Well, here we go again. The sky is falling in Dallas, bringing the world's largest video scoreboard right along with it.
After a 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears in which the Cowboys defense failed to force a punt (for the second time this year), the Cowboys have fallen from first place in the NFC East. Fans and pundits alike have already begun the postmortem on another December collapse in Big D.
That's because it's happened before. Repeatedly. Several times in recent years, the Cowboys have entered December in playoff contention only to see things fall apart at the end.
There's been plenty of blame passed around for these Christmas collapses; although, one player in particular has absorbed most of the abuse.
But, who's really to blame? Why do the Cowboys always seem to go into hibernation when the weather gets frosty?
A quick look at the Cowboys' December record bears that perception out.
|Year||Before Dec. 1||After Dec. 1|
*Took over for Wade Phillips
Since Jason Garrett took over as the head coach in Dallas, the Cowboys are five games over .500 before Dec. 1. After that date, they are one game under .500.
That first number isn't necessarily impressive, nor is the second one horrible. However, it does demonstrate that a Dallas team with no margin for error is faltering at the worst possible time.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it's not all Tony Romo's fault.
With the loss last night, Tony Romo now has a career record of 13-20 in December/January.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 10, 2013
That's been the easy narrative. The Cowboys are 13-20 after Dec. 1 with Tony Romo at quarterback. Therefore, Tony Romo is to blame for Dallas' late season drop-offs.
After all, he totally fumbled the snap on that field-goal attempt against the Seahawks in the playoffs! He's a choke artist!
The only problem with that is Romo sort of isn't.
Per Pro Football Reference
Yes, Romo's numbers in December aren't as good as his numbers in November. They're also better than October, but you don't see people pelting Romo with pumpkins.
In fact, Romo's December numbers are comparable with a pair of two-time Super Bowl winners.
Per Pro Football Reference
Outside his win-loss numbers, Romo's December stats are comparable with Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're better than Eli Manning's, but after two magical playoff runs, you won't see anyone labeling the New York Giants' signal-caller a choke artist.
This isn't to say that Romo is better than Manning or that there haven't been ill-advised passes in critical moments. However, blaming Romo for all that ails the Cowboys in December is just lazy.
For starters, it's not like the running game has been helping him out a whole lot.
Frankly, the Cowboys haven't had much of a running game at all since Garrett became head coach. Since the beginning of 2011, December is the only month in which the team has averaged over 100 yards a game. Had it not been for a huge night on the ground against a horrific Bears run defense Monday, the Cowboys would average under 100 yards rushing per game in every month for the past three seasons.
In December, road games in the NFC East mean bad weather. Ask the Detroit Lions.
It's imperative in those games that teams be able to run the ball, and for whatever reason (the backs, the line, injuries, solar eclipses, mole people, etc.), Dallas hasn't gotten it done on the ground in recent years.
Of course, running for nearly 200 yards in a game (as the Cowboys did against the Bears) isn't much good if your defense doesn't stop anyone.
The Cowboys' No. 32-ranked defense keeps finding new ways to embarrass themselves this season. Against the Saints earlier this year, it was allowing an NFL-record 40 first downs. Against the Bears, it was allowing Chicago to score on every possession except the kneel-downs to end the game.
The Chicago Bliss of the Lingerie Football League would have put up 30 Monday night.
The Cowboys' defense has been a train wreck all season long, but in December, defense has been a problem in Dallas for the past few years. In the 10 December games the Cowboys have played since 2011, the Dallas defense has allowed 30 or more points five times.
Amazing that the Cowboys are 2-3 in those games.
Then, there's the matter of the turnovers (or in this case, the lack thereof).
Over the past three years, Tony Romo has nearly as many giveaways by himself in December (five) as the Dallas defense does takeaways (six).
That's six total takeaways in 10 games. Dallas is going more than a game and a half between turnovers over that stretch. The Cowboys have forced 10 fewer turnovers in December than the next-lowest month.
Essentially, Romo is being put into a position to fail and, then, getting blasted for having the gall to actually do it.
The thing is, there isn't one bright-and-shining deficiency on the Cowboys that explains their December face-plants, a villain if you will.
Everyone's doing their part to not do their part. Dallas hasn't run the ball, and the defense has allowed 30-plus as often as not without forcing turnovers. Romo, forced into situation after situation where he had to press, made mistakes with the football.
Put it all together and shake well, and you have the recipe for a drink that's been awfully hard to swallow for Dallas fans the past few years. Unfortunately, if Monday was any indication, this year's batch is already being mixed up.
You know, there just might actually be one person at the root of this whole mess in Dallas...
Too bad he isn't going anywhere.