Cowboys Phillips, Romo, Garrett come up small when it matters
The Cowboys lost Sunday's game as much as the Vikings won it
Wade Phillips attempted an early field goal out of Shaun Suisham's range
Tony Romo looked skittish and Jason Garrett made some questionable play calls
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerry Jones' voice was as raw as the disappointment in the Cowboys' locker room after a 34-3 loss to the Vikings on Sunday in the Metrodome. A postseason of promise had been buried beneath three turnovers, two missed field goals and a suffocating Minnesota pass rush. It was enough to make onlookers wonder if Jones might re-evaluate the status of head coach Wade Phillips and the qualifications of quaterback Tony Romo, who appeared skittish in the pocket long before the Vikings pass rush took control.
"From the standpoint of making this game be an indictment of the progress we made this year, I'm not going to do that," said Jones, sweating dripping down his face from the hot camera lights and cramped quarters. "We know that the Vikings are a good team. We know that we came into a hostile environment. We know that we played a quarterback that's been at a Superman level, and we played a defense that played better than even I could have hoped they wouldn't play."
With all that said, the Cowboys have no one to blame for the loss but themselves. Yes, Brett Favre threw for 234 yards and four touchdowns, and the defense had six sacks, and Minnesota did not have a turnover. But the outcome was as much about the questionable game management by Phillips, the head-scratching playcalling by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and the poor decision-making by Romo as it was anything the Vikings did. Let's take them in order.
Phillips: During warmups the Cowboys determined that kicker Shaun Suisham's maximum field-goal range was 45 yards. Yet on fourth-and-inches from the Minnesota 30 late in a scoreless first quarter, Phillips decided to attempt a 48-yard field goal -- even though Dallas' previous three rushes went for 8, 9 and 4 yards.
Suisham, who had missed a field goal in two of his previous three games, was wide left. Vikings players said afterward the miss was a huge play, because they sensed that it took something out of the Cowboys, who have had issues with their kickers all season. Four plays later Favre threw a 47-yard strike to Sidney Rice for the first of his four touchdown passes and a 7-0 lead Minnesota would not relinquish.
Romo: Strange as it may seem for a team that surrendered six sacks, Dallas' offensive line actually controlled the game for much of the first quarter. The Cowboys gained 118 yards on 22 plays and were averaging 3.9 yards a rush. Still, Romo acted at times as if he were facing unrelenting pressure when he wasn't.
On one play, he stepped up to avoid looping rushes on the edge and had a pocket from which to throw. But rather than go through his reads, he took off for the line of scrimmage. There was an opening to the right for a big gain, but he inexplicably tried an ugly dumpoff that fell incomplete. It was as if he had no interest in sitting in the pocket and looking into the secondary for a big play.
Things just got worse from there, and understandably so. Once the Vikings got up -- and left tackle Flozell Adams went down three minutes into the second quarter with a calf injury -- Romo had little chance. He appeared even more antsy in the pocket. On a third-and-goal from the 15, wideout Roy Williams broke free on a post route. Favre would have made the throw in his sleep. But with a chance to answer Minnesota's first score with a TD of its own, Romo looked the other way and threw short to Miles Austin on a short route. Awful decision.
By the third quarter, it was apparent Romo was a beaten man. His body language reflected as much after he threw an ugly interception to linebacker Ben Leber. Romo dropped his head and appeared to be broken, as if he could not believe he made the throw. Which brings me to ...
Garrett: As talented a playcaller as he is purported to be, Garrett does some really strange things. Like asking tight end Jason Witten to block end Jared Allen, one of the league's premier pass rushers, one-on-one the play after Adams was sidelined. Predictably, it resulted in a sack. He also got away from the draws and screens that had been so effective for the Cowboys this year, which was a popular topic beneath players' breaths afterward.
None of this is to say that Jones should make major changes in the offseason. He said he'll meet with Phillips soon and stressed that "this game will not have any bearing" on whether the coach is brought back. Phillips has a one-year option remaining on his contract for 2010.
But it is disturbing that the Cowboys, who were so impressive their previous four games, could revert to the things that made them so maddeningly inconsistent the last few years. Blame the defense if you will for surrendering 34 points, 234 yards passing and 109 rushing. But this game was a reflection of the shortcomings of three men: Phillips, Romo and Garrett -- even if Jones would not say so.
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