BALTIMORE – There's an old adage in sports that typically can define the good teams from the average ones.
The good ones know how to beat teams they're supposed to beat.
When things kicked off Sunday afternoon here at M&T Stadium, there weren't many of us out there who could've said the Cowboys were a better football team than the Ravens.
Three hours later, the case can be made: Dallas is a better team with better players.
But make no mistake about this column. I'm not screaming for a moral victory or for this team to hang its head high in defeat.
No, the simple fact is, the Cowboys were better than the Ravens, outplayed them in almost every area … and couldn't win the game. They had chances, including a 51-yard game-winning kick in the final seconds, but couldn't get it done.
Yeah, we all thought, myself included, that the Ravens had a nasty, tough-as-nails, relentless defense that doesn't stop, and so the Cowboys, with their running game woes and average offensive line, would have problems all day.
We were wrong. The Cowboys took it to that defense from the first play.
But all day long it was a similar theme. The Cowboys' worst enemy wasn't anyone wearing black or purple. Or even the black-and-white stripes, although there were some questionable calls that both teams had to hate. The Cowboys lost this game 31-29 on Sunday afternoon not because of their kicker either.
Good teams just find a way. Figure it out. And while they got an onside kick and put themselves in position, it just wasn't good enough.
To me, this football team is way past the stages of being excited or even optimistic because they were so close to beating the Ravens on the road.
Forget that. Win the game. Don't just come close, but get over the hump.
Fortunately, that seemed to be the mentality for most of the players and coaches after the game. Every question that had some sort of positive tone was stiff-armed with a "yeah, but we didn't win" answer.
And that's the way it should be. This back-and-forth mess will land this team in the 8-8 category once again, if even that.
OK, going back to an earlier statement, I understand how it's difficult to call a 2-3 team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2009 a better squad than the 5-1 Ravens who have been postseason regulars.
Well, forget overall, then. Let's focus on Sunday. The Cowboys were better. The Cowboys should've won this game. And they didn't, and that's on themselves.
If the Cowboys weren't the better team, you don't have 13 penalties and come within a field-goal attempt of winning. Even Ravens QB Joe Flacco said after the game he didn't feel his team was deserving of the win but he'll take it. Of course he will take it. The Ravens did just enough to win this game and I'm sure they have done that a few times over the years.
But this Cowboys team is seemingly impossible to figure out because it's never the same thing twice.
Let's focus on the stats. The Cowboys had 40 minutes time of possession, doubling up on the Ravens. The Cowboys rushed for the most yards ever against a Baltimore defense (227), with two guys each having more than 90 yards.
The Cowboys outgained Baltimore 481 to 316. Their quarterback had a 97.1 QB rating. The defense held Ray Rice to just 63 yards rushing and 106 total yards.
It was set up for this team to win but, they couldn't get it done. Why? Well, they let Jacoby Jones tie an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. They only have one turnover, but force none and so lose the all-important turnover battle that once again proved to be a deciding factor in the outcome.
The defense, while it played well at times, couldn't get off the field when it had to the most, trailing 24-23. Instead, they let the Ravens drive the ball for a touchdown and an eight-point lead.
What's better, having no major issues on a team, or having about 12 different things that pop up at random times?
You can blame the offensive line for the first month, but Sunday they were pretty stout in the running game. Blame the special teams if you'd like, with another kickoff return and a missed field goal. They gave the team a chance with an onside kick recovery.
And I'm sure some blame will go to head coach Jason Garrett and the offense for not having a better field-goal attempt at the end of the game. Clock management was questionable with a timeout in the pocket and about 20 seconds going off the clock before the last field goal.
You can point the finger, but you'll need help. You need more than 10 fingers with this team.
It's never one thing. If you ask me, I think it's more frustrating than having one major deficiency.
Either way, the Cowboys are 2-3 because they simply can't do the little things it takes to win a ballgame like this, a game in which they outplayed their opponent but couldn't find a way in the end.
Sure, they lost this game by a few inches left of the upright. If that goes inside, maybe this whole column is different. But the fact is, it didn't. They didn't make the kick, they didn't win the game, and they're not above .500 because of it.
Is the sky falling? Is there no hope for this team? No, it's not and of course there is plenty of hope and plenty of football left to go. And who knows, they might even turn this into a confidence-builder down the road.
But there is an alarming trend when you don't beat the teams you're supposed to. Whether or not you felt that way before kickoff, it was clear the Cowboys were better. That's what makes this loss even worse.