three games and lost on Sunday, allowing a Denver team waiting to be put away early to linger around long enough to steal a victory . . . Broncos' style.
With Felix Jones missing, taking with him the Cowboys' big-play threat, and Marion Barber trying to gut this one out only to have his quad tighten in the second half, the Cowboys struggled to run the ball, their bread and butter the past two weeks, having rushed for more than 200 yards in each of those games. They would gain but 74 yards on 25 carries, and of the 33 yards Choice gained on 14 carries, 22 came on 13 carries, a 1.7 average. Worse, they only gained 19 yards on seven second-half carries, and nearly half of those (three) were for losses.
Nothing to lean on.
"We're way to inconsistent right now," Phillips would say the day after.
Then the Broncos seemingly had constant pressure on Romo, getting credited with five sacks (one was bogus on a busted play likely to be reversed to a run), as the quarterback was seen picking himself up off the ground far too many times after throws. He took a beating, the Broncos defense credit with five more quarterback hits.
And then when Romo had time to throw the ball, either he was holding the sucker far too long because there was nowhere to go or, for some reason, he was high with too many throws, one almost costing Roy Williams his innards.
See, Broncos' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan figured out how to stop the Cowboys from running and get undo pressure on Romo, yet keep the Cowboys from taking shots down the field.
Maybe we should have seen this coming, the Cowboys having to play on the road on a short week and a mile high at that. Plus against an undefeated team chomping at the bit to qualify its 3-0 start, figuring the Cowboys would be that barometer.
Still, they were good enough to beat yet another team they let off the hook. Now I know you guys will moan about the Cowboys penalties (seven). But Denver had more (10). You might moan about having only three third-down conversions. But Denver had just two. And you likely will moan about the Broncos hogging the ball with 116 yards rushing. But the Cowboys actually possessed the ball 6:14 more than the Broncos.
But to me, here is what this game came down too: the Cowboys simply aren't throwing the ball into the end zone.
After four games, Romo has four touchdown passes and four interceptions now. But three of those touchdown passes came in the opener against Tampa Bay, and none in the past two games. That leaves him on a 16-game pace to throw just 16 touchdown passes, the fewest since a three-year streak of just 14 from 2000-02.
So get ready, here is something to really worry about: this is the first time in Romo's 43 regular-season starts he has failed to throw a touchdown pass in consecutive games. Get ready, I'll tell you when it's time to jump.
Because here is what is fixin' to happen if the Cowboys don't rectify this deficiency. Teams will deal with the Cowboys' running yards, as long as they aren't running from afar all the way to the house. They will just let the Cowboys grind away on the ground, and I don't care how many 200-yard rushing games they total. They'll deal with that.
But if you don't make plays in the passing game in this league, you will not win consistently, no matter how versatile you might think your offense is; no matter how many different guys are touching the ball.
Romo has to be better, more accurate, and darn it, and this might get everyone all up in arms, more impulsive. Cut the leash on all this protecting the ball business. Let the guy play.
The wide receivers have to be better. To me, when a defense is credited with nine pass breakups, that's a sure sign of a quarterback routinely trying to fit the ball into too many tight spots.
And the blitz pickup better improve. That's seven Romo sacks in two games - eight for the season, putting opposing defenses on a 32-sack pace, unthinkable against such a mobile Romo. These defenses seem to think blitzing Romo to keep him in the pocket, thus forcing throws on their clock, is the ticket.
Because if the Cowboys don't improve in these areas, we'll be