Commentary

Cowboys' latest loss had familiar feel

Mistakes that knocked team out of playoff picture haunt Dallas against Eagles

Updated: December 13, 2010, 10:35 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The season was over a while ago for the Dallas Cowboys, but they were mathematically still alive for the postseason.

Not anymore.

The Cowboys were officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 30-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night.

This will be the first December since 2004 that the Cowboys won't be playing for a playoff berth. That year, the team finished 6-10 and had no hopes.

"We just got to finish strong," inside linebacker Bradie James said. "This is a peculiar situation that we're in. We hadn't been in this situation for a while."

The way the Cowboys lost was a microcosm of their season. This loss was marred by turnovers, the lack of a strong running game, an inability to prevent big plays and special-teams mistakes.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Matt Strasen/US Presswire The Cowboys knocked around Michael Vick, but they couldn't stop him from throwing two touchdown passes and running for another.

When the night was over, even Jerry Jones' presence on the sideline in the fourth quarter wasn't enough to push the Cowboys to victory.

At best, the Cowboys can finish at 7-9 if they beat the Washington Redskins, the Arizona Cardinals and the Eagles to close the season.

"We're living in the day. That's what we do around here," interim coach Jason Garrett said.

Effort hasn't been a problem for the Cowboys. Execution has been, and that hurt them Sunday.

The Cowboys committed two turnovers, one when a Jon Kitna pass bounced off Miles Austin and another when Roy E. Williams slipped out of his break, allowing cornerback Dimitri Patterson to intercept the pass.

Bryan McCann fumbled a punt in the second quarter. The Cowboys recovered, but it was the second consecutive week he lost a football on special teams.

When Garrett was asked about McCann's long-term status -- he was benched because of the fumble -- the coach said, "We'll evaluate it. Certainly ball security is a big part of being a returner."

McCann wasn't the only one who struggled on special teams. In the third quarter, Kevin Ogletree tried to return a kickoff from 3 yards deep and was stopped at the Cowboys 8. It appeared he should have remained in the end zone.

Ogletree had another chance to make a play on a return in the fourth quarter, when the Eagles were forced to kick from their own 15 because of a post-touchdown celebration penalty on DeSean Jackson. Ogletree fielded the ball at his 13 and gained only 10 yards.

The Eagles took advantage of the Cowboys' tendency to give up big plays on the first play of the game, netting a 60-yard completion from Michael Vick to Jackson. The Cowboys knew the Eagles like to strike big on their first play, but they couldn't stop it.

There were other big plays, such as Jackson's sizzling 91-yard reception in the fourth quarter that put the Eagles up for good. Cornerback Mike Jenkins gambled for the pass breakup and missed, and nobody could catch Jackson as he sprinted across the field for the touchdown.

The Cowboys also were burned by a shorter big play. Tackle-eligible Todd Herremans blocked linebacker Anthony Spencer near the goal line in the second quarter, then let go and moved to his right. Herremans was left uncovered, and Vick found him for a 2-yard touchdown pass.

The Cowboys managed to stay close to the Eagles despite an ineffective running game. Running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice combined for 57 yards on 20 carries. They barely outgained Kitna and receiver Austin, who totaled 53 yards on four rushing attempts.

These types of problems are why the Cowboys are 4-9 and staying home for the postseason.

"Anytime you know you're not going to go to the playoffs, it's a little sting," Austin said. "That being said, we still have to finish these three games with all the effort in the world."

The Cowboys started the season with high expectations, but they didn't live up to them. All that's left is to finish strong, but the way they played Sunday night brought up all the bad memories of their 1-7 start.

"It's hard for all of us," tight end Jason Witten said. "Our window is now. It's been that way the last couple of years. We're accountable, we're fighting and we're leaders. We do a helluva of job. This group, you don't do it to get moral victories. You fight."

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

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE