Dallas Cowboys Have Mastered the Art of Losingby James Dudko September 10, 2021 0 comments
Missed kicks, critical penalties, turnovers, and failing to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Dallas Cowboys have mastered the art of losing. Their latest defeat was a 31-29 setback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last night to kick off the 2021 NFL season. It was a microcosm of why Mike McCarthy’s team, as talented as any in the league, won’t win a Super Bowl. They simply don’t know how to win.
The Cowboys outgained Tampa Bay (451 yards to 431), ran more plays (77 to 64), and dominated time of possession (34:27 to 25:33), but still lost. Yes, there were mitigating factors, like playing the defending Super Bowl champions on the road. Tom Brady is still great, and Rob Gronkowski is still impossible to cover. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown turned the clock back to the mid-2010s when he was the best wide receiver in football.
All of those things are reasons why the Buccaneers will still dominate this season. None of those things explain why the Cowboys let the game slip away. Dallas lost because this team doesn’t do the important things right. Little details like eliminating penalties and protecting the football. Unfashionable but essential things like playing the field position game smartly. If there’s a way to lose, these Cowboys will find one.
Greg Zuerlein was one of the main culprits last night, leaving four points on the field. He shanked a short field goal attempt then sent an extra point off the upright. Zuerlein can be excused for coming up just short on a 61-yard try, but those wayward shorter kicks proved the difference in the game. There were other bonehead infractions, like when cornerback Jourdan Lewis recovered Chris Godwin‘s fumble in the end zone. Inexplicably, Lewis brought the ball out instead of settling for a touchback. That’s just not smart in a game of fine margins.
Nor was it smart of wide receiver CeeDee Lamb to let the ball go through his hands and into the grateful mitts of Carlton Davis. His third-quarter theft led to a Brady scoring strike to Gronkowski for a 28-19 Buccaneers’ lead. It was far from the only gaffe Lamb was guilty of on the night. He can be a dynamic playmaker, but he also still struggles with drops and proper route recognition. There’s that the trouble with the basics again. It’s a team-wide problem for Lamb and company.
The Cowboys had already frittered away a golden chance to take the lead when another drive stalled inside the 20. It meant Zuerlein had to kick a 21-yard field goal when at least six points had appeared inevitable. Along with the 35-yarder he made and the 31-yarder he missed in the second period, that meant the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown from three possessions in the red zone. Championship teams make maximum use of those opportunities.
Super Bowl winners also know how to get out of their own way. They don’t commit eight penalties the way the Cowboys did in Florida. Most of those belonged to the offensive line. Left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Connor McGovern were both flagged for holding in critical moments. Smith and McGovern weren’t the only guilty ones though. The Buccaneers committed 11 penalties but still won. They survived self-inflicted wounds only because they faced a team proficient in the art of losing.
McCarthy has everything he needs to win big in Dallas, including an offense that’s an embarrassment of riches. Prescott throws to a deep stable of receivers, while Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are assets on the ground. No offense has had this Tampa Bay defense chasing shadows the way the Cowboys did on Thursday night. There are even bright spots on defense, where rookie Micah Parsons already looks like a steal. Linebacker-safety fusion Keanu Neal will make coordinator Dan Quinn’s hybrid schemes tick, while DeMarcus Lawrence is still a force on the edge. Talent isn’t the issue for these Cowboys. Finding ways not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory will be the key to their season.
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