TAMPA – Inside of the Cowboys’ losing locker room on Sunday here in Tampa, assorted team members stepped up to absorb the blame for an all-too-lifeless 10-6 loss to the Bucs. And they are right to take the blame. All of them.
“Ultimately, you have to do what’s necessary to win the game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “You have to make the stops and make the plays. We all know that.”
In this game, not many guys on either team accomplished a great deal. Rookie QB Jameis Winston didn’t do much against Dallas but he scored on a 1-yard keeper with 54 seconds remaining – following another goal-line plunge that saw his possibly-game-losing fumble negated by a Dallas penalty – and one TD was enough to top a Tony Romo-less Cowboys team that has unearthed maddeningly creative ways to lose for seven straight weeks.
Winston actually tossed two carom interceptions, with safety Jeff Heath gathering in both of them. So Dallas solved its takeaway drought….but Heath’s heroics were erased by his defensive holding call that would’ve marked Winston’s third cough-up.
Yet even after that, the Cowboys had one more crack at avoiding the abyss of 2-7. They crept to the Tampa Bay 44 to set up a Matt Cassel heave to the end zone directed at a streaking – and shockingly single-covered – Bryant. Dez felt he was shoved by the safety who intercepted the ball, Bradley McDougald.
And there was a nudge. Bryant told me he regrets having mistakenly assumed there would be a flag and therefore didn’t go all-out to try to make a circus catch. “I thought I was going to get (the pass-interference call),” Bryant said. “It’s unfortunate. Me as a player and the attitude I have, I was so caught up in that little quick moment, (thinking), ’I know the ref seen it and know he’s going to call it’…but he didn’t. I’m not trying to make excuses, but it just kinda threw me off my target. I wasn’t focused on it.”
“Just an unfortunate situation.”
The Bucs don’t seem far more “fortunate” than Dallas but at 4-5 they have twice as many wins. Dallas seems hopeless now – they are the worst team in the NFC at the moment and are on pace to battle the Cleveland Browns for the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
“I know everybody is gonna be against us,” Bryant said, calmly addressing both the oddsmakers and his critics. “But that’s OK because we’re gonna stick together in this locker room and keep fighting.”
“Fight” was the message on Romo’s blue T-shirt during the game, and it’s also central to the team’s plan to re-arm itself with the Pro Bowl QB, scheduled to return this week from a broken left collarbone that’s sidelined him during this Cowboys skid – unmatched since they lost seven straight in 1989.
“No,” owner Jerry Jones said when I asked him if this loss and Dallas’ dismal circumstances might alter the team’s plan to start Romo next week at Miami. “It’s in our long-term best interest to go win a ballgame.”
But when Romo returns, what if he’s anything short of perfect down the stretch? All he’ll really represent is one additional Cowboy to absorb some additional blame.