The Dallas Cowboys aren’t acting like a team with a playoff berth already secured and a chance at a division title.
With so many people in the organization feeling frustrated, the Cowboys will try to sort out their problems when they host the lowly Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The Cowboys blew a chance to clinch the NFC East with a 23-7 home loss to Philadelphia on Christmas Day, sending off a wave of complaints from owner Jerry Jones and receiver Terrell Owens, among others.
“Just pitiful. I’m just stunned,” Jones said. “A game like this indicts us at the top, just straight through. It’s just disappointing. We ought to be able to have something very special happen to us with (Tony) Romo’s emergence.
“You ought to be able to take the pieces that you carefully considered, drafted and built, and those pieces ought to be able to be a good supporting cast, and that’s not happening for us.”
Dallas (9-6) can still win the division and the NFC’s third seed if it beats Detroit on Sunday and Philadelphia loses to Atlanta. That would mean a home playoff game for the first time since 1998. But if the Cowboys lose, they’ll open the first week of the postseason on the road at Seattle.
“I told the team they can either be judged by this game, or come back and compete, which they’re going to have the opportunity to do,” said Dallas coach Bill Parcells, who is 8-3 against Detroit in his career, including 3-0 as Cowboys coach.
“We’ve got to get together or that’s how we’re going to be judged. If we can beat Detroit and get into the playoffs and do something, then we’ll be judged differently.”
The Cowboys will need to adjust their gameplan on both sides of the ball. The defense failed to generate any pass rush against the Eagles and allowed 204 yards rushing, the most by any visiting team at Texas Stadium since 2000.
However, it’s the offense that may be causing greater concern. Dallas was held below 10 points for the first time this year and finished with a season-low 201 yards of offense. Romo had his worst game as a starter, going 14-for-29 for 142 yards and two interceptions.
Owens made two catches for 23 yards on a drive late in the first half, including a touchdown, but those were his only receptions of the game—his lowest total in two years.
“I just feel like I’m not involved early in the game,” Owens said. “Everybody knows that’s what I do. Every team that I’ve played on, I’ve been involved early and often. It’s hard to get in the flow when you’re getting a ball here, a ball there.”
Following a four-game winning streak, the Cowboys sat at 8-4 with an excellent chance to claim not only the NFC East but a first-round bye. But they played poorly in a 42-17 loss to New Orleans at home three weeks ago, then struggled again at Texas Stadium against the Eagles, who hold the tiebreaker between the teams if both Dallas and Philadelphia lose on Sunday.
The Cowboys committed eight turnovers in two losses to the Eagles this season and have turned the ball over nine times in the last four weeks.
“We’re making too many mistakes. That’s been our M.O. when we lose,” said Romo, now 6-3 as the starter. “We’ll find out how good we are when we get into the tournament.”
Dallas and Detroit have played every year since 2001, with the Cowboys on a three-game winning streak. Marion Barber, who leads the NFC with 15 touchdowns, rushed for two scores in the Cowboys’ 20-7 win last season.
That skid to Dallas is a small part of Detroit’s league-worst 23-72 record since 2001. The Lions (2-13), who already have secured the NFC’s worst record this season, haven’t made the playoffs since 1999 and have six straight seasons with at least 10 losses.
The Lions nearly beat Chicago last week, but made too many mistakes in a 26-21 loss to the NFC’s best team. Detroit led 21-17 entering the fourth quarter, but after surrendering the lead, quarterback Jon Kitna’s pass in the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
“That’s just how our year has gone,” Lions tight end Dan Campbell said.
Kitna, who needs 98 yards to post the second 4,00-yard passing season in franchise history, threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception but fumbled late in the fourth quarter, his NFL-high 30th turnover.
“We turned the ball over one time, but that was one time too many,” Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said. “We didn’t get any on defense, and that’s critical in a game like this.”
The Lions, who have lost seven straight overall, are 0-7 on the road this season and have lost 18 of their last 20 games away from Detroit.