EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When NFL Films does their annual look back on this 2011 Cowboys team, maybe it's called the NFL Yearbook like it used to be, they will probably take bit and pieces of all 16 games to tell this story.
That's the smart thing to do – mix it up to show different opponents and scenic views.
But they don't have to. If the only game film they've got to work with is this Sunday night finale against the Giants, it would be good enough to explain what went down this entire season.
For this 31-14 game – with everything on the line and so much to gain with a victory – is really just a microcosm for all 16 games.
Obviously the Cowboys weren't down 21-0 in the regular season like they were Sunday night. But they were definitely down – it was a slow start for sure. At the midway point, it didn't look like this team would be a playoff contender.
But in the third quarter, call it November if you want, the momentum started to turn. The Cowboys started making plays – and winning games. They were showing life of a team that could taste a win and a playoff berth.
But in the end, when things mattered the most – fourth quarter/December & January – the Cowboys didn't have enough in the tank. The offense fizzled down the stretch and the defense gave out, ending the game like it started.
Giants 31, Cowboys 14.
Cowboys 8, Cowboys 8.
It's all the same. The Cowboys couldn't put four solid quarters together here at MetLife Stadium. They couldn't put four solid quarters of the season together here in the 2011 campaign.
And with that, the Giants get Matt Ryan and the Falcons at home next Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys get to do exit interviews on Monday and will be taking a vacation by next weekend.
Personally, I can't say I was surprised. When asked to predict a record for this team just before the Jets game back in September, I went with 8-8. And when they lost that horrific game to the Lions when they blew a 24-point lead in the second half to and stumbled to 2-2, it seemed like they were just a quarter of the way to that mediocre eight-win season.
To me, this team looked just average all season long. And Sunday night, in the game I actually called the biggest regular-season game in the last 15 years, the Cowboys were pretty much average again. In fact, they were below average, especially in the first half. They were nothing resembling a division winner.
Not saying the Giants are much better, but they are better than the Cowboys. And the Eagles are too. That's why this team isn't too far ahead where it was last year. Even though Tony Romo came back from the injury and put together one of his best statistical seasons of his career, the Cowboys are still two games ahead of last year's 6-10 team that finished third place in the NFC East and picked ninth overall in the draft.
Now the Cowboys are 8-8, third in the NFC East and will pick 14th in the upcoming draft in April.
And the things that made this team average all year, made them average Sunday night.
The two weak spots all year have been offensive line and secondary, especially later in the season. Sunday night, the Cowboys couldn't cover anyone. It's not like they haven't had their issues with the Giants in the past, but at some point, you would think the Cowboys could get it together in the secondary and make a play or two to get off the field.
Didn't happen. Eli Manning may not be the greatest quarterback in the NFL but he gives the Cowboys more problems than anyone else it seems.
And Terence Newman? If you've read this column or opinion blogs or listened to the Lunch Break over the years, you know my thoughts on Newman. I've always thought he was better than given credit for and up until the second half of the season, I thought he was still the best cornerback on the team.
But that is not the case anymore. Newman looked like a cornerback that has completely lost his confidence. In the Giants first touchdown drive, there were two plays against Newman that signaled he just doesn't have what he used to.
On a key third-down play with the Giants pinned deep, he couldn't tackle bulky tight end/fullback Bear Pascoe, who just jumped right over him. Then, on a crossing route with Victor Cruz, Newman didn't stay with him over the middle and then didn't have the speed to fetch him when he's pulling away. We're talking about former Big XII sprint champion at Kansas State. Over the years, Newman has always caught the guy in the open field.
He just doesn't have that top-line speed anymore. He hasn't shown the open-field tackling ability either. So if you're not going to be able to make either of those two plays on a consistent level, then it's hard to justify his spot anymore.
Then again, the Cowboys don't have any consistent cornerbacks on this team. Mike Jenkins is pretty good when healthy but he wasn't consistently healthy. Orlando Scandrick is scrappy and is always in pretty good position, but he has trouble making a play on the ball at times – especially in those times against the Giants.
We'll have plenty of time to talk draft but I can't imagine the Cowboys not getting a cornerback or two come April. I think it'd be worthy of a first-round pick as well.
But that offensive line might need some retooling again. It was evident Sunday night that speed rushers can get the best of this team. And power rushers aren't handled too well either.
Against the Giants, Romo was running for his life seemingly all night long, getting sacked a season-high six times. And the running game wasn't any better. There was little push up front with the Cowboys rushing for 49 yards and most of that occurred on the outside.
As for Romo, his stats in the game were good – 29-of-37 for 289 yards with two touchdowns and one pick for a 106.0 quarterback rating. But overall, his performance had some issues, too, as he fumbled once and couldn't get a fourth-and-1 play on a sneak.
Just like the season, good stats for Romo but at the end of the year, he's quarterbacking an 8-8 team.
Overall, the Giants game was everything we've seen up to this point. The calendar certainly changed. The end result did not.