Spagnola: Paying A Sky-High Price For Not Taking Care Of The Football

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Oh, these Dallas Cowboys.

The running game finally broke loose, the Cowboys rushing for a season-high 233 yards and one touchdown behind Darren McFadden's 152-yard effort.

They did a better job of protecting the quarterback, Matt Cassel sacked just one time.

They took the wraps off Lucky Whitehead, getting the ball to him four times for 35 yards. That's what I'm talking* *about.

They actually scored 20 points. Hallelujah.

          They actually had four pass plays for more than 20 yards, just three short of their previous total since Tony Romo fractured his collarbone. Finally.

          The Cowboys defense held the Giants to 13 points, far below the team's previous 24.2 average. Hallelujah.

          Held the Giants to but 289 yards of total offense, 171 fewer than what the Cowboys gained, and Eli Manning to only a 75.7 passer rating. Hallelujah.

          Odell Beckham Jr., you ask? Well, four catches for 35 yards. Pffft.

          Time of possession, something with which everyone seems obsessed, Cowboys 38:04, Giants 21:56. Don't have to cry about that one.

          Yet … yet … all this joy, progress you would have to admit, ended up dying in the sorrow of Giants 27, Cowboys 20. Say it ain't so.

          But bet you this: Every one of those 80,319 people snuggled into MetLife Stadium on a glorious Northeastern fall late afternoon could tell you exactly why the Cowboys:

          Lost their fourth straight game.

          Had their record fall to 2-4.

          Dropped them into the cellar of the NFC East.

          Were left yearning for Dez Bryant to return by next Sunday against Seattle while knowing they still must play at least three more games without Tony Romo.

          Oh, we all know, if we're being honest with ourselves, why the Cowboys lost their first NFC East road game since the season-finale in 2012, a previous string of seven straight to end a five-game winning streak over the Giants.

          *Four turnovers – *three Matt Cassel interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and a Cole Beasley muffed punt snuffing out a final possible possession to tie the game.

          Absolutely zero takeaways for the fourth consecutive game.

          A minus-four turnover differential.

          And the crowning blow, of course, not laying a hand on former teammate Dwayne Harris for 100 yards of turf during his first career kickoff return for a touchdown, and an opponent's first against the Cowboys since 2012.

          The timing, 7:01 left in the fourth quarter, couldn't have been worse.

          Yep, these Cowboys. They continue to invent ways of losing games fiction writers would be hesitant to concoct, and it's becoming a bad, bad habit.

          And who would really believe that after the Cowboys were getting picked to death by the Patriots two Sundays ago, they are called for offensive pass interference that produced less contact between Devin Street and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie than two teenagers slow dancing, costing them a touchdown on the play. Pitiful.

          But three interceptions, no matter who you want to fault for those picks, is too high a price to accomplish what everyone's been crying for – to throw the ball down the field. Hey, never heard anyone excuse Romo for throwing multiple interceptions in a game, saying, well, at least he was throwing the ball down the field. Didn't hear anyone afford him that excuse when he began the 2014 season with that three-pick first half.

          Never heard anyone ever excuse Troy Aikman for throwing multiple picks, and he could really throw the ball downfield.

          To his credit, Cassel didn't excuse himself.

          "Turnovers are what killed us today," said Cassel, making his first start and appearance since coming to the Cowboys in a trade. "It lies on my shoulders, obviously. A few of those throws I'm thinking that I can get it in there. One was a comeback, one was an in-cut. The one that got away from me on the go route came out of my hand funny. I've got to correct those things and give our team an opportunity to win.

"If you don't take care of the ball in this league, I know it's tough to win."

Impossible.

Just think about this: So with these four turnovers and no takeaways, the Cowboys will head into next Sunday at minus-9, the worst turnover ratio in the NFL. With no takeaways for the fourth straight game, leaving them with only three now in six games, the Cowboys rank 32nd in that NFL category, too.

Head coach Jason Garrett doesn't say, the ball, the ball, the ball just to repeat himself for repeating sake. He says it for emphasis, just as he pointed out here on Friday, saying before the team left for this game, "One of the musts every week is the ball – our ability to secure the football on offense and our ability to take the ball away."

Well, for that phase they get a big, fat "F" anyway you look at it.

Now maybe we need to cut Cassel some slack. He was playing in his first NFL regular-season game since Sept. 21 of last year with Minnesota, when he suffered a foot injury one quarter in that landed him on injured reserve for the remainder of the year. This also then was his first complete game since Sept. 14 of that season.

But here is what is troubling. In that last complete game, and against New England the second week of 2014, Cassel was picked off four times. Meaning in his last two complete games he's been intercepted now seven times. That's a frightening pace, especially if you consider Romo was picked off only nine times all of last year in 15 starts.

That's no fair trade-off for getting the ball down the field, so the Cowboys must find a happy balance.

See, Brandon Weeden in his three starts was accused of being too careful. Now do we accuse Cassel of being too careless or too trusting of his receivers?

Here is what the owner thinks, who sort of cushioned for all this last week by predicting that Cassel would take some shots down the field, whereas Weeden might have been apt to dump the ball underneath, but by doing so increases the possibility of turnovers.

"I saw those," Jerry Jones said when asked of the positives and negatives of Cassel's performance. "I saw just what you referred to there. We can get some offense going and we had some good offense going out there, but obviously we paid the price for that in turnovers. I know we have to get better with that turnover ratio."

The ultimate exorbitantly high price.

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