The Dallas Cowboys Way: Mistake After Mistake

By Bryan Knowles

Can we stop comparing any active receiver to Calvin Johnson?

With another astounding performance, Johnson again proved himself to be playing on an entirely different level than anyone else in the league today.  With 329 receiving yards – the most ever in regulation, and the second most in any game to Flipper Anderson's 336 yards back in 1989 – Johnson's day kept the Lions in a game that didn't really get going until the fourth quarter.  The Cowboys' 13-7 lead at the end of the third seemed a faint memory after the final gun sounded with the Lions emerging victorious, 31-30.

Yet, on the most crucial play of the game, Johnson wasn't even aware what was going on.

With the clock ticking, down six points with under a minute left in the game, Matthew Stafford hit Johnson on a 22-yard pass down to the one yard line.  With no time outs, everyone in the building assumed Stafford would spike the ball, allowing them time to draw up two or three attempts at getting the ball across the line.  Even Stafford assumed that's what he was going to do.

"I was yelling that I was going to spike the ball,"  Stafford said after the game. " But their linebackers were just standing there."

Rather than spike it and stop the clock, Stafford chose to plunge the ball over a pile of linemen for the game-winning touchdown.  It was a huge, gutsy move – if he had been stopped short, there wasn't going to be time to unravel the pile and get everyone lined up for another play.  It required fantastic situational awareness, good execution, and a solid leap.

It also required the Cowboys to make yet another late game mistake.

The Dallas Cowboys Way: Mistake After Mistake
Oct 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) slides near the goal line during 2nd half of a game at Ford Field. Lions won 31-30. Photo courtesy by Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports.

Trying to drain the clock late in the game, the Cowboys were stopped short on third down – not a huge problem, as the clock was still going to run, leaving less than 30 seconds left on the clock... except Tyron Smith was caught holding, stopping the clock, and giving the Lions enough time to run the game-winning drive.

The NFC East looks more and more like a wasteland every week.  The 4-4 Cowboys still cling to a lead atop the division.  Washington, at 2-5, had a chance to make up ground, but after running out to a 21-7 lead over Denver, sat and watched as the Broncos ran up 38 unanswered points.  The 2-6 Giants did manage to get a win, it's true, but only in a sloppy game against fellow division-mate Philadelphia, who fell to 3-5. It's an ugly race, but someone has to win it.  And before you write them out entirely, remember that the 2010 Seahawks won the NFC West at 7-9, and then went on to upset the Saints at home in the wild card round.  All you need is a ticket to the postseason to have something happen.

Other quick thoughts from around the league in Week 8:

  • The Jets continue to be an enigma, or the most consistent team in football, depending on your point of view.  They've yet to put a streak of two consecutive decisions together this year, alternating wins and losses on their way to 4-4.  It was their designated week to lose, and Cincinnati took advantage, letting Andy Dalton shred the normally quite competent Jets defense, to the tune of five touchdown passes.  It wasn't AJ Green on the other end of those either, though he did top the 100-yard mark.

    Instead, it was second-year receiver Marvin Jones who was the chief recipient, hauling in four touchdown passes.  He's the first player to do that in a game since 2007, when Randy Moss and Terrell Owens stalked receivers.   While home field advantage in the AFC seems destined to go to whoever comes out atop the AFC West, the Bengals have firmly staked their claim to the other bye.  They've already beat the Patriots, and the Colts have to roll into Cincinnati in Week 14.  I'd expect the crowd to be volcanic for that.

  • It's easy to blame all of Minnesota's struggles on their quarterback situation.  Indeed, it's a major issue with the club, with Christian Ponder only throwing for 145 yards in Sunday night's game, which isn't going to cut it against an offensive powerhouse like Green Bay.  But Ponder, Josh Freeman, and Matt Cassel don't play defense, and that's a huge issue for the team.  The Packers scored on every single drive in the game until the very last one, where they simply kneeled to end the game.  There are many reasons why the Vikings season is over; the problems run deeper than any one player or position.

  • All week, rumors swirled about whether or not Saints tight end Jimmy Graham would play.  The partial tear of his plantar fascia did hobble him somewhat, keeping him off the field for stretches and limiting him to only three targets, the fewest times Drew Brees has looked his way this season.  It didn't matter; Graham made the most of those targets, catching two touchdowns to help the Saints to a 35-17 victory over Buffalo.  It was the defense that really impacted the game, however, sacking Bills quarterback Thad Lewis four times and hitting him repeatedly on other snaps.

    Rob Ryan's defense unleashed a smorgasbord of different pressuresand packages, getting to the former practice squad player early and often.  With the Seahawks off until Monday night, the Saints jump into a 24-hour lead in the race for home field advantage in the NFC, with a big week 13 trip to Seattle looming.

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