Cowboys need to close games out
At 2-3 the Cowboys are seeing their season head in the wrong direction.
IRVING, Texas -- Vinny Testaverde couldn't explain it.
Victory was in his hands. But within seconds, Steelers defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen was running the opposite direction to the Dallas 24 with 2:20 remaining in the Cowboys' improbable 24-20 loss to the Steelers. Testaverde didn't know if Steelers linebacker James Farrior caused it, and neither did Farrior.
"I didn't know who the ball hit off of or who hit it, but it happened and it was the key turning point in the game," Testaverde said. "The play was designed to go to a hot route in a blitz and that read was to Keyshawn Johnson. We were wanting to keep the clock running and unfortunately that didn't happen."
|“||We're two and three. We have a lot of work to do. Like I said last week, there's a lot of football left to play. This is disappointing. It's going to hurt us a lot. One first down would have won the game, but we made a mistake and it cost us big time. We tried pretty hard today and it just didn't work out. It's disappointing. ”|
|— Bill Parcells, Cowboys coach|
After the fumble, Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers the final 24 yards to give Pittsburgh its fifth victory and left Cowboys fans wondering what had happened to last year's Bill Parcells playoff team. The Cowboys are now 2-3 and have lost back-to-back home games to the Giants and Steelers.
Here's where the problem lies -- they don't have enough running ability to close out games. That was pretty clear by the strategy employed by Parcells down the stretch.
For most of the game, the Cowboys lined up in three-receiver sets. Most of the time, Richie Anderson is the lone back in the three-receiver set and most of his 54 yards on six carries were on draws. That continued even when the Cowboys had a 20-10 lead in the third quarter.
But playing three receivers in a Texas Hold 'Em game is a losing hand. Where's the fullback? Where's Eddie George? Where's the beef? Three receivers is too much finesse in what should be a pound it out-type position.
"We had a 10-point lead going into the fourth quarter," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's tough when you lose a game like that. We need to put this thing together. We have to put this loss behind us. We don't have a choice."
Parcells was taking a little heat after the game from reporters wondering why the Cowboys tried to kill the clock through the air and not on the ground.
With a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Parcells called three consecutive passes. One was incomplete. Testaverde was sacked on a blitz. The third-down pass went for no gain. The Cowboys killed only 98 seconds and the Steelers had 10:10 remaining to tie the score or win the game.
With 5:47 left, Parcells called three pass plays in the first five and an end-around to Terry Glenn. On a third-and-13 with 2:36 left, he had Testaverde drop back and lost the fumble.
"Third and 13?" Parcells said. "No, I was trying to make a play to win the game. If we got a first down, all we had to do was kneel down, and it's over. So, no, I wasn't thinking about running at all. We needed a first down."
It was a tough loss for the Cowboys and their fans to take. Once again they were outplayed by a team that was much worse than them a year ago. At 2-3, the season can go either way.
"We're two and three," Parcells said. "We have a lot of work to do. Like I said last week, there's a lot of football left to play. This is disappointing. It's going to hurt us a lot. One first down would have won the game, but we made a mistake and it cost us big time. We tried pretty hard today and it just didn't work out. It's disappointing."
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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