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Week 15 Judgements: Cowboys self-destructing

The SportsXchange

Good luck to the Dallas Cowboys.

They're trying to prove you can get to the top of the division without a defense, without a reliable quarterback and without a head coach who has control over what's going on.

No, they shouldn't make it, but it's the NFC East where all things are possible ... except, of course, the return of Mike Shanahan.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys' self-destruction in Sunday's self-immolation should convince a nationwide audience -- if not their owner -- that this team is going nowhere, and let's start with quarterback Tony Romo.

He has the best fourth-quarter passer rating of anyone -- and I mean ever -- but who out there trusts him to make the right call or the right throw at the appropriate time? I'm waiting. Bad enough that he threw another fatal interception (OK, two) down the stretch vs. Green Bay; what's worse is that we have his head coach calling him out, saying Romo checked out of a run.

That's a problem.

But so is this: Dallas insisted before this season it would make more of a commitment to the run, and with a 26-3 lead Sunday and DeMarco Murray running to daylight through a porous Packers' defense, the Cowboys had their chance. But they failed miserably, and they failed because they can't make a commitment to the run -- no matter how well Murray runs or how poorly opponents tackle.

In the end, it's always got to be about Romo, and that's where they're toast. Look, their defense stinks. Anybody who watched the Green Bay game ... OK, the Chicago game ... wait a minute, the New Orleans game ... knows there are holes there the size of Texas. So you do what you can to cover the blemishes, and one way is to wind the clock by running the ball, especially when you're averaging 7.4 yards as a carry, as they did Sunday.

But nooooooooo, Romo wants to throw. And throw. And throw. So he takes a sack. So he completes a pass to the other team. So he loses. And so Dallas is Big D, as in Doomed.

--2. With the loss, Romo and Garrett spared Green Bay's Mike McCarty some difficult questions -- most of which should have involved why he was in such a hurry to score at the end. The Packers had the ball first-and-goal at the 1. Dallas was down to one timeout. And there was just over a minute and a half left. So bleed the clock. Force the Cowboys to take their last timeout. At worst, take a knee on first down. It's not as if these are the '85 Bears you're up against. It's the frickin' Cowboys. So take your time. Instead, McCarthy sent Eddie Lacy over the top, he scored and Dallas had 1:31 to get a field goal. Oh, yeah, I forgot: It also had Tony Romo calling the plays.

--3. Oh, and just for the record: That makes Romo 11-17 in December, 12-18 in regular-season games in December and January and 13-21 in the last two months overall (including the playoffs). When you wonder why he gets knocked, start there.

--4. On second thought, Cincinnati may not be ready to take on history. The Bengals haven't won a playoff game under Marvin Lewis (they're 0-4) and haven't won a playoff game, period, since 1991. I thought this was the year that ended. Maybe not.

--5. Well, that didn't take long. People who wondered how the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski affects New England just got their answer. The Patriots couldn't pull off another last-second comeback because they don't have a reliable Red Zone threat -- translated, Gronk -- something that was painfully apparent when Tom Brady threw a third-down pass to .... Michael Hoomanawanui? You gotta be kidding. That's your Red Zone threat? Puh-leeze. One play later, he was looking for Austin Collie ... yes, Austin Collie ... and I think you know what happened. Someone once asked when we'd find out if Brady had a tipping point. We might be there, people.

--6. Three weeks ago Miami coach Joe Philbin looked like a coach on the verge of getting fired. Now he looks like someone who could be a longshot for Coach of the Year -- especially for how his team responded to the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito mess.

--7. Dear Miami, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Sincerely, Peyton Manning.

--8. Consider that a dress rehearsal for Seattle at MetLife Stadium. With the Seahawks home for the playoffs, it's inconceivable they won't be back in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII. I mean, who's going to beat that 12th Man in Seattle? Somebody? Anybody?

--9. Let's just cut to San Francisco-Seattle in the NFC championship game. They're not just the two best teams in that conference; they might be the two best teams in football, period.

--10. Nope, that wasn't a bad loss for the Philadelphia Eagles; it was a catastrophe. Bad enough the Eagles got torched by a stiff; they got beaten by the Minnesota Freaking Vikings, SANS ADRIAN PETERSON AND SANS TOBY GERHART. If Matt Cassel can shred these guys for 382 yards passing, what happens when/if they meet a Drew Brees, Matt Stafford or Jay Cutler?

--11. Here's the good news, Dallas fans: Your team can still win the NFC East by beating Philadelphia in the season finale. Now the bad: The Cowboys had that chance the last two years -- in season enders, no less -- and fizzled, with Romo suffering five turnovers. And they had that chance in the last game of the 2008 season, too, and got torched, 44-6, in Philadelphia. Someone tell me how the combination of Romo plus the Cowboys' defense equals anything now but disaster.

--12.. Sorry, Mike Shanahan, I wouldn't spend a first-round draft pick on Kirk Cousins. But I'd spend a second. Having said that, I wouldn't trade the guy ... not with RG3's history of injuries so early in his career.

--13. Nope, I don't like Shanahan's decision to go for two points. I love it. Reason: What do you have to lose except another game? Bravo, Mike, for taking a risk few others would. I mean, it's not as if he's playing for his job.

--14. The best team in the AFC South isn't Indianapolis. It's Arizona. The Cards were 4-0 against the division this season.

--15. Add Oakland's Dennis Allen to the list of coaches who shouldn't send out their dry cleaning. Not only is he 1-6 over his last seven games, but he just got embarrassed at home. Just a hunch, but that won't go over well with Mark Davis.

--16. Uh-oh, the Saints have a problem ... and it's called Carolina. The two decide the NFC South next week, and the game's in Charlotte ... where the Panthers are 6-1 and where New Orleans lost three of the last five and four of the past seven.

--17. Lawrence Taylor is wrong about the New York Giants. The coach isn't the problem. The players are. There aren't enough good ones, and that's not an indictment of Tom Coughlin.

--18. Dallas wasn't the only team that suffered with a Green Bay victory. So did Chicago. Reason: There's a chance ... and, listening to Jordy Nelson, a pretty good one ... that Aaron Rodgers returns next weekend. So what? So Jay Cutler is 1-7 against the Packers when Rodgers completes a game, with eight touchdowns and 17 interceptions. So what? So the two meet in a season ender that could decide the division.

--19. Bruce Arians has done a remarkable job for the second straight year, but here's why Arizona won't be going anywhere in January: The schedule. Their next two games are at Seattle and home to San Francisco. Say goodnight, folks.

--20. Garrett Hartley, adios.

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

--1. Don't schedule Indianapolis after it loses ... especially if it's vs. Houston. Under Chuck Pagano, the Colts never suffered back-to-back losses. Honest. They also haven't lost to the Texans in Indianapolis under anybody. They're 12-0 vs. Houston at home.

--2. Always take Jeff Fisher vs. New Orleans. He's 5-0 against the Saints, with Sunday's victory his first as head coach of the Rams.

--3. Houston needs a quarterback ... bad. Rookie Case Keenum looked promising when he first succeeded Matt Schaub, but he doesn't look promising anymore. The poor guy has hit the wall, with one touchdown and five interceptions the past month, and someone tell Johnny Manziel to please stand by.

--4. Kansas City can play offense, too. In case you missed it, the Chiefs scored 101 points ... yes, 101 ... the last two weeks, with quarterback Alex Smith producing a perfect 158.3 rating vs. Oakland.

--5. Cincinnati can't be trusted. The Bengals looked like a Super Bowl contender the last two weeks, especially when they shut down San Diego in San Diego. But then they play as they did the first three quarters Sunday, when they had a chance to move up to the second seed, and the only conclusion you can draw is this: Don't put your faith in them. Not now. Not anytime.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

--Think Jerry Jones wants a mulligan on that Jason Garrett "guarantee?"

--Anybody want to cover Jamaal Charles? Someone? Anyone?

--Now who's the AFC favorite? And does it make any difference?

--Where have THOSE Steelers been?

--How did Eli Manning go so bad so fast?

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

--1. Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson. He has an abundance of talent, but he has to be handled carefully. Nowhere was that more apparent than when he failed to chase Minnesota's Shaun Prater after he intercepted a Nick Foles pass intended for Jackson, then self-destructed on the sideline -- with teammates forced to restrain him. It's always something with this guy, and it's tiresome. Somebody tell Jackson he's in a pennant race. "We'll get to the bottom of it," said coach Chip Kelly. They better.

--2. Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. In the Cowboys' last two games his defense has been on the field for 11 second-half series, allowing scores on all but two -- both kneeldowns. Included are seven TDs, including five Sunday; two field goals; four drives of 80 or more yards; 34 first downs and 55 points. I know Dallas is missing starters, but you gotta be kidding. All this happened against two BACKUP quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Matt Flynn.

--3. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis. You had a chance to gain the second spot among AFC playoff teams and gain a first-round bye. Instead, you blew it big-time, and it could be a fatal blow. Reason: Gaining a bye would've put the Bengals home for the divisional round of the playoffs, and Cincinnati is unbeaten there.

--4. Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant. He walked off the field with just over a minute left, leaving his teammates behind and all of us to ask, "What in the world?" Answer: "I walked to the locker room because I was emotional," he later tweeted. Swell. There are plenty of people on the Dallas sideline who are emotional but only one who left early. Someone needs to tell Bryant to grow up ... and now.

--5. N.Y. Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes. He called the Carolina secondary "probably the weakest link" in the Panthers' defense, but how would he know? He had two catches for 14 yards.

NUMBERS THAT MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING

--1-8 -- Cleveland over its last nine starts.

--3 -- Matt Asiata TDs.

--5 -- Straight games with a Case Keenum interception.

--5 -- Cleveland one-score losses.

--24-38 -- Mike Shanahan's record in Washington.

--25 -- Eli Manning interceptions this season.

--34 -- Second-half points for Green Bay.

--60 -- First downs allowed by Dallas the past two weeks.

--195 -- Jamaal Charles receiving yards.

--1989 -- The last time Green Bay won a road game in Dallas prior to Sunday.

NEXT WEEKEND's SIX BEST GAMES

--New Orleans @ Carolina

--Indianapolis @ Kansas City

--Chicago @ Philadelphia

--Arizona @ Seattle

--Pittsburgh @ Green Bay

--New England @ Baltimore

Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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