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Two explosive offenses and flawed defenses score 65 points in an overtime game. Big surprise.

Tim's picture

First, let's talk about what this game did not mean.

It didn't mean the defense is bad. The squad Kirk Harralson called Rob Ryan's "Island of Misfit Toys" was never going to win this one – not against the New Orleans passing offense. They were woefully overmatched. They did a great job, all things considered, containing New Orleans Wide Receivers and Tight Ends. Unfortunately, that meant the Running Backs were free to catch 15 passes for 162 yards and one TD, with Darren Sproles turning in a 104 yard receiving day.

It didn't mean those "same old Cowboys" choked in December, in part for all the reasons above. The offense struggled for long stretches, bracketed by big-play, fast-scoring drives to start and finish the game. Romo had his third 400 yard and 9th 300 yard game of the season (both career highs and franchise records.) Dez had 224 receiving yards and Witten tied the all-time league record for catches in a season by a Tight End. In the end, Dallas lit up the Saints defense for 406 yards and 31 points, none of them cheap.

It didn't mean the season is over. I was wrong when I said it was over after the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Redskins (and again after the win over Philly.) Mea culpa. This is one weird year, and it turns out that if the Ravens (who are up by 20 in the third quarter as I write) beat the Giants today, a Cowboys win at Washington next week can still win the division. When you win or lose almost every game in the fourth quarter or overtime, having one more chance can't possibly mean the season is over. It might even favor you. I mean, since when does Dallas win five in a row? Now they just need one in a row (if Baltimore hangs on to win.)

But what did it mean?

It meant Tony Romo is not holding the team back. (I know, I know – broken record.) It won't go down as a fourth quarter comeback because the team lost, but down by 14 with 4:45 left in regulation, Romo led two touchdown drives to send it to overtime, including a touchdown pass on 4th and 10 with 21 seconds remaining.

It meant Dez Bryant is for real. With 224 yards and two TD catches (both of them for 58 yards,) he was pretty much unstoppable. And that was with a broken finger. Bryant leads the NFL in TDs of twenty or more yards (he's tied for first in total receiving TDs.) I said around mid-season that I was tired of hearing about what a playmaker he has the potential to be when he is not actually making plays. Again, mea culpa. He makes plays now, and it turns out receivers really do "blossom" in their third seasons.

It meant that DeMarco Murray needs to understand the game situation better. He has only lost tow fumbles this year, but both were in goal line situations where he should have locked that ball down with both arms in heavy traffic. Today, it cost Dallas seven points (or more, had Dallas scored on their aborted drive.) His running, even with only eleven carries, was effective enough to make play action a powerful weapon. But he cost the team points today.

It meant Miles Austin is not a #1 receiver. We thought he might be a few years ago, and he is getting paid like one. But he isn't. He was target eight times today, catching four, including a touchdown catch. But the four he did not catch hit him in not one, but two hands – all of them. And every one of them would have been a first down. Two were on third down.One of them would have been a spectacular catch on the sideline, but we saw Dez Bryant make the exact same catch just a week or two ago. Dez is definitely a #1 receiver. I don't want to get too hysterical in the wake of a loss. Austin is still a very good receiver – a good #2. But he might be getting paid too much right now, and I really wonder how he will compare to Harris in another year or two.

It meant the Dallas offensive line is starting to gel. We forget that the five starters never played together and barely practiced together in preseason. Then Ryan Cook was signed two days before the season started and he's ended up playing most of the snaps all year. They are not Pro Bowlers, but right now, you know what? They are not terrible. And that is something we couldn't say a couple months ago. For example, when Romo threw for 280 and a couple TDs we said, "Wow – that's pretty good with this line." In five of the last six games, he's thrown for over 300 five times, and over 400 twice. He's had at least one touchdown pass in every game, and three or more in three of them. Protection matters. The run blocking is still lacking, but protection has gotten a lot better.

It meant that Jason Garrett still has mental breakdowns on clock management. I made a mental note at the end of the first half on that, because it was not yet clear his mistake would be decisive. Dallas got the ball with the game tied at 14 and 1:11 left. After a seven yard completion to Witten (after which he unfortunately ran out of bounds,) Dallas faced 2d and 3 with 1:06 left. New Orleans had two time-outs remaining. What do you do? YOU RUN. You are on your own 26 in a tied game, and you know you are getting the ball after the half. But Garrett called two passes. They were both incomplete, stopping the clock. Now, even if both runs had come up short of a first down, the worst that could have happened is that the Saints would have taken their remaining time-outs before the Dallas punt. They need both of them to get into Field Goal range on their subsequent drive. It is entirely possible those decisions cost Dallas three points, and in a game tied at the end of regulation…well, you do the math. Garrett is a really good Offensive Coordinator. I think he can possibly be an even better head coach, but not if he's doing both jobs. That sequence was not a play-calling breakdown, it was a clock management breakdown. My guess is that if somebody else were calling the plays, Garrett is smart enough to see that. In any case, we've seen poor clock management often enough to know that he doesn't see it now.

I'm not calling for Garrett the head coach's head, but I think I am calling for the offensive coordinator's head.

Finally, just a funny observation. In "lost seasons," when the playoff chances really are done, we often call for the coaches to start playing the prospects to see what we've got. Dallas, due to injuries to most of the defense, and some of the offense, is getting a really nice look at what we've got for the future. I'd rank Moore, Frampton and Albright among the keepers. If nothing else, we'll have a much better informed draft, and if Dallas can escape injury next year, this team could be pretty scary.

So, to be clear, the season is not over. I'd like to say this team has no chance whatsoever if they make the play-offs, but what the hell do I know, really?

Believe.

(This post has been updated to correct Saints RB receiving numbers.)