It’s helpful to think of the Cowboys not as an NFL football team, but as a work of theatrical art. They’re a living, breathing experiment worth more than a billion dollars designed meticulously not to win football games, but to cause their fans the most anguish.
You might think that the easiest way to make that happen would be for the team to go 0-16, year after year, never winning a single game. But the emotional stakes are much higher when the Cowboys could be good, or should win a game, and don’t. Dallas builds a fan base up with a good season ... only to botch it at the end. Anyone can go 0-16, but what the Cowboys do transcends that level.
The Cowboys did it again on Sunday. In their season opener, they started strong with rookie Dak Prescott starting in place of the injured Tony Romo. They slowed down in the second half, but still held a late lead. With seconds left, down by just a point, they drove the field and completed a pass to Terrance Williams near the sidelines. The Cowboys had no timeouts, and Williams only had to run out of bounds to stop the clock.
He ... well, he didn’t.
The Cowboys could have attempted one more play, or let Dan Bailey kick a 62-yard field goal, if Williams had ran out of bounds. Dan Bailey had kicked a 56-yarder earlier with ease, after all. Instead, the Cowboys couldn’t spike it quick enough and time ran out for a loss.
But remember: this is all a performance. This is all part of the heartbreak. These are the absolute most creative ways the Cowboys have thought up to lose football games.
They can get beat by a backup quarterback
In December of 2013, the Cowboys led the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers by 23 points in the second half. They allowed his backup, Matt freaking Flynn, to lead five consecutive touchdown drives and lost 37-36.
They can get beat by not running the clock out
This game was in October of 2013. The Lions turned the ball over on downs with 1:25 left in the game and two timeouts needing a touchdown. There’s no way they win, right?
Dallas goes three-and-out, Detroit gets it back and Matt Stafford leads an 80-yard drive ending with Stafford faking a spike and diving into the end zone. Even worse, the Cowboys had thrown an incompletion with about 2:30 left on the clock when a run would have forced Detroit to burn a timeout and probably win the game. What a majestic effort by Dallas to lose this one.
They can lose because Dez Bryant’s fingers are too big
Like when he landed out of bounds on what would have been a game-winning touchdown with seven seconds left in the game in October 2012.
They can lose because Dez’s hands are big enough, too
You know this one. We all do.
They can lose on Tony Romo’s best day
One of the best games in Romo’s life came on Oct. 6, 2013, when he posted this stat line.
Of course, the one interception came on the last drive of the game down three. Game over.
They can lose because of their own stadium’s lights
This December 2012 loss was Miles Austin’s fault, rather than an overthrow, I’ll keep saying it to my grave. He admitted after the game he lost it in the lights and slowed down when a catch would have ended the game.
They can lose allowing just 10 points
Nearly every loss from last season, outside of a few blowouts, could make this list. The Cowboys lost Romo in the second game, lost him again in his second game back from his broken collarbone, and couldn’t win a game without him under center.
My favorite loss, though, had to be the 10-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in mid-November. The Cowboys led 6-3 most of the second half, until the Bucs drove down the field late in the fourth quarter. Jameis Winston dove for a touchdown at the goal line ... except he fumbled and the Cowboys recovered ... except there was defensive holding and Tampa Bay got the ball back, where they scored and promptly won.
This season is where my theory that Dallas is just pushing the boundaries of losing came from. You couldn’t watch the team and not be impressed by the many diverse and creative ways they figured out how to have fewer points than the opposing team at the end of 60 minutes. It was truly sensational.
So next time you say “the Cowboys suck,” you’re wrong. It’s all by design. The truth is that they’re incredibly, magnificently talented ... at losing.