Dallas Cowboys

Do the Dallas Cowboys Actually Blow More Games Than Everyone Else?

Dec 15, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) reacts after getting sacked in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium. The Packers beat the Cowboys 37-36. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 18, 2013

You might have heard that the Dallas Cowboys blew a big lead this past week against the Green Bay Packers. In fact, Dallas had a 23-point halftime edge, technically making Sunday's collapse the worst in franchise history. 

Naturally, fingers are being pointed at Tony Romo, Jason Garrett, Monte Kiffin, Jerry Jones and anyone else remotely connected to an organization that hasn't been able to avoid embarrassment, let alone succeed, in well over a decade. 

Here in the Bleacher Report NFL department, we take requests from time to time. And with all of the talk of Dallas' choke-job surrounding the general notion that America's Team has become especially bad (or good?) at blowing games, a fan requested some context on Twitter.

Your inquiry is our command, Adam, because we think it's important to at least attempt to quantify what we're seeing by adding an empirical element to the narratives evolving within fan bases and media realms. 

I mean, we know that the Cowboys have thrown away some huge games in embarrassing fashion over the years, but do they really squander games more often than their NFL peers, or is that just popular perception?

So, we spent most of a day poring over the play/team indexes at Pro Football Reference in order to get a better feel for how un-clutch the Cowboys have been when leading in comparison to the rest of the NFL. Here's what we found...

 

Most blown leads since 2006

The on-the-surface reality is that, since Tony Romo's first season as a starter, 12 NFL teams—including the Bengals (21), Seahawks (20), Packers (19), Ravens (19), Eagles (19) and Texans (18)—have blown just as many fourth-quarter leads as the Cowboys have. 

Dallas is still above the league average during that span, but not by a wide margin. 

Most blown fourth-quarter leads since 2006
TeamBlown leads
1. Cleveland Browns23
T-2. Washington Redskins22
T-2. Detroit Lions22
T-10. Dallas Cowboys18
NFL average16
T-28. Denver Broncos10
31. Atlanta Falcons9
32. Indianapolis Colts8
Pro Football Reference

I think it's also important to note that three of Dallas' 18 blown fourth-quarter leads took place without Romo late in that spoiled 2010 season, after Wade Phillips had been fired. Discount those, and the Cowboys are pretty much in the middle of the pack. 

 

Most blown leads as a percentage of total losses since 2006

But some teams simply lose more often than others. Dallas has lost just 55 games during that span, while Cleveland, for example, has dropped 85 games in the same window. Above, Washington and Detroit have four more blown leads than Dallas, but they also have 21 and 32 more losses, respectively. 

So, let's look instead at the total number of fourth-quarter collapses teams have had as a percentage of the total number of losses they've been handed. 

Most blown 4th-quarter leads as a % of total losses since '06
TeamBlown leads per loss
1. Green Bay Packers43.2
2. Baltimore Ravens41.3
3. New England Patriots35.7
7. Dallas Cowboys32.7
NFL average24.8
30. New York Jets15.9
31. Kansas City Chiefs15.6
32. Jacksonville Jaguars13.2
Pro Football Reference

This should give us a better feel for how often a team is losing by way of choking as opposed to just straight-up losing. 

And as you can see, a lot of good teams have choked quite frequently. Generally, the better you are, the more you choke, rate-wise. That's because bad teams don't build leads as often as good ones. 

Still, the fact that Dallas jumps into the top 10 means something. Among teams with at least 55 losses since the start of 2006, only Cincinnati, Seattle and Philly have higher "choke rates" than the Cowboys. 

Again, though, the Cowboys would look a lot better here if not for those three collapses without Romo late in 2010. 

 

Most blown leads as a percentage of leads through three quarters since 2006

Let's look at this from one more angle, this time accounting for how often teams generally have leads to blow. This should adjust for the sheer quantity of losses suffered by bad teams like St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland and Buffalo. But it should also adjust for the fact that really good teams like New England, Green Bay and Baltimore have led so often that they've inevitably blown a few of 'em. 

Again going back to 2006, we tabulated the number of times each team led through three quarters. Now, let's look at how often those teams have blown those leads, percentage-wise. 

Blown leads as a % of leads through 3 quarters since '06
TeamBlown leads per leads thru 3 Qs
1. St. Louis Rams51.6
2. Detroit Lions51.2
3. Cleveland Browns46.9
14. Dallas Cowboys28.1
NFL average26.5
T-29. Atlanta Falcons15.8
31. Indianapolis Colts12.1
32. New England Patriots11.6
Pro Football Reference

New England is suddenly least likely to choke. The Patriots' broad collapse numbers were only high because they lead so damn often. Same for Indy, Atlanta and New Orleans, who are also in the bottom five. 

Since '06, only 10 teams have led more often than Dallas going into the fourth quarter. Among the top 13 teams in that category, only Seattle (32.8 percent) has lost more fourth-quarter leads than Dallas. 

Still, it's interesting that 13 teams—including Cincinnati, Seattle, Houston and Miamihave managed to trip up more often than the Cowboys have in comparison to how often they've led heading into the fourth quarter.

 

Most blown leads since 2009

Let's cut the sample size in half and look more directly at what the Cowboys have done for you lately.

Most blown fourth-quarter leads since 2009
TeamBlown leads
1. Cleveland Browns17
2. Washington Redskins16
3. Dallas Cowboys15
NFL average10
T-29. New Orleans Saints5
T-31. Atlanta Falcons4
T-31. Indianapolis Colts4
Pro Football Reference

Dating only to '09, it looks as though Dallas has become a lot more susceptible to choking. 15 of their 18 blown fourth-quarter leads since '06 have actually taken place in the last half-decade. 

Kansas City (44) has lost six more games than Dallas (38) has since then, but the Chiefs have blown only five games while the Cowboys have blown 15. Miami's blown fewer games despite having lost five more overall. 

Now, those three 2010 losses sans Romo are looming even larger here. But those games still count, and Jason Garrett was coaching the team at that point, so we can't just erase them from the record. 

 

Most blown leads as a percentage of total losses since 2009

Let's again look at the total number of fourth-quarter collapses teams have had as a percentage of the total number of losses they've been handed, but dating only to 2009.

Most blown 4th-quarter leads as a % of total losses since '09
TeamBlown leads per loss
1. New England Patriots52.6
2. Baltimore Ravens48.1
3. Green Bay Packers43.5
4. Dallas Cowboys39.5
NFL average25.4
30. Indianapolis Colts12.5
31. Kansas City Chiefs11.4
32. Oakland Raiders10.2
Pro Football Reference

Dallas once again moves up, but this time into the top four. New England, Baltimore and Green Bay are three of the four winningest teams in the league during that span, but Dallas has been pretty much average with a 38-40 record, so their blown lead rate shouldn't be that high. The Jets have the same number of losses since '09 but have blown leads only 16 percent of the time. 

Typically, the more losses you have, the lower your blown lead rate gets. But the Cowboys and Bengals are the only two teams in the league with 32 or more losses since the start of '09 and higher blown lead percentages than loss totals. 

 

Most blown leads as a percentage of leads through three quarters since 2009

Again going back to 2009, we tabulated the number of times each team led through three quarters. Now, let's look at how often those teams have blown those leads, percentage-wise.

Blown leads as a % of leads through 3 quarters since '09
TeamBlown leads per leads thru 3 Qs
1. Cleveland Browns60.7
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers52.0
3. Washington Redskins50.0
5. Dallas Cowboys41.7
NFL average27.4
T-30. Indianapolis Colts11.4
T-30. Atlanta Falcons11.4
32. New Orleans Saints10.0
Pro Football Reference

New England, Green Bay, Baltimore and the rest of the "winners" jump into the bottom half here, but Dallas stays in the top five. It's not a good sign that they're consistently on the wrong half of the breakdown. 

The numbers in the chart do not take into account occasions on which teams have taken and then lost fourth-quarter leads despite not leading after three. But broadly, the Cowboys are one of only eight teams that have won fewer than 75 percent of the games they've led through three quarters since '09. 

The eight teams that surround the Cowboys in the top nine spots on the above chart all have been worse than the Cowboys overall during the span analyzed. 

 

Most blown double-digit leads since 2006

Of course, not all collapses are created equal. Let's perform the exact same breakdown as above, but this time after disregarding all blown leads of nine points or fewer. We'll go back to 2006 first.

Most blown double-digit second-half leads since 2006
TeamBlown leads of 10+ points
1. Cleveland Browns10
2. Washington Redskins9
3. Detroit Lions7
T-8. Dallas Cowboys6
NFL average5
T-27. Indianapolis Colts3
T-31. Seattle Seahawks2
T-31. San Francisco 49ers2
Pro Football Reference

This isn't close to as bad for Dallas. In fact, the Patriots and Packers have blown just as many double-digit leads as the Cowboys have since the year Romo became the starting quarterback. 

Notoriously strong defensive teams like San Fran, Seattle and Pittsburgh perform well here, for obvious reasons, but even the Ravens have given up five 10-plus-point leads, which matches the NFL average for that stretch. 

So, maybe Dallas doesn't collapse in epic fashion that much more often than other quality teams. 

 

Most blown double-digit leads as a percentage of total losses since 2006

Let's now look at the total number of double-digit collapses teams have had as a percentage of the total number of losses they've been handed dating to 2006.

Most blown double-digit leads as a % of total losses since '06
TeamBlown leads per loss, 10+ points
1. New England Patriots21.4
2. San Diego Chargers14.3
3. Green Bay Packers13.6
T-6. Dallas Cowboys10.9
NFL average8.1
30. New York Jets4.8
31. San Francisco 49ers3.4
32. Seattle Seahawks3.3
Pro Football Reference

Fifteen teams are between 7.0 and 11.0 percent here, so that's a reasonable range. It's pretty brutal that Washington and Cleveland are ranked fourth and fifth despite being as bad as they've been. I mean, how often are they ever even up by 10? And San Diego shouldn't be second to only New England (who, again, is sort of expected to have a high rate here because they're up by wide margins so damn often and rarely lose). 

What matters here, though, is that Dallas hasn't been losing an insane amount of its games in this fashion. 

 

Most blown double-digit leads as a percentage of leads through three quarters since 2006

Again going back to 2006, we tabulated the number of times each team led through three quarters. Now, let's compare those numbers to how often teams have blown leads of 10 or more points.

Blown 10+ leads as a % of leads through 3 quarters since '06
TeamBlown leads per leads thru 3 Qs, 10+ points
1. Cleveland Browns20.4
2. Washington Redskins16.7
3. Detroit Lions16.3
14. Dallas Cowboys9.4
NFL average8.7
30. New Orleans Saints3.9
31. Seattle Seahawks3.3
32. San Francisco 49ers3.0
Pro Football Reference

Good teams typically fare well in this area, just because they often lead heading into the final quarter. So often that even a few collapses don't take up a huge amount of space. In fact, Dallas and San Diego were the only teams you might call "above average" that ranked in the top half of the league in this area.

The Cowboys don't stand out like a sore thumb, but there's room for improvement, considering that only 10 teams have led after three quarters more often than they have. 

 

Most blown double-digit leads since 2009

And finally, we perform the same breakdown, this time dating back to 2009. 

Most blown double-digit second-half leads since 2009
TeamBlown leads of 10+ points
1. Miami Dolphins7
T-2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers6
T-2. New England Patriots6
T-6. Dallas Cowboys5
NFL average3
T-29. Seattle Seahawks1
T-29. Denver Broncos1
T-29. New York Jets1
Pro Football Reference

Now, the sample size is so small that this is probably the most important chart of the final segment. Again, Dallas has given up a lot more 10-point leads lately than it did early in the Romo era (when the defense was probably a bit better). 

This is where you start to see, though, that strong teams like New England, Green Bay and Houston are just about as vulnerable with big leads. The Pats, Packers and Texans have given up an average of five 10-plus-point leads since '09, which matches Dallas' total. 

 

Most blown double-digit leads as a percentage of total losses since 2009

That basically holds up when we move into rate-based comparisons, starting with blown big leads per total losses in the last five years.

Most blown double-digit leads as a % of total losses since '09
TeamBlown leads per loss, 10+ points
1. New England Patriots31.6
2. San Diego Chargers17.6
3. Green Bay Packers17.4
6. Dallas Cowboys13.2
NFL average8.8
30. Seattle Seahawks2.8
31. New York Jets2.6
32. St. Louis Rams1.9
Pro Football Reference

Dallas is a little further removed from the league average now, but Miami, Carolina, Houston and Tampa Bay all surround the Cowboys in that No. 6 spot despite the fact that hose teams have more losses. 

We've already explained why powerhouses like New England and Green Bay are ranked high on these loss-based lists, but the point is that the Cowboys don't stand out. When you're ranked high and you're not surrounded by teams that have had similar success in the win column broadly, you have a problem. Dallas had that problem to a small degree earlier in this breakdown, but not really here. 

 

Most blown double-digit leads as a percentage of leads through three quarters since 2009

Now, let's finish the breakdown by comparing that total 10-plus-point collapse number to the total number of times teams have led after three quarters, once again only going back to 2009.

Blown 10+ leads as a % of leads through 3 quarters since '09
TeamsBlown leads per leads thru 3 Qs, 10+ points
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers24.0
2. Cleveland Browns17.9
3. Carolina Panthers17.6
7. Dallas Cowboys13.9
NFL average9.5
30. New York Jets3.0
T-31. Denver Broncos2.6
T-31. Seattle Seahawks2.6
Pro Football Reference

It's encouraging that New England and Houston are both within three percentage points of the Cowboys in this category. Miami and San Diego are also ranked ahead of Dallas, and those two teams have put up similar win-loss records to the one Dallas has while also leading more often through three quarters. 

 

In conclusion

No matter how you break it down—and we just gave you 12 unique angles—Dallas is a below-average football team when it comes to protecting second-half leads. The numbers indicate they've been worse lately than they were in the early part of Romo's career, but only by a slight margin (especially when you consider those three blown leads without Romo in a lost 2010 season).

And the numbers also indicate they've struggled more with tight leads than they have with big ones, at least in comparison to "quality" teams.

But when you tally up all of the results from above, the only teams that consistently performed close to as poorly as the Cowboys did were Miami, Washington, Houston, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit and Tampa Bay.

The Cowboys aren't the NFL's biggest choker, but they're one of about a handful of teams that blow leads a little too often. It's as simple as that.

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