By Matthew Postins
The point was this: 130 wins, 130 losses. That’s the Dallas Cowboys record the past 260 games, a tally that dates back 16 seasons back to the late 1990s and the end of the “Triplets” dynasty.
They say that great teams learn how to win. Looks like Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith took that secret with them.
Under Jason Garrett the Dallas Cowboys have yet to figure it out. Though you shouldn’t blame Garrett necessarily. This is not an epidemic of his doing.
How else to explain what happened on Sunday, a 30-21 Cowboys loss to the San Diego Chargers? The Dallas Cowboys are an organization – not just a team – that has forgotten how to win games, or to do the little things that add up to winning football games.
Take Garrett’s decision to go for a 56-yard field goal late in the first half. Dan Bailey missed it, but it’s hard to totally blame the nearly-automatic Bailey. His career-long is 53 yards. But the Chargers turned that field position into a field goal, which cut Dallas’ lead to eight at halftime. Why not punt and make the Chargers drive farther for that score, or run out of time trying to do so?
There was the Cowboys’ maddening inability to protect the deep middle of the field on defense. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers cut through that unit like it was loose leaf paper. The Cover 2 is designed to give up yards on the sidelines, and that’s fine. But the deep middle has to be covered and the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t do it. The Chargers turned it into a two-score game with Antonio Gates’ fourth-quarter touchdown as the normally reliable Sean Lee flailed at the future Hall of Famer’s feet as he ran away.
What about the drops? Dez Bryant had one on the sideline that could have moved the chains. Jason Witten had a big drop over the middle of the field that could have done the same. Never mind that he was in double coverage. Tony Romo threaded the needle so well that pass demanded to be caught.
And, of course, there’s the fumble by Terrance Williams. We’re going to be talking about that for a while.
This Texas two-step has become extremely old for Dallas Cowboys fans. They win one, they lose one. They win one, they lose one.
I must admit there are days when there is happiness in objectivity.
During my post-game podcast with Bryan Houston on Sunday, we explored the issue of whether the Cowboys have forgotten how to win.
Winning football games is a learned skill. It takes repetition and it takes failing before you can succeed. Look at the great teams in NFL history. Their greatness is rooted in failure before ascending to the top.
Those Steelers teams of the 1970s had three or four seasons of relative failure before winning four Super Bowls. Those 49ers of the 1980s had bumps before winning five Super Bowls. The Patriots of the past decade went through some serious losses before winning three Super Bowls.
Heck, the Dallas Cowboys went through it. Remember “Next Year’s Champions?” Remember that 1-15 season in 1989? Both incarnations eventually won multiple championships.
Those teams had to walk before they could run. But once they started running, little stopped them. In fact, one could argue that the only thing that stopped them was the passage of time. All dynasties decay under the bulk weight of age, though the Patriots are sure trying to cheat Father Time as much as they can.
But there is another element at play when you look at those teams.
What is it they say – you’d rather be lucky than good? Well all of those teams had fortune smile upon them as their ascension to greatness approached.
Perhaps those Steelers aren’t those Steelers without the “Immaculate Reception?” Maybe those 49ers aren’t those 49ers without “The Catch.”
What if Drew Bledsoe hadn’t gotten hurt that year and Tom Brady hadn’t replaced him? What if the Patriots hadn’t drafted Brady at all?
Those Cowboys of the 1990s would be nothing had Dallas not been fortunate enough to have the No. 1 overall pick the same year Aikman came out of school.
What if “Next Year’s Champions” hadn’t spent that pick on Roger Staubach and then waited five years for him to get out of the Navy?
These Dallas Cowboys we’re watching right now are not lucky and are not fortunate. They are deeply average and can’t rise above it because so few players on their roster know what it takes to win. For the few players that do know, they don’t have much experience doing it, especially when it really matters.
Like last year against Washington.
Or the year before against the New York Giants.
Or the year before that against Philadelphia.
Or Sunday afternoon in San Diego.
Fortune does not favor the average.
Just ask these Dallas Cowboys.