IRVING, Texas – Barely a creature was stirring, not even a mouse out here at The Ranch on Friday when a crew began hanging Christmas decorations in solitude.
Nice timing. Guarantee you no one, I mean no one, would have been in a festive mood this holiday weekend, for mighty Tony had been struck down – again – and for good during this ever-increasing abominable 2015 season that is quickly slip-sliding away with avalanche suddenness.
Come on, what else … what else?
Was it not enough the Cowboys knew they would be without the suspended Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy for the first four games of the season?
Was it not enough the Cowboys lost Orlando Scandrick in training camp for the season?
Was it not enough the Cowboys lost Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant in the season opener for the next five games?
Was it not enough the Cowboys lost franchise quarterback Tony Romo the very next week for the next seven games?
Was it not enough the Cowboys lost running back Lance Dunbar for the season in Game 4?
Was it not enough starting running back Joe Randle went off the deep end during the sixth game of the season?
Was it not enough during a seven-game losing streak two of the losses were by one and four points, respectively, and two more in overtime?
How much pain and suffering can befall any one team?
Evidently there is no end. Not with these Cowboys.
For on Friday morning their worst fears were realized when a CT scan revealed quarterback Tony Romo suffered a hairline fracture to his now fragile left clavicle – must not have listen to his mama to drink enough milk when he was young – meaning he will miss the remaining five games of the season.
The clavicle fractured under the weight of Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks on Sept. 20 had healed nicely. The required amount of calcification to solidify the bone was sufficient enough for Romo's return this past Sunday in the 24-14 victory over Miami when everything seemed right in the Cowboys' world.
Turns out this was only a momentary stay of a season's execution, the hairline fracture occurring in the calcified area on the final play of the third quarter on Thanksgiving Day before 90,909 folks, the majority thinking before kickoff that the Cowboys were now ready to roll. The excitement and anticipation were high until that first bad omen, the Panthers Kurt Coleman on the third snap from center returning Romo's intercepted pass for a touchdown not more than 59 seconds into the game.
There it was again, that dust cloud re-emerging even in the closed-confines of AT&T Stadium, as if the Cowboys had assumed the role of Pigpen of* Peanuts* comic-strip fame, though this was no laughing matter. That same dust cloud that began forming back on Jan. 11 when the NFL saw fit to overrule that Dez Bryant catch at the 2-yard line in Green Bay that could have won that second-round playoff game against the Packers and vaulted the Cowboys into the NFC title game.
Just one thing after another after another, including two more interceptions of Romo in the first half, the second of three returned by Luke Kuechly for another touchdown for a foreboding 20-3 Carolina lead.[embeddedad0]
Oh gosh, the interceptions were one thing. The 33-14 loss was one thing. But Romo now done for the season?
"I had a nightmare last night and I was hoping when I woke up this morning it was just that," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on his Friday morning radio show on 105.3 The Fan when confirming Romo's hairline fracture that will not require surgery to repair, but at least another eight weeks to heal. "The reality of it is that was quite a turn of events out there yesterday."
Yeah, like a good ol' West Texas dust bowl.
So as expected here come the armchair skeptics: The Cowboys sent Romo back in there far too soon, desperately trying to save a season riding out of balance during the seven-game losing streak in his absence.
Jones would disagree.
"I don't think push is the word for it," Jones said Friday morning. "We felt the risk was worth the potential for having him be the impact he can be and really having a fairytale turnaround and doing something that was special. And to me, that's what we're about, that's what sports is about. You shouldn't ever quit trying to do something extraordinary.
"The dream was if Tony could have come in and been the catalyst and had the results we had the week before in Miami against a great team, a really great team – Carolina is so impressive – if we could have done that, it could have been the beginning of something special. Now you've got to try for that and that's what we're here for, to try and do and be a part of a story like that."
Well, no fairytales here. Just another horror story.
Now look, I don't know if the Cowboys can win another game. They have lost eight consecutive games without Romo starting and are 6-16 in the 22 games he has missed since the start of the 2008 season. Five of those wins came in 2010, four belonging to Jon Kitna and one to Stephen McGee, and the other to Brad Johnson in 2008.
But the truly absurd thing is this: The NFC East is bound and determined to keep the Cowboys, now officially owners of the worst record in the NFC – San Francisco is 3-7 going into Sunday's game against Arizona – from checking out, or, er, being kicked out of the division race.
Good gosh, the Cowboys have lost eight of their last nine games, and if the Washington Redskins (4-6) should beat the New York Giants (5-5) on Sunday, and with the Eagles (4-7) getting creamed earlier on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys would only be two games out of first place and one out of second.
Therein lies the hope, the true fairytale to this whole preposterous season where commonsense says no way, but the competitor in us all would say what if, at least until you mathematically run out of ifs. That is if you have a competitive bone in your body, which I'm sensing many outside this joint do not.
Just remember the future is not promised for those who have tanking in their bloodless veins. And for those ready to send Romo to the quarterbacking glue factory, realize the salary cap is a real deal, and that $31.935 million of dead money would roll into the Cowboys cap in 2016 if Romo is no more. Still $19.6 million if the exit is delayed until 2017. The soonest and least cap-crippling departure would be after June 1 in 2018, when the dead money could be spread more acceptably over two years, $5.7 million that year and $3.2 million in 2018.
And who's to guarantee your quarterback need and quarterback availability will intersect. Sometimes everything comes up roses, like in 1989. Sometimes you crap out, like in 2001. And sometimes if you can wait long enough, one just floats onto shore, like in 2006.
So here we go, the homestretch. You know Jason Garrett isn't giving up. You know Matt Cassel isn't giving up on this chance. You know Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy, still with per-game bonuses on the line, aren't giving up. You know Darren McFadden, with performance incentives and per-games bonuses, isn't giving up. You know Sean Lee isn't giving up, over his dead body. You know Dez Bryant, bad knee and all … don't even need to go there. You know Morris Claiborne, on the last year of his contract, isn't going to throw in the towel. Randy Gregory, David Irving, Jack Crawford, Tyrone Crawford, trying to play through a rotator cuff in need of repair and only a half-sack now off the team lead, those guys aren't giving up.
Many of the rest can't even afford to even consider as such.
"I can tell you right now this team will never, ever quit competing," Jones said. "It will compete. ... This defense will compete, and one of the first things you look for when the season is over is competing. Don't want to spend a lot of time talking about the season being over. We have five games (left), and a game in the NFL is precious."
Too precious to ever quit competing, no matter that ever-expanding dust cloud hovering overhead.