Dallas has long season ahead, but losses are concerning

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In the two weeks to prepare for Sunday's game with the Titans, the Cowboys certainly fixed a few things, like all teams should.

The running game seemed to be one of them, along with the entire offensive production, as the Cowboys racked up 511 yards of total offense.

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But figuring out how to avoid untimely penalties, stopping the run consistently, allowing big plays on defense and overcoming inconsistencies on special teams clearly were not fixed.

In fact, all of them were major reasons why the Cowboys fell to the Titans, 34-27 here at Cowboys Stadium. And they were the reasons why the Cowboys are now 1-3, at the bottom of what seems to be a weak NFC.

And they were the reasons why there is definitely reason to doubt just how good this Cowboys team will be this season.

Losing a couple of games to start the season is one thing. In fact, the Cowboys lost to both Washington (3-2) and Chicago (4-1), two of the best teams in the NFC. But after seemingly turning the corner against the Texans, the Cowboys came in and out of the bye week, not only on a one-game winning streak, but healthier than they've been since last season.

So what to make of all this?

Maybe it's just the down-slope of what is shaping up to be quite a rollercoaster ride this season.

With this kind of offensive firepower, clearly the Cowboys will have a chance, not just in each game they play, but ultimately to get back into the playoff picture, although there’s still about six weeks to go before worrying about that.

The point is, with Tony Romo and all of his offensive weapons, and maybe we can add Felix Jones now into that mix as he rushed for a career-high 109 yards and might be on the verge of replacing Marion Barber as the starter, the Cowboys aren't that far off from where they need to be.

But it's the stuff we like to call "little things" that are coming up huge this year, and especially on Sunday.

Romo passed for a career-high 406 yards with three touchdowns -- spreading the scores around to Jason Witten, Roy Williams and Miles Austin, who bounced back from a two-catch performance in the last game to record nine catches for 166 yards and the score.

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Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans
A-
Tennessee did what it does best -- tighten up on defense and create turnovers and pressure. The Titans made key plays on defense, although they gave up 511 yards. Chris Johnson got back on track with 131 rushing yards and two scores. Vince Young managed the game to perfection.
Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys
D
Offensively, it looks rather impressive as the Cowboys had a 400-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher for the first time in franchise history. But even out-gaining the Titans 511-321 couldn't overcome the 12 penalties for 133 yards, including several at costly times in the game.
By Nick Eatman
RapidReports Correspondent

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But did Romo really play that well? Sure, you'll take that from Romo in a Fantasy football game. But three interceptions was huge -- one of them wiped out a scoring chance and resulted in a touchback, another occurred inside their own 20 and led to a Titans touchdown and the other one ended the game.

"Obviously I had some throws I'd like to have back," Romo said. "I thought we moved the ball well, but it's the same story -- too many mistakes and penalties. We beat ourselves way too much. It caught up to us today."

Defensively, the Cowboys pride themselves on preventing big plays, either in the passing game or running game. On Sunday, they gave up both. Vince Young wasn't flashy, but simply picked his spots, like a perfectly-thrown bomb to Kenny Britt for a 52-yard strike that led to a field goal and completely flipped the field position.

Titans running back Chris Johnson was, well ... Chris Johnson. And he bounced back from last week's 53-yard rushing performance in the home loss to Denver. Johnson rushed for 131 yards, including a 42-yard run that led to a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

But while the Titans made their share of plays, the Cowboys helped out as well.

Only the Cowboys can score a crucial game-tying touchdown with 4:36 to play, and get flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on tackle Marc Colombo, who simply fell down in the end zone. Losing your balance after spiking the ball, apparently gets you a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration. That's why linemen don't spike the football?

The Cowboys are pushed back to their 20-yard line for the ensuing kickoff, which resulted in a 73-yard return by Titans receiver Marc Mariani that set up Chris Johnson's second touchdown, which proved to be the game-winning score.

"I was upset because the guy spiked the ball, got off balance and fell down," head coach Wade Phillips said. "How that could ever happen and why that's a penalty right there ... you're not supposed to go to the ground. He spiked it, and he got off balance and fell down."

Maybe that's some irony to where this Cowboys team is overall. Right now, this team looks like it's off balance, and with a 1-3 record, coming off a bye week, it's definitely down on the ground.

"We have to fight back," Phillips said. "They're only one alternative for us, and it's to fight back and pull together. We've done some good things on offense, some good things on defense and special teams. But it wasn't good enough to win. We have no other choice but to figure it out."

With just a quarter of the season in the books, it would be premature to say time is running out for a turnaround. But at this rate, it's not too early to start glancing at the watch a little bit.

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