One more win last season would have handed the NFC East title to the Dallas Cowboys.
Because of that, it was easy to play the "What if?" game when all was said and done -- and no sequence of events during the 2011 Cowboys campaign was as damning as the one that occurred late in Dallas' 19-13 overtime loss to Arizona in Week 13. The Cowboys were driving for a potential game-winning score late in that game, when Tony Romo completed a pass to Dez Bryant at Arizona's 15.
The Cowboys, despite having two timeouts, let the clock wind down and spiked the ball. Head coach Jason Garrett then used a timeout to, essentially, ice his own kicker. Dan Bailey missed the field goal and Arizona won in OT.
"You see so many situations where you have negative plays in those situations," Garrett said after, trying to explain his team's questionable approach. "We felt like we were in his range to give him a chance to kick the game-winner."
Well, you know what they say about those who don't learn from history?
Sunday in Baltimore, the Cowboys found themselves with the ball down by two after failing on a two-point conversion but recovering the subsequent onside kick.
They moved to the Baltimore 34 with the help of a pass-interference penalty. And with 26 seconds left, Romo completed a 1-yard pass to Bryant, who was tackled inbounds. The clock ticked ... and ticked ... and ticked ...
The Cowboys eventually opted to call timeout with just seconds left, leaving them time for one play.
Bailey, again, failed to come through, [si_launchNFLPopup video='189ff062caa04b52977c08c24d2cc742']pulling a difficult 51-yarder wide left[/si_launchNFLPopup] to secure a 31-29 Baltimore win. The loss dropped the Cowboys to 2-3 on the year and will again leave them answering tons of questions about what went wrong late.
Romo's offense still had any number of options after the Bryant catch -- a quick spike, using their third timeout to leave enough on the clock for a couple more plays, a quick-strike pass to the sideline. Instead, they opted for choice D: None of the above.
Given the situation, though, settling for a 51-yard field goal (outdoors and on the road, no less) was the least-appealing option. But just as they did in Arizona last year, the Cowboys made things as difficult as possible on themselves. The result, predictably, was the same.