In the last two seasons, the Cowboys have faced three of the four Super Bowl teams in the regular season.
All of them have an eerily similar result.
Coincidence? Pattern? Either way it’s been frustrating finishes for the Cowboys, especially when you factor in their 8-8 regular season records and missing the playoffs by one game in each of the last two years. And to get so close to winning games against teams that end up having success makes it even more maddening.
This year, the Cowboys had a golden chance to upend the Ravens on the road, a feat that would’ve been quite an accomplishment. But some questionable game management, loss of focus and a rare miss by a usually-reliable kicker cost the Cowboys a 31-29 decision to the Ravens. Baltimore learned how to win close games down the stretch this year and has won three playoff games, including one in overtime to reach the Super Bowl Sunday against the 49ers.
Last season, the Cowboys faced both Super Bowl teams that met in the final game. And in both cases, the Cowboys had their chances to win but didn’t.
Against the Patriots in Foxboro, the Cowboys led 16-13 with about three minutes to play and had stopped Tom Brady and his offense all day. But Brady and Wes Welker went to work for one more drive, which ended on a game-winning touchdown to Aaron Hernandez in the final 30 seconds of regulation.
Later in the season, the Cowboys had a chance to put away the Giants, who had lost four straight games entering a Dec. 11 matchup at Cowboys Stadium. Dallas led 34-22 with about five minutes to play, but Eli Manning marched the Giants’ offense down the field twice to score and take a three-point lead. The Cowboys then had an attempt to tie the game, but Jason Pierre-Paul, who disrupted the Cowboys all night long, blocked a late field goal.
The Giants used the momentum of that game to roll through the rest of the regular season, defeat the Cowboys again in the season finale, and then win four straight postseason games, including a nail-biting Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.
Ironically enough, one of those playoff wins occurred over the 49ers last season. Dallas played a similar game with San Francisco in Week 2 of the regular season and actually found a way to win overtime, thanks to the heroics of Bailey’s two field goals and a 77-yard pass to Jesse Holley.
But clearly there seems to be a pattern in these games against teams that are finding a way to get to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys can get close on an individual basis. But in the bigger picture, they appear to be miles away. So, what gives?
That’s the question the Cowboys obviously have to figure out. The answer won’t be easy and won’t be obvious.
In the last two years, we’ve seen teams like the Patriots and even the Giants pass their way to the big game. This year, it was more of a defensive effort by the Ravens and 49ers, although Baltimore’s Joe Flacco has been rather impressive in the playoffs with his arm.
And San Francisco has a second-year quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who is among the new-wave of dual-threat passers that are taking this league by storm.
Obviously, there is no one way to get the job done, whether it’s in the playoffs or in the regular season, but as evidence by these three particular games, the Cowboys haven’t found the answer yet.