When the Dallas Cowboys lost a 51-48 shootout to the Denver Broncos in Week 5, I wrote a column ripping the Cowboys' defense and absolving Tony Romo of blame despite his late interception. Romo had a game for the ages on that day.
Understand that Romo is not without blame for Sunday's 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers: He's one of the goats in this epic Dallas collapse. But if you're pointing the finger of blame, you need to use an entire hand before getting around to Romo. The play selection on Sunday destroyed Dallas. The defense on Sunday, above all, deflated Dallas. The structure of the team, set up for failure, doomed Dallas.
It's very simple: The Cowboys' defense is horrendous. It isn't tough. It isn't clutch. It isn't well-coached.
Monte Kiffin's unit was overmatched, again, six days after getting bludgeoned by Josh McCown and the Chicago Bears. Kiffin's defense held a 26-3 halftime lead over a Packers team led by Matt Flynn. Yes, the same Matt Flynn who was traded by the Seattle Seahawks just over one year after signing a big contract. The same Matt Flynn who was cut in October by the quarterback-challenged Oakland Raiders so they could keep undrafted rookie Matt McGloin. The same Matt Flynn jettisoned in November by the Buffalo Bills, who favored Jeff Tuel -- another undrafted rookie. That Matt Flynn threw four touchdown passes in the second half against the Dallas defense. You couldn't make this up if you tried.
Go ahead and blame Romo in lazy fashion. But Romo doesn't play defense.
Getting rid of Rob Ryan was a solid move -- it was time for a new defensive coordinator after two straight subpar years. Choosing Kiffin, however, fresh off of a disastrous stint at USC, certainly wasn't the right hire. The Dallas players don't fit his 4-3 scheme, which hasn't worked for Kiffin since he had Hall of Fame talent a lifetime ago in Tampa Bay.
Case in point: DeMarcus Ware, who hasn't missed a Pro Bowl since his rookie campaign of 2005, has completely disappeared in Dallas' new defense. The 31-year-old swears he's "the same person" as he's been in years past, but he's currently on pace for seven sacks, which would be a career low. In fact, since Week 4, he's piled up a grand total of two sacks. And in Sunday's disaster, he contributed a single tackle.
But who makes the hires? Does head coach Jason Garrett (more on his failures in a bit) have autonomy? Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones sent a clear signal this offseason when he appointed Bill Callahan to call the plays, and Garrett was the last to know. And after the Bears debacle, Jones told the media that while the D has problems, "There's no one I'd rather have running my defense than Monte Kiffin."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was so proud of his team -- and rightfully so -- saying it "took everything for me not to cry." What a gutsy win for Green Bay. Dallas fans had to be shedding tears of sorrow watching it. The Eagles lost earlier in the day to Minnesota in shocking fashion. The Cowboys were primed to be tied for first place. All Kiffin's defense needed to do was make a stop against a quarterback who hadn't had a multi-touchdown game since Week 17 of 2011.
Garrett and Callahan (once again) didn't use DeMarco Murray enough (18 carries, 134 yards, 1 TD), just like last Monday night, when Murray ran for 146 yards on 18 rushes. The Cowboys ran by design on just seven of 30 plays in the second half, even though Murray averaged 8.5 yards per carry during the first 30 minutes. They didn't run the ball to protect the lead, move the chains and control the clock. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were brilliant on the Fox telecast, incredulous that Dallas wouldn't stick with a red-hot running back who could carry the team.
Romo threw two gigantic picks. He deserves heat for that. When Dallas took over with 4:17 remaining, clinging to a 36-31 lead, I have no idea why the "braintrust" called pass plays on first and second down. Fortunately, Romo converted a third-and-long to keep the clock running.
One play later, it's second-and-6 from the Dallas 35. Green Bay had just burned its second timeout with 2:58 to go. You run on second and third down. The situation, the game clock and the play of Murray all demanded it. But the Cowboys passed the ball, Sam Shields picked it off and Eddie Lacy capped the Packers' drive with a go-ahead score.
Dez Bryant was so disgusted he walked to the locker room before the game was over.
But wait, there's more. After the game, the maligned Garrett -- who has been criticized in the past for game management and constantly faces speculation about his job status -- threw Romo under the bus. He couldn't wait to announce to the world that this wasn't his fault. This is akin to pouring gasoline on a fire, which you have to imagine Garrett knew. But when a system is set up to fail, this is what happens: The blame game plays out publicly with everyone in job-preservation mode.
Garrett explained that Romo had a run-pass option on the play that resulted in his first pick. It was originally called a run, but Romo saw the look of the Green Bay defense and decided to throw a pass. I have no reason to doubt that this was the case, but I do question why Garrett brought this to everyone's attention. He knew the plan at the end was wrong. He knew the play of the defense would be a headline. Garrett essentially tried to play the "Romo chokes in December" narrative while saving himself from public ridicule.
It won't work here. It just provided another example of why Dallas needs a coaching change. A coach comfortable in his skin would point the thumb, not the finger. A coach worth his salt wouldn't throw his quarterback under the bus. Everyone points to Romo's December record. How about acknowledging that, heading into Sunday's game, Romo had 25 touchdowns against five picks in 11 December/January games since 2011?
I'd love to see Romo with a different head coach, play-caller, defense, defensive coordinator -- and an owner who doesn't double as general manager.
Chide Romo first, if you're lazy. But really, you should blame Jones, Garrett, Callahan, Kiffin and the defense before you get to the quarterback.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.