The Cowboys have been hurting themselves all season. Whether it be turnovers, penalties, clock management or just poor play at the most inopportune times, this year has been one of frustration for both the team and its fans.
Unfortunately, it was more of the same in a 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night football.
At times, Dallas looked unstoppable, going toe-to-toe with the NFL's only undefeated team. But in the end, the Cowboys couldn't play the game they needed to, the team giving the Falcons more life on their final drive with poor tackling and untimely penalties, the Dallas defense unable to get the needed stop.
Tony Romo did what he could, passing for 321 yards, connecting on 25-of-35 attempts with one touchdown and no interceptions. But, Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who was 24-of-34 passing for 342 yards through the air, matched him.
Kevin Ogletree led all Dallas receivers with 96 yards on three catches with the lone scoring grab while Miles Austin picked up 76 yards on seven catches. Dez Bryant was nearly non-existent, catching one pass for 15 yards.
On the other side, the Cowboys simply had no answer for the Falcons' dynamic duo of receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White. The pair went for 129 and 118 yards receiving, respectively. Atlanta also got a big day out of Michael Turner, the running back topping the century mark with 102 yards and one score, while the Dallas running attack mustered only 65 yards rushing total.
One bright spot for the Cowboys was tight end Jason Witten, who caught seven passes for 51 yards. In doing so, he passed Michael Irvin for first place on the team's all-time list for career catches.
Despite the offensive fireworks late in the game, this was anything but a high-flying affair through the first two quarters of play, as the defenses on both sides held the upper hand.
The Cowboys put three points on the board with their first possession, the effort due in large part to the punt return of Dwayne Harris, who went right up the seam on a 37-yard takeback to the Atlanta 32-yard line.
Romo then moved his team up the 5-yard line, passes to Austin and Ogletree providing 23 yards before Dan Bailey hit the chip-shot 23-yarder for a quick 3-0 lead.
That was followed by another Bailey field goal, this time from 32 yards, on the Cowboys' next series. Romo had to work his team down the field a little further this time around, Dallas starting on its own 27-yad line after Falcons kicker Matt Bryant pushed his 37-yard field goal attempt to the right.
The big blow on this drive came with the team facing third-and-20. Romo had to scramble out of the pocket to his left, but then found Ogletree, who had sprinted behind the secondary deep down the left sideline, the two connecting on a 65-yard bomb. The Cowboys then were able to inch up four more yards to the Atlanta 14-yard line, setting up Bailey to give Dallas the 6-0 lead.
As the second quarter got underway the home team finally got on the board, capping off an eight play, 46-yard drive with Bryant good this time from 45 yards out.
And then it was Bailey's turn to miss. With the Cowboys getting into field goal position for the third straight possession, he hooked his attempt badly to the left, although the try came from 54 yards out.
The Dallas defense continued to do its part until with 1:03 left before the break, Atlanta went on the move, Ryan leading his team down to the Cowboys' 28-yard line, Bryant kicking it through the uprights as time expired for the half, the game tied 6-6.
Just as the score indicated, the two teams were basically even on the stat sheet as well, Dallas holding a slight advantage in total yards, 182 to 178, and time of possession, 15:32 to 14:28, while Atlanta led in first downs, 9 to 8, and penalties, 1 (5 yards) to 3 (20). Neither team turned the ball over.
In the second half, though, the Falcons started to expose the Dallas defense with their high-powered passing attack, the Cowboys simply unable to contain Atlanta's Jones and White, especially over the middle.
The assault began with the Falcons' first drive of the third quarter, the team marching down to the Dallas 25-yard line with Ryan hitting Jones for 18 yards and White twice for a combined 46 yards. But, thankfully, Bryant again missed a field goal, this time a 43-yard attempt.
The reprieve, however, was short-lived. After the Cowboys were unable to do anything with their next series, Atlanta got on the move again. The damage this time, though, was done by the running back Turner, who broke free on a 43-yard scamper to the Dallas 14-yard line. Three plays later, with the fourth quarter now underway, Turner finished off the drive by reaching the end zone from three yards out, the score now 13-6.
And when Atlanta then added a 36-yard field goal a few minutes later, the game seemed all but over, the Falcons up 16-6 with just 7:53 left in the fourth.
But then Romo gave his team another chance. Starting on his own 22-yard line, Romo found Austin for 20 yards, hit Felix Jones for 6, then went to Witten twice for a combined 17 yards. Another pass to Jones took them to the Falcons' 21-yard line before Romo then found Ogletree in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, the score now 16-13 with 5:31 left.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys defense couldn't make the stop when it needed to. First, they had the Falcons facing third-and-6 when a dump-off throw to Jacquizz Rodgers broke for 31 yards, Orlando Scandrick unable to make the tackle immediately after the catch.
Then, on third-and-8 at the Dallas 43, a Ryan pass to White fell incomplete, but this time Scandrick was called for defensive holding, an automatic first down. Given new life again, the Falcons continued the march, driving down to the Dallas 14 before Bryant hit yet another field goal, this time from 32 yards to give Atlanta a 19-13 lead with only 17 seconds left on the clock.
The Cowboys couldn't pull off the miracle, their record for the season falling to 3-5. Fortunately, both the Giants and Redskins lost as well with the Eagles set to play in the Monday night matchup, so Dallas didn't necessarily lose ground in the division standings.
But, the Cowboys now face what could be a must-win matchup next Sunday at Philadelphia.