A team, an owner, a coach can only take so much.
"Our clock's running," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after Dallas' 29-24 loss to the New York Giants. "It's running. and we're starting to get very urgent. We're starting to run out of opportunities."
A 3-4 record in the NFC is not the same as the AFC. Dallas can't afford to keep falling further behind the competition. Five of the Cowboys' final seven games are at home, but they are digging too big a hole. Their next "opportunity" comes at the home of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons.
Jones said the 2011 season was the most disappointing of his tenure as owner. We can only imagine what this one feels like. The Cowboys often control the action, but they give games away because of penalties, turnovers, game management and bad coaching.
Coach Jason Garrett might be running out of opportunities, too.
They're real and they're spectacular
1. I've been saying for weeks that I would love the Miami Dolphins to sneak into the No. 6 seed in the AFC. It will be harder if quarterback Ryan Tannehill is seriously hurt, but the Dolphins' 30-9 beatdown of the New York Jets was a big step for them. Miami has played well up front on both sides of the ball all season.
2. One week after running tentatively through injury, Trent Richardson carried the Cleveland Browns to a 7-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers with 122 yards and a score in muddy conditions. Jim Brown approves.
3. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck pulled off a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to force overtime, then a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to defeat the Tennessee Titans in overtime, 19-13. This is not a good Colts team. They are proof of the AFC's mediocrity and Luck's excellence. He makes his offensive teammates better.
4. On balance, this New England Patriots team is better than it was a year ago. The offense remains just as explosive, and it has a running game. Quarterback Tom Brady's two tackles -- Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder -- pulled off another fantastic performance against the St. Louis Rams' pass rush duo in a dominating 45-7 win. The defense isn't great, but it's better. Dropping five touchdowns on their first five possessions against a quality Rams defense in London was very impressive by Brady and the boys.
5. Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings' ridiculous season continued in a 23-22 victory over the Carolina Panthers. After two more picks Sunday and a decisive touchdown, Jennings has six interceptions and 13 passes defensed on the season.
The most controversial call that has received no attention
Luck wouldn't have received a chance in overtime had the officials not made a very shaky call at the end of regulation. With 20 seconds left, it appeared that Colts tight end Dwayne Allen fumbled the ball deep in Indianapolis territory, which would have set up a short game-winning field-goal attempt for the Titans.
Officials ruled Allen's forward progress was stopped before he fumbled. That's not reviewable; that decided the game. If a call like that happened in a Giants-Cowboys game, we'd be talking about it for a week.
So you're saying there's a chance
1. Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions got the ball back in the fourth quarter, down 24-21, with 5:27 to go. It's not an exaggeration to say Detroit's season was on the brink. Stafford responded with a 16-play, 80-yard game-winning drive to wrap up a 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Stafford has struggled all season, but he played his best game of the season against Seattle. All three of Detroit's wins have come from late-game heroics by Stafford.
2. The Oakland Raiders are 3-4 after pounding the Chiefs 26-16 in Kansas City. They outplayed the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago but lost in the Georgia Dome. They are the latest kinda-sorta playoff contender even though we have no faith they will stick around for long. It's going to take a while to stick a fork in a lot of the AFC teams because it's a season when 9-7 might be enough to make the playoffs.
1. It's one of those years for the Panthers, but quarterback Cam Newton truly isn't playing that bad. His killer interception thrown Sunday came after wide receiver Steve Smith slipped on a timing route. He threw for more than eight yards per attempt on the best defense in football. The Panthers nearly doubled the Bears in yardage. There's still a lot to like here.
3. Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw for more yards and yards per attempt than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, but the Jaguars lost 24-15 at Lambeau Field anyway. The Packers badly need a bye week to get healthy.
Beware of Denver
The Denver Broncos pounded the New Orleans Saints like no other team has all season on both sides of the ball in their 34-14 win. Peyton Manning gets better every week, and the defense is capable of stopping New Orleans. The combined record of Denver's remaining opponents: 21-36. The Broncos are only one game up in the AFC West, but they already should be thinking bigger. With the easiest schedule in the conference remaining, the Broncos have a shot to compete for a bye.
Some panic is acceptable
2. The Chiefs are the first team since 1940 not to lead in regulation during their first seven games of the season. It's that bad. At least the Chiefs fans got a chance to make amends by cheering Matt Cassel when he entered the game Sunday for an injured Brady Quinn.
3. The Washington Redskins' defense -- especially the secondary -- is consistently poor. They are a dangerous team to play because of Robert Griffin III, but the defense always will keep opponents in games. The Redskins dropped at least eight of Griffin's passes in a 27-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
4. It's laughable if Michael Vick is benched after this loss to the Falcons. The Eagles' defense gave up touchdowns on their first three drives. They didn't get a defensive stop until midway through the fourth quarter. Vick wasn't great Sunday, but he wasn't high on the list of problems this week.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.