If you've been around the NFL for any length of time, you know the familiar sight of a team circling the drain ready to disappear. If you've been around the Dallas Cowboys the last 15 years, you've seen it so often you've come to expect it.
Saturday night the Cowboys head to Tampa to play the Bucs. And aside from the opportunities this affords the Dallas media to dine in the splendor of Bern's Steakhouse, it could be a very, very unpleasant road trip.
December treats the Cowboys like Scrooge does Tiny Tim. At least in Act I. And, as this is the heart of December, herewith five reasons why it may be a long Saturday night for the Cowboys.
Cowboys Murray Done For the Year
When all is said and done, DeMarco Murray may be remembered as something of a supernova. He hit the scene like a great, flaming comet, breaking the Cowboys single-game rushing record against the Rams. As long as he had fullback Tony Fiametta blocking for him, he was a terror. With Fiametta out, Murray went from great to merely OK.
Cowboy fans have a tendency to live from game to game, and to see each hot, new player as the second coming of ____________________ (fill in the blank with "Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Bob Lilly" etc.) Admit it, you all fell head over heels for Murray. And word from some in the Cowboy locker room is that Murray was beginning to fall for himself with his newfound fame. But a cracked ankle vs. the Giants ended Murray's season, and that's always a rotten way to go. Without Murray it's back to Felix, the second Jones from Arkansas at Valley Ranch. He's serviceable, but no superstar.
Weaker running game puts more pressure on #9.
Tell It To Your Defense, Rob
Has any unit been hurt more by the lack of OTA's than the Cowboys defense? New coordinator Rob Ryan came in, with his moving, stunting, blitzing, flying circus of a D. But with no offseason to even study the playbook, players have been trying to fake it until they make it. And you can't win in the NFL that way.
Last week, vs. the Giants, the Cowboys had trouble getting the groups they wanted on the field. They were still hopping around, unsure, at the snap. DeMarcus Ware had two encroachment penalties. It's been something of a train wreck.
And, at crunch time, they simply didn't finish off the Giants with any tackling.
The Bucs aren't the Giants. But Dallas D could make them look that way.
Where It All Went Wrong
The years have not been kind to the Cowboys. No Super Bowl since the 1995 season. Something less than a smattering of playoff wins. And it all kind of fell apart for good in Seattle in the playoffs after the 2005 season.
Tony Romo at QB, holding for a FG late in the game to win, bobbles a perfect snap, and the Cowboys lose. It's almost been a kind of "Curse of the Bambino" for the starred helmet guys.
Just in the past two weeks, the Cowboys have blown games they were in command of, vs the Cardinals and Giants. They have lost more big fourth quarter leads this year than they did in their first 50 years.
I don't know that I believe in jinxes, but I do know that there are teams that know how to win, and there are teams that don't.
Barber Poles Bennett
You know how coaches hate it when one of their players is quoted about the other team, and it's negative, and it winds up on the other team's bulletin board, etc? Well, the Bucs Ronde Barber is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum on this one.
Barber told the Dallas Morning News that Cowboys WR Laurent Robinson is a huge matchup problem for the Tampa defense, and that Tony Romo has so many weapons in Jason Witten, Miles Austin, etc.
It's all true, of course, but Barber is going out of his way to be as polite as he can be, buttering up the club.
So why do I have the sneaking suspicion that the first time Barber hits Robinson Saturday night, he isn't going to apologize?
PS - Notice how Barber never mentioned Dez Bryant????
No Presents for You
It's December - everybody in the NFL is hurt, and tired, and playing on fumes.
But for the Dallas Cowboys, it's worse than most. The past ten seasons, one winning December. And that was last year's 3-2 after a hideous start that caused a coaching change. A .372 winning percentage in December, the month when playoff berths and home field advantage are on the line.
Maybe this is all a hangover from the famous Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Title game in Green Bay when it was 16 below zero and the Cowboys lost on Bart Starr's legendary QB sneak. Maybe the cold has bothered everybody from Jethro Pugh to Leon Lett. But whatever it is, it is not the way to build a winter winner.
You have to learn to finish in the NFL. You have to finish each play, and each series, and each game. The Cowboys aren't finishers. Not in December. They are the finished.
So, how will it shake out Saturday night? You never know. And that's the great thing. They still have to play the game.