ARLINGTON, Texas – Byron Jones is a rookie, but he made an astute point about the nature of the cornerback position.
"The margin of error is a lot smaller on the outside, and obviously once you mess up everyone knows about it," he said.
That's the position Jones found himself in late on Saturday night. A hamstring injury to Morris Claiborne forced the rookie into making his second career start at outside cornerback, and the evening went pretty well – right up until it didn't.
The Cowboys and Jets were tied, 16-16, with 1:15 to play and New York facing a 1st-and-10 on its own 31-yard line. With a surprising amount of ease, Jets receiver Kenbrell Tomkins slipped behind Jones and Ryan Fitzpatrick hit him for a 43-yard gain. The coverage breakdown would help the Jets kick the game-winning field goal.
"He released at the top of that corner and there's a hole in that defense," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "Typically you have to close that hole by the corner, sinking and the safety gets wider. They made a good throw and catch, and obviously that was a big play in the game."
After the game, a stoic Jones took responsibility for the breakdown. He said that in the situation he tried to press Tomkins off the line, but he should have played back to prevent the receiver from getting behind him.
It's a tough lesson to learn, especially considering how successful Jones has been in his debut season with the Cowboys. To hear it from him, though, it's a mistake he won't be duplicating.
"The tough part is that football is a game of lessons – you've got to learn from your mistakes. Sometimes you have to find out the hard way," he said. "Obviously, it's not the way most people want to find out a lesson. But for me, that's never going to happen again – in two-minute, I'll be off in Cover 2 instead of pressed."
No Knee Issue
Prior to the breakdown in coverage, the most noteworthy part of Jones' night was what appeared to be a ghastly injury. Jones appeared to dislocated – or otherwise twist his knee – while making a tackle earlier in the game.
Videos showed Jones appearing to twist the knee before popping it back into its normal position. But as disturbing as it might have looked, Jones said he didn't even think about it until he saw the video after the game.
"It just felt stuck for a little bit. I just straightened it out and it felt good," he said. "I think I'm just flexible. I just had to straighten it out and it felt good."
What To Do With Romo?
As has been well-documented, Tony Romo is presently still a member of the Cowboys' active roster. After he broke his clavicle in the Nov. 26 loss to Carolina, the front office opted to leave him on the 53-man roster on the off chance he could return for a playoff run.
After Saturday's loss, that's officially not an option. The Cowboys are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and it's highly unlikely Romo could or would return for either of the team's final two games.
Despite that, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones wasn't prepared to speak definitively on Romo's roster spot. Sending the Pro Bowl quarterback to injured reserve would free up a roster spot for other needs, but it's a conversation the front office will likely wait to have until later in the coming week.
"We'll see what our need is there," Jones said. "If we see an opportunity to improve the roster, then that will be more of a possibility."
A Cowboys cornerback hadn't managed an interception since Dec. 4, 2014, when Orlando Scandrick picked off Jay Cutler in the Cowboys end zone to preserve a 41-28 win.
Go figure, then, that it was Terrance Mitchell – who has only been with the team for two weeks, and who was making his season debut – who ended the drought. Mitchell intercepted Fitzpatrick on the New York 19-yard line to set the Cowboys up in great field position during the dying minutes of the third quarter.
"I just played the call, dropped back – and one thing the coaches were stressing on was just get back and react. That's all that was," he said.
The Cowboys had a chance to grab at least three, if not four takeaways against the Jets on Saturday, but they only managed to hold on to Mitchell's interception. Not only was it the first pick by a corner this season, but it was just the ninth takeaway of this 14-game campaign.
"They talk about it a lot," Mitchell said. "They put me in there and told me to try and go make some plays, and that's what I did. It was cool, but it would have been better with a W."
The NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season is 11, which is held by the 1982 Baltimore Colts and the 2013 Houston Texans. If the Cowboys don't want to make the wrong kind of history, they could use some more plays from Mitchell in the next two weeks.
Former Arlington Mayor Cluck Honored
Prior to kickoff Saturday night, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced the atrium inside the main entrance to AT&T Stadium has been named "Mayor Robert N. Cluck Atrium" – a tribute to the former Arlington Mayor and his significant contributions toward the development of the state-of-the-art stadium.
Dr. Cluck and his family were in attendance for the special honor.
Jones unveiled a silver plaque near the main entrance that encapsulated Dr. Cluck's many accomplishments as Mayor of Arlington from 2003-15.
"His dedication toward the long term advancement of the City created the inspiration for bringing AT&T Stadium to Arlington," the plaque stated.
-- Rob Phillips
Bailey's Bank Shot
For the third time this season, Dan Bailey made it interesting.
The stat sheet will only say that his 50-yard field goal with 2:00 to play was good – and it was. But it caromed off the right goal post and in, giving Bailey his third bank shot field goal of the year.
"It's just kind of one of those things," Bailey said. "It's kind of ironic that we've had three in a year, but at the end of the day it counts the same as if it goes right down the middle. So you have to look at the positive side of it."
Trick shots aside, Bailey has been a rare bright spot during an otherwise disappointing season. The fifth-year veteran is 28-of-29 on the season – an absurd mark of 96.5 percent. He's 4-of-4 on field goals from 50 or more yards away, and he has connected on two or more field goals in 11 of 14 games.
It's a resume deserving of a Pro Bowl spot – though you shouldn't expect to hear Bailey stump for one any time soon.
"Any time you can get selected to something like that, it's obviously a huge honor – but more than anything it's about winning games," he said.
With 16 carries for 100 yards, Darren McFadden became just the fourth ball carrier to turn in a 100-yard effort against the vaunted New York run defense.
The Jets entered the game as the NFL's top-rated defense against the run, surrendering just 79 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. The Cowboys had considerable success against that front, as they ran for 133 yards on the night – with McFadden averaging a whopping 6.3 yards per carry.
With two games to play, McFadden sits at 898 yards on the season and is well within striking range of just his second-ever 1,000-yard season. His 100 yards against New York also secured him his fourth 100-yard rushing effort of the year, making him second only to Adrian Peterson in 100-yard games this season.