IRVING, Texas– Here are the cold, hard facts from 2015:
The Cowboys were 4-12.
Dead last in the NFC East.
Dead last in the NFC.
Fourth worst record in the NFL.
Third worst 16-game regular-season record in club history.
The eight-game fall from grace the worst one-year plunge in the club's 56-year history. History now!
Yeah, that bad.
Now, there were extenuating circumstances, quite similar to bottoming out in 1986, a 10-6 team from 1985 getting off to a 6-2 start that season only to win one of its remaining eight games after starting quarterback Danny White broke his wrist in Game 9.
No Tony Romo for 12 of the 16 games, able to finish only two of the four he did play. Dez Bryant never the same after fracturing his fifth metatarsal in the season opener. One after another, there were realistic reasons for the plummet, more fact than excuse.
But as the Cowboys were finishing their second week of OTAs out here at The Ranch in the pouring rain, they have steadfastly refused to rest their heads on a soft pillow trying to explain away that dubious record with a bunch of yeah, buts …
From top to bottom.
Jerry Jones has repeatedly said the Cowboys should have been good enough to win more games.
COO Stephen Jones continues to say "unfortunately we earned" that fourth pick in the draft.
If Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has said it once, he's already done so 100 times: "We owned" that record.
Tight end Jason Witten has repeated as much, adding, "When you have a season like that you have to treat it that way, and so you have to really look at it like you always do when you evaluate, but ultimately it's a clear sign that we have to be better."
Quarterback, no different: "We didn't play up to our standards last year," Romo has said. "I think we need to all improve across the board. We lost way too many last year."
Apparently, this is not lip-service.
Thursday was the sixth of the 10 allowed OTA workouts, third one of this week. It's been raining in these parts as if there is no tomorrow. Was coming down like cats and dogs for most of Thursday's workout. Still, the Cowboys practiced, and evidently at times not to the head coach's liking I've heard. He let them know in no uncertain terms, too, a side of him you don't ever want to witness when his dander is up.
Tone has been set. No matter what, last year was totally unacceptable, and enough fault to go around.
"Jason kind of made it clear, what the expectations are," Witten said between swings at the home run derby exhibition. "Talk less and let's go to work."
Great attitudes. Can't look at it any other way.
But that doesn't mean we can't be practical, that we have to be hysterical heading toward this 2016 season. I understand the defensive concerns, but we addressed those a couple of weeks ago. Last year's defense wasn't much worse than during the 12-4 season of 2014.
The difference last year was the offense, scoring nearly 200 fewer points (192 to be exact). And not just because of the absence of Romo, though that can't be ignored.
So let's be frank. The Cowboys went from the NFL's top-rated quarterback in 2014, Romo checking in at club single-season record of 113.2 in passer efficiency – clobbering Roger Staubach's 104.8 previous high in 1971, and sixth highest in NFL history – to a foursome (Romo, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) posting a combined rating of 76.5.
They went from a Pro Bowl wide receiver, Dez Bryant, he of 88 catches and a club-record 16 touchdowns in 2014, to Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley tying for the club wide receivers lead with 52 catches (Jason Witten topped the team with 77 catches) and Beasley leading the team with all of five touchdown receptions. Bryant was but a shell of himself after suffering the fractured fifth metatarsal in the season opener, playing in just nine games, never really fully healthy, catching only 31 passes for 401 yards and just three touchdowns.
They went from Joe Randle being on pace for a near 1,000-yard season and 13 rushing touchdowns to falling off the face of the NFL earth in Game 6. And despite Darren McFadden rushing for 1,089 yards, Randle's four rushing TDs still led the team at season's end, just one short of Beasley's team-leading pace. Let that sink in.
And wait, let's go one more. After 3.5 games, specialty running back Lance Dunbar was second on the team with 21 receptions, second with 215 receiving yards, had rushed for 67 yards on five carries and had become a vital part of this offense, mostly as a receiver operating out of the backfield underneath. The Cowboys lost him, too, on the opening second-half kickoff in Game 4 at New Orleans.
So look, it wasn't just the loss of Romo crippling this offense last year, or the ineffectiveness of all those backup quarterbacks. His loss was compounded by the loss of Bryant, who didn't play in even one game with Weeden at quarterback and in neither of Moore's two starts. Cassel only handed the ball off twice to Randle (24) on his first two carries against the Giants before Say-It-Ain't-So-Joe decided he wasn't playing anymore football, and the veteran QB never played with a fully healthy Dez or ever with Dunbar.
That was a lot of offense going up in smoke, if indeed we take a timeout to be practical about all this.
So much is made of "other" teams winning with backup quarterbacks, but nobody mentions teams not only losing their starting QB, but arguably having to play most of the year without four of their top five offensive players – Pro Bowl quarterback, Pro Bowl receiver, leader in rushing TDs and second-leading receiver at the time of his injury. Witten was the only top offensive weapon standing from beginning to end.
Now, credit Garrett for not once leaning on this crutch. Just recently he said of playing without Rome, "We have to be able to function better when he's not our quarterback. We've functioned well in the past when other guys have played for us. John Kitna played well for us as a backup quarterback, Kyle Orton has played well for us at different times. We have to have the backup quarterback be someone who can go in just like any other position and have success if the starter can't play."
Again, no excuses.
Even Dez the other day when someone mentioned if he wanted to get back to his 2014 form, saying, "2014, I'm past that, want to be better than that."
See there, this approach is healthy – mentally and physically – even if last year was about more than losing your starting quarterback.
For these Cowboys, absolutely no sense wasting time just standing around in the rain out there making excuses for yourself.