Cowboys first possession, which included Romo suffering the fractured little right finger on the first play from scrimmage, ended with Sean Morey coming through untouched to block McBriar's punt, sending the ball bounding toward the end zone for teammate Monty Beisel to scoop up for the game-winning touchdown and McBriar to injured reserve with multiple broken bones in his kicking foot from which he's just now healing.
But it wasn't just that game. Remember Pittsburgh, bitterly cold and windy and the Cowboys leading 13-3 in the fourth quarter, with McBriar's replacement, an adequate Sam Paulescu punting into a wind blowing catty-corner across the field. And what happens, but Santonio Holmes fields the ball on one goofy bounce and goes 35 yards to the Cowboys 25. Even though the Steelers would ultimately gain just two yards in three plays, thanks to a Jay Ratliff sack, Jeff Reed still would hit the 41-yard field goal to draw the Steelers within seven.
You know the rest of that story.
But here, check some of this out as well. In the first loss of the season, a narrow 26-24 bummer to the Redskins at Texas Stadium, with the score tied at 17 after the Cowboys drove for the second-half opening touchdown, the Redskins returned the kickoff to their 35, helping greatly to set up a field goal.
And against Cincinnati, if not for a repeated special teams faux pas, the Cowboys would not have sweated out the 31-22 victory they did not put away until late in the game. And that was because while leading 17-0 with 12:12 left in the second quarter, a Glenn Holt 48-yard kickoff return to the Cowboys 48 put them in position for a short-drive field goal. The Cowboys then scored to go up 24-16 with 11:46 to play, but a 60-yard kickoff return by Holt to the Dallas 37 set up a cheapie touchdown, and fortunately for the Cowboys, the Bengals missed the attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion.
By then, though, they had learned their lesson. So after the Cowboys scored another touchdown, not wanting to waste a 31-22 lead, the Cowboys pouched the following kickoff, this time holding the Bengals to but five yards.
That's not all, right. You also remember the playoff loss to the Giants, I'm sure. Remember the Cowboys had that 14-7 lead with 0:53 left in the first half, only to have the Giants return the kickoff to the Cowboys 29, where they proceeded to drive for the game-tying touchdown in less than a minute.
If not bad enough, leading 17-14 with 1:08 left in the third, the Cowboys couldn't successfully cover a 45-yard McBriar punt, Ahmad Bradshaw going 25 yards to the Dallas 37, and, yep, to set up what turned out to be the game-winning 37-yard touchdown drive. As bad, an illegal block on the ensuing kickoff meant the Cowboys were starting from their own 13 when trying to counter.
Shall I spare you the dropped hold on what was going to be the game-winning field-goal attempt from extra point distance the year before against Seattle?
How badly does DeCamillis need to be the second-coming of Coach Joe?
Worse, these were not just some isolated incidents. Try season-long trends.
The average starting position for Cowboys' opponents following kickoff returns was the 29.3, ranking 29th in the league. Because they were so bad at covering kickoffs, the Cowboys would instruct Folk to aim his kicks to land somewhere between the numbers and the sideline, meaning in the corner somewhere, which is dicey if he miss-hits by a quarter of an inch, the ball then tending to sail out of bounds.
So guess what? Folk kicked an NFL-high five out of bounds, setting up the opposition at their own 40.
Mostly because of all that directional kicking, the Cowboys were the only team with no touchbacks, not willing to turn Folk loose to kick the ball down the field for fear of being unable to cover the entire field on the return. Not only that, Folk had an NFL-low eight kickoffs cross the goal line, seven fewer than the 31st team, Kansas City, which finished last when it came to opponent's average starting position.
And when it came to opponents' punt-return