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Spagnola: Squandering Great Opportunity


ARLINGTON, Texas – Never has a team with so much going its way have so much go so wrong.


Here the Cowboys were, coming off a bye, well rested.

The NFC East-leading Redskins were beaten on Sunday, dropping to 5-3, opening up the door for the Cowboys to pull within a game with a victory on Monday night.

The Cowboys seemingly had been re-energized over the past two weeks, first by acquiring wide receiver Amari Cooper and then promoting assistant offensive line coach Marc Colombo to the offensive line coach, picking up the spirits of those guys up front.

And the Cowboys were playing at home at AT&T Stadium where they had not lost any of their first three games this season.

And they were playing the 3-4, offensively-challenged Tennessee Titans, coming here on a three-game losing streak and having scored more than 20 points only once in those seven games.

And this Cowboys third-ranked defense, second in scoring defense, had not given up more than 24 points in their past 12 games going back to last season and only three times more than 20.

And this said defense, one challenged to create turnovers, came out on fire to start the Monday Night Football game, forcing two of those elusive suckers on the Titans' first two possessions of the game, and should have had a third straight if not for the officials reversing another recovered fumble into an incompletion.

And – want me to continue – if truth be known, this Cowboys offense should have scored 17 points for a 17-0 lead by time the first quarter had been completed if not for getting in their own way.

"I thought we started the game with an extraordinary amount of energy," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

But oh no, the Cowboys began letting this game slip right through their hands. First, a Brett Maher missed 38-yard field-goal attempt, his first miss less than 47 yards, wasting what had been a red-zone possession.

Then the Cowboys wasted a first-and-goal opportunity at the Titans' 4, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, with at least a sure field goal in his back pocket but pressure in his face, on what turned into second-and-goal at the 6, forced a pass into the end zone to Amari Cooper that was intercepted on just an ill-advised throw.

Come on man, got to make that field goal. Got to score a touchdown with four downs to go from the 4.

But nooooo, basically donated 10 points to the equally-struggling Titans cause.

And then, when you allow an opponent to convert 11 of 14 third-down opportunities for an otherworldly 79 percent, you turn the ball over two more times, let your quarterback get sacked five times, get hit another six times and forced to run the ball another two times to escape pressure and score just one more touchdown the rest of the way, well . . . .

You wind up with Titans 28, Cowboys 14.

Yep, the Cowboys, with so much going their way, let this one slip away, and to think this game was 14-14 at halftime and was a one score game until 4:38 of the fourth quarter, far too reminiscent of last year's three-game slide when they never trailed by more than three points at halftime in any of them.

They had better hope – and hard – they didn't just let the 2018 season slip away the way they did losing Games 9-11 in 2017.

Because here is the dilemma they have created for themselves.

They now are 3-5, still two games behind the Redskins and one game behind the Eagles (4-4) with eight games to go.

But the next two games are at Philadelphia in five days, and a night game where it is never a good thing to play after dark, and then at Atlanta, right where the Falcons began last year's second-half slide with that 27-7 beating when they sacked Dak eight times. And did we mention the Cowboys already have lost all four road games they've played this season?

Oh, and then after that, they must play four days later on Thanksgiving against the Redskins, who already have beaten them once, then the high-flying New Orleans Saints (7-1) the following Thursday – a stretch of four games in 18 days – and then the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles again.

Have mercy on them. You're hoping it's not on their football souls.

"As Coach Garrett said, we've got a decision to make," Prescott eventually said after sitting at his locker for a period of time, head down, just staring at the floor with the room nearly cleared out. "As you just said, the schedule gets tougher but we know the team and the character of the men we have. We've got to buckle down, lock arms and be together more than ever. Not let anything break us apart, just keep our heads down and we've still got a long season to go.

"We've got to go one at a time and go get a win."

On top of all this, sure appears the Cowboys have lost defensive co-captain Sean Lee with another hamstring injury for a good amount of time, and already were playing this game without defensive linemen Randy Gregory (knee scope during the bye week) and David Irving with the never-encouraging high ankle sprain. Plus, defensive end Taco Charlton missed a portion of this game with a shoulder injury, and even though he returned for a bit, needs to have the shoulder further examined, so who knows.

And if that were not enough bad news, sure seems unlikely that Travis Frederick, dealing with the rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome, will be ready to come off injured reserve for the final two games of the season.

These are the predicaments a team gets into when you lose one game in overtime by three, lose another by three when a fumble recovered in the end zone for a touchdown gifts the Redskins the final seven of their 20 points and then you look a gift horse in the face on a night at home with so much seemingly going your way.

Plus, on top of all that, the outside noise is going to become deafening this week, the heat turning up even hotter on the coaching staff and the quarterback for sure.

"Very tough," Prescott said of this sagging state. "I didn't expect to be here with a 3-5 record. Very tough."

And it's not going to get any easier any time soon, placing this season on the brink.