Commentary

Cowboys mistaken for contenders

Super Bowl aspirations take backseat to comedy of errors in season-opening loss

Updated: September 13, 2010, 1:26 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- This was bad.

The start, middle and finish. Everything about the Cowboys' 13-7 season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday night was bad.

The Cowboys told us the offense was going to snap out of its preseason funk. They told us right tackle Alex Barron was going to be all right.

They also told us they were Super Bowl contenders.

Super Bowl contenders don't commit 12 penalties for 91 yards. They don't have madness on the sideline, which is what we had toward the end of the first half. Instead of taking a knee on a first-and-20 with 4 seconds left, the Cowboys attempted a short pass that resulted in a turnover and a touchdown for the Redskins.

A 3-0 Redskins lead turned to 10-0, and the momentum and the game were lost.

Coach Wade Phillips said that it was his fault and that he should have instructed offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to take a knee.

Garrett said in hindsight that he should have done so.

"Regardless of the team you're playing, how good of a team you are, when you make bonehead mistakes that we're making, [it's frustrating]," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "It seemed like every time we turned around, something crazy was happening. A mistake on our part."

The offense, which gained 380 yards, didn't look good.

Out of 10 offensive possessions, the Cowboys punted six times, missed a makeable 34-yard field goal, scored a touchdown, fumbled and ended the game with a completed pass in the end zone only to have it wiped out by a holding call on Barron as time expired.

"I felt like we gave it away; the play before the half, certainly it was a big, big play in the ballgame," Phillips said. "I thought we played hard, but we made too many mistakes, and that's what cost you. We only turned the ball over once, but it was a big one."

Said linebacker DeMarcus Ware: "I wish it wasn't a flag. We would have won the game, but that's part of it. You've got to [make mistakes] early [and] you have to score points early, then we can open up the package on defense and be more effective."

Orlando Scandrick was called for an offside penalty on a Redskins field goal try. Jay Ratliff was called for a personal foul for grabbing at quarterback Donovan McNabb's knees. You can't do that in the NFL.

Redskins
Larry French/Getty ImagesJason Garrett struggled to get Dez Bryant (88) and the Cowboys' offense on track with questionable decisions against the Redskins.
On an incomplete pass to Jason Witten in the back of the end zone, Miles Austin ran underneath too close to the tight end. Austin appeared to run a wrong route. Dez Bryant, playing in his first game, was in a physical battle with veteran corner DeAngelo Hall, but he appeared to run the wrong route a few times.

Garrett made a questionable decision to call three consecutive smoke routes, resulting in 1 yard total.

The first time the Cowboys reached the red zone, Garrett asked running back Marion Barber to make a halfback toss to the end zone to Witten instead of allowing Romo to throw.

Barber's pass fell incomplete.

The Cowboys forgot that the Redskins' Chris Cooley and Santana Moss can play a little bit. They combined for 12 catches for 157 yards.

"You try to continue to spread the ball around," McNabb said. "I just throw where the defense dictates it. It was their day."

The Cowboys' defense didn't allow a touchdown, just two field goals by Graham Gano. But the defense did have trouble sacking McNabb. He was taken down just once, and he used his feet to escape defenders.

It was hard out there for the Cowboys.

But the regular season has started now, and they have to get their act together.

"I am extremely disappointed, but more importantly, I'm surprised," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "But I want to give them some credit. I give [Redskins coach] Mike Shanahan a lot of credit. That's a big win for them and a hard loss for us."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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