The Lingering Drought

Adhering to a New Year's resolution, more than 48 hours have come to pass, and now an evaluation can be made regarding one of the most disappointing displays in quite some time. Why 48 hours, you ask?

It's an attempt to take as much subjectivity, knee-jerk and emotion out of the assessment equation as possible. With the filtration process almost complete, let's "Wade" into the landfill to see if anything can be salvaged from the most recent, smelly deposit. The unfortunate aspect of Sunday's divisional round playoff loss to the visiting Giants was the amount of waste removal equipment required to properly dispose of the refuse. Had it been a single element causing the entire stink out the Texas Stadium way, it may have been an easier mess to clean and tolerate.

All ends of the spectrum have been covered in print, interviews and every media forum possible. As you can imagine, the spectrum ranged from doom and gloom and expanded all the way to wait till next year. Like most all observations, the appropriate level of discontent is somewhere in the middle. The players and coaches explanation of "We just didn't get it done" is neither palatable nor accurate; however, most coaches and players don't throw their players and teammates under the oncoming bus. They watch each other's back and build trust through their actions. That element of sports will never change, so fans are left to conduct deductive reasoning on their own. Is it any wonder why tabloids dominate this country?

It's a damn shame the Cowboys succumbed to another one and done playoff scenario. As a matter of truth, it was gross negligence on the part of football operations. Putting injuries aside, the pieces were in place to secure a trip to Glendale, AZ. Look no further than WR Terry Glenn to solidify or validate this statement. A veteran player (one without a championship ring) nearing the end of his playing career is not going to risk personal health and incur potential long-term repercussions for a 150-1 long shot. Terry Glenn knew this team was special and had all the makings of a potential champion. He wanted a hand at the history table. He endured unbelievable odds and a rigorous rehabilitation just to enter the championship pursuit. Opportunities to hoist championship hardware don't grow on trees. Terry knew.

Depending on the depth of fandom, a loss is usually never tolerable to a rabid team supporter. If the contributing causes are limited or single in nature, a loss is a bit easier to stomach. There's a crowning or definitive reason behind the downfall. However, when there are multiple causes for a collapse, the nausea runs much deeper and is far more perplexing. Enter the Dallas Cowboys. There was no single factor giving way to the Giants' victory. As T.O. intimated through hidden tears, the loss was a "team effort." No truer words could have been spoken. It was a collective effort, and all three phases contributed to the premature playoff exit.

In no specific order, let's unearth the major factors bringing about the Cowboys' trip to the local tee boxes. First and foremost, attitude. Why can't every player "bring it" on the same level as #24? Where is that intensity and determination amongst the other 44 active players? Even more so, why isn't it team contagious? Don't you think his lead would permeate and motivate a gathering of his peers? How can you not feed off this destructive force? Wouldn't his contributions and style of play bring out everyone's personal best? As Roy once was, wouldn't you want this one player to model or exemplify the team you play for?

This is not to say the Cowboys don't have heart, don't want to win or that everyone can physically emulate MBIII. He's a force; one the opponent does not relish. Ask anyone who's had the task of bringing him down or has weathered one of his bulldozing stiff arms. Want some more of that? It would be incredible to see that approach instilled in others and other phases of the game. There should be a style of play referred to as "Texas Nasty." It has no dictionary definition; just a picture of the dread locked steamroller. Mr. Jones, re-up him now!

If you're going to talk, you best back it up on the field of play. Nothing worse than a mouth that writes checks his performance can't cash or financially back. Patrick Crayton is a fan favorite and integral cog on this football team. Those factors should not change. Hopefully Patrick will continue the maturation process and learn from his actions. He made himself to be the fool. There's both times and places for bravado, but its utilization should be earned. Patrick Crayton has no skins on the wall. Thus, no skins, no tolerance. Patrick, in the future and in the nicest way possible, just shut up, do your job and catch the damn ball. Like it or not, your actions and non-actions directly contributed to this loss.

The three phases of the game are designed to work together in unison. When they don't, it presents an opportunity for one or two phases to help the fledgling element/unit. They must be accountable to the others and "step up" when needed. The Cowboys were never in triumvirate sync against New York. Each phase, with the exception of the coverage units, had their shining and noteworthy moments, but the complimentary or supplemental aspect was not there.

Nowhere was this more evident than the last two possessions of the first half. The Cowboys wrote the text book on methodical drives. It was something straight out of the early ‘90's highlight reels. Twenty plays in 10+ minutes culminating with the first half MVP taking the ball over from the one. It should have been the "defining" moment in a Cowboys' victory while at the same time providing the necessary back-breaking elements to the opponent. It should have completely demoralized the Giants' defense, especially knowing the Cowboys were set to receive the second half kick-off.

All it required to carry out the "get out of our face" strategy was a defense with a purpose and backbone. The spine proved to be made of jelly as three rookie plays and a needless facemask penalty did in the strategy. Hopefully Wade Phillips and Brian Stewart will dwell on this possession the entire off season. If they don't, then maybe denial should tell us something. This is the same brain trust that made the decision to render Aaron Glenn expendable. Jacques Reeves or the experienced and battle-tested Glenn during playoff football? What would you have done?

And speaking of the defensive expertise of Coach Phillips, more alarms and whistles should have gone off during the bye week at Valley Ranch. Phillips made the most profound (now, glaringly so) statement during the Thursday press conference. He intimated the reason the Cowboys were in full pads the previous day was due to the team being "down on their fundamentals" of late. By late, he meant the month of December. It was a call to get back to the basics. Football 101. Is tackling an element of those core fundamentals? If proper tackling paramount to success in football at any level?

Throw in the tape/film and let's get a good look at the Giants' first possession again. See anything disturbing? Did anyone notice Brandon Jacobs gashing the Cowboys' defense for yards after the initial contact? Care to hone in specifically on the Amani Toomer touchdown? Anthony Henry, you sir, have played football for how many years? Really, now? Dude, that was some of the poorest technique known to the game. Those that tried to pick up your pieces were every bit as atrocious. Was this some of the stuff Coach Wade was alluding to? Anthony, were you there that day? Toomer's gallop to the end zone was clocked on a sun dial. Is he still running? Do the Cowboys have any closing speed capable of pursuing on the proper angle? Funny thing them there fundamentals.

Did Coach Wade rip up the "no stupid penalties" decrees for the offensive linemen, or did they conveniently block the promise from their memory banks? There are three Pro Bowlers gracing the front five, correct? Sixty percent are Hawaii-bound? Did that 60% already depart for the big island, or was the charter scheduled to leave shortly after half time? It's hard to say which was worse, the senseless penalties or the blocking (mainly their forte, pass blocking) deficiencies? So bad was the pass blocking down the stretch that Jason Witten was forced to stay in to provide double-team assistance.

Come on big fellas, J-Witt was needed in the last minute patterns not throwing a shoulder into oncoming ends named Umenyiora and Strahan. What a waste of target assistance. Giants' defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo had their number, and he wasn't afraid to use it. Like a broken record. Over and over again. So much so that the check down was never there to pick up the necessary first down yardage. The check down option was too busy helping with the jail break up front.

Speaking of institutional lockdown, that was R.W. McQuarters, was it not? Not Ellis Hobbs, Devin Hester, Joshua Cribbs or Antonio Cromartie, right? Can you say criminal negligence? Who shall stand for these heinous crimes? Bruce Read, you are sentenced to life sorting coverage lanes in Corvallis! Suffice it to say there's a bit of special teams' difference from the PAC 10 to the big stage. Wasn't it the beloved Chicken of the Sea that rendered field position a game to game necessity? Bruce must have missed that read at the Oregon State library. This is just one of several potential changes to be addressed in the current off season.

The playoff departure was the combination of many facets, and the collective effort raises significant championship questions. Do the Cowboys have what it takes to get themselves out of this playoff drought? The Cowboys have become the NFL's version of the Sahara Dessert and are now tied for the consecutive playoff loss string. Not one of those records you want to jointly hold, or Lord forbid, outright own. When will they get over the hump? More organizational and personnel changes are coming. Regarding the team, not unlike the Packers, the core and youth elements appear to be in place, and the Cap finances are currently in order. Tweaks, not a major overhaul, are in order and hopefully an upgrade and talent infusion (in select spots) is on its way.

A year removed from the "atmosphere" change will be most interesting to watch. This thing could go one of several ways, but talent evaluation and leadership will become the organizational compass. Whether it points past the "hump" is a whole other story. Stay tuned as the hurt subsides. They will live to play another day.

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