jay Ratliff, who was their presumed starting three-technique defensive tackle in August, was playing for the other team Monday night.
DeMarcus Ware isn't himself. They've got nothing left.
Romo could have been better Monday night, but the idea was to hammer away with Murray, and that actually worked. The offense couldn't save a D that came up with zero takeaways for the just the second time all season and failed to force the Bears to punt even once.
It's hard to believe Dallas somehow won its final two games of November, but maybe we were fooled by matchups in a more favorable month and against more favorable opponents. The Bears aren't special, but it's December now and the Cowboys are doing what they do best.
They're blowing it.
Don't believe for a second that this team has the ability to do anything except that, because they've given us no reason to believe otherwise.
Super Bowl-caliber teams peak right now, and for the better part of the last decade Jerry Jones' franchise has done the opposite. It starts at the top, and this is a team that has wilted under the pressure ever since the core that Jimmy Johnson built for Jones began to decline in the late-1990s.
Ever since, with Jones influencing every move and leaving his mark on every player and coach, America's Team has forgotten how to win the games that matter.
That's probably not a coincidence.