Reflecting on 6 Defining Moments of Dallas Cowboys' 2013 Season

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IDecember 30, 2013

Reflecting on 6 Defining Moments of Dallas Cowboys' 2013 Season

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    With yet another 8-8 finish in 2013, the Dallas Cowboys are the epitome of mediocrity in the NFL. From the roster to the coaching staff, everything about the Cowboys just screams "average."

    Worse, it seems like they're trending downward. With aging veterans declining rapidly and not many capable younger players ready to step in, the 'Boys are in some serious trouble moving forward.

    It was a typical season for Dallas in that they managed to maximize excitement among their fanbase without providing much actual success. From Week 1 all the way down to Sunday night's Week 17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys teased with their potential, but ultimately came up empty-handed.

    Looking back on 2013, here are the six most impactful moments of a doomed Cowboys season.

Week 1 Win over New York Giants

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    The Cowboys' season began in a promising way with a 36-31 win over the New York Giants. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin immediately cashed in on his promise of more takeaways, and the Cowboys generated a win in what seemed like it would be a big-time road division victory.

    If you were looking closely, though, the win wasn't all that impressive. The Cowboys scored 36 points, but that was due primarily to the field position provided to them by Giants miscues. As was the case all year, when the takeaways disappeared, so did the Cowboys' success.

    Nonetheless, Dallas looked as though they were on their way to big things after Week 1.

Late-Game Week 5 Collapse vs. Broncos

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    After rolling over St. Louis and losing to Kansas City and San Diego in heart-wrenching fashion, the 'Boys hosted Denver in Week 5. No one gave Dallas much of a shot, by quarterback Tony Romo turned in one of the premier games in NFL history.

    Yes, you read that correctly. With 506 yards and five touchdowns on only 36 attempts, Romo's performance was one for the ages. Most focused on his late-game interception that cost Dallas a chance at winning, but you can't really blame a quarterback who averages 14.1 yards per attempt. 

    Still, the loss really hurt Dallas, sending them to 2-3 and ultimately haunting them down the line.

Poor Game Management Against Lions

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    In addition to multiple poor fourth-down decisions early in the game, including a field-goal attempt on 4th-and-2 at the Lions' 35-yard line and numerous punts on manageable fourth downs near midfield, head coach Jason Garrett badly messed up the Cowboys' late-game management in the Week 8 loss in Detroit.

    With a three-point lead, the Cowboys faced a 4th-and-5 at the Lions' 26-yard line with just over a minute to play. Garrett decided to kick a field goal to send the Cowboys up by six points, which was statistically a worse decision than going for it and even punting. According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Cowboys' chances of winning the game actually decreased even after kicker Dan Bailey connected on the field goal.

    Demonstrating his typical ignorance of the numbers, Garrett single-handedly lost the game for Dallas by giving the ball back to Detroit needing a touchdown.

23-Point Blown Lead Versus Packers

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    With a 26-3 halftime lead over Green Bay, the Cowboys seemingly just needed to keep the ball on the ground to preserve a Week 15 win over the Green Bay Packers. Instead, they ran the ball only seven times in the second half, allowing Green Bay enough time to mount an unreal comeback.

    The Packers, led by backup quarterback Matt Flynn, scored 14 points in the third quarter and another 20 points in the fourth to take down Dallas by a single point. The loss was pinned on Kiffin's defense, which surely was a huge part of the problem, but they wouldn't have even been in a position to lose if it weren't for horrific game management on the offensive end.

    The loss meant Dallas needed to play to win in week 16 versus the Washington Redskins, which ultimately resulted in a season-changing injury.

Tony Romo's Season-Ending Injury

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    When Romo led a remarkable 87-yard touchdown drive to take down the Redskins, it looked as though he might finally turn a corner with a chance to win a monumental Week 17 winner-take-all clash with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    When news broke that Romo had a herniated disc, it basically ended the Cowboys' season.

    Dallas gave Philly a run for their money in the final game, but it wasn't realistic to expect them to make a postseason run with Kyle Orton at the helm anyway. The Romo injury completely altered the course of the Cowboys' season and stole from Romo a badly needed opportunity for redemption.

4th-and-2 Punt at Eagles' 40-Yard Line

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    Down 3-0 with under four minutes to play in the first quarter of Sunday night's game, the Cowboys faced a 4th-and-2 at the Eagles' 40-yard line. 

    And they punted.

    While the call might seem too inconsequential to be listed as a "defining moment" for Dallas, it's symbolic of the team's approach to most plays in virtually every game. Garrett implements a faith-based coaching style, forgoing the numbers as to absolve himself of blame. He makes the conventional calls, not the right ones.

    The numbers in that 4th-and-2 situation are so unbelievably in favor of going for it. In normal game situations, offenses should go for it on all the way up to 4th-and-10 on that area of the field, according to Advanced NFL Stats.

    The truth is that Dallas should have gone for it even more than the typical numbers suggest. With Orton at quarterback and the Eagles figuring to put a lot of points on the board, the Cowboys should have been playing to increase variance as much as possible. That doesn't include punting on an early 4th-and-2 at the opponent's 40-yard line. 

    Does a fourth-down call involve risk? Sure, but what's important is how that risk compares to the potential reward. When you run through the numbers, the real risk, as in the suboptimal call, is punting, and it isn't even close. Garrett ultimately cost his team a possession that they needed in the end.

    The fourth-down decision was a microcosm of why the Cowboys won't win under Garrett. He's shown in inability to innovative. An inability to evolve. An inability to adapt to new information.

    It's not what Garrett is that hurts Dallas so much, but what he's incapable of becoming with his current style of coaching.