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Jerry Jones keeping faith in Dallas Cowboys despite tough loss

BALTIMORE -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did the right thing Sunday evening. He didn't publicly criticize the coach. He didn't throw his kicker under the bus. He didn't bemoan a dropped two-point conversion by his wide receiver.

Really, truly, he did the right thing. So why does it feel so wrong?

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"I'm sick about losing this game," said Jones, standing in the middle of a crowded visitors' locker room as he blanketed his dejected organization with a quiet show of support after Sunday's 31-29 defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. "But I feel good about this team."

Thank goodness somebody does. Because the rest of us, even the neutral observers with no allegiance and no bias, can't stand what we're watching. It's so incredibly frustrating, so sincerely grating. Some of us want to believe this team has the talent to be a playoff contender. Yet each week, we're forced to assume otherwise.

And Sunday's loss -- in which the Cowboys had more time of possession, more first downs and more total offense than the Ravens -- was a perfect example of why.

"There are no moral victories," tight end Jason Witten said. "We had all of the opportunities, and we lost."

You see, not only did the Cowboys lose, they once again did it in a fashion that will keep some small, lingering hope alive for a little bit longer. That's the hope you heard in Jones' voice; frustration masked by a sincere belief that if Dallas can just figure out how to close a game, it has a chance in an NFC East marked by mediocrity.

The Cowboys are not America's Team these days. They are America's Tease.

"I feel better about our team than I did, frankly, over the last two weeks," Jones said. "I thought we competed well, and I like what I see that we're doing on our offensive line and (the) positive things we did on defense. I understand what we were trying to do."

Amazingly, despite any frustration over Jones' silver lining, it is admittedly easy to understand his rationalization. The Cowboysdid look better Sunday. They entered with a plan to run the ball relentlessly against a vulnerable Ravens defense, and it worked accordingly. The offensive line blocked better, and the Cowboys piled up 227 yards on 42 carries, rolling along even after DeMarco Murray went down with a foot injury.

All good, right? So why does it feel so bad?

Maybe it was the three illegal-shift penalties. Or allowing a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Maybe it's the very reason you also wanted Jones to snap about Jason Garrett's late-game clock management, to wonder aloud why Garrett would put kicker Dan Bailey in such a tough situation -- asking him to win the game from 51 yards out -- on second down with one timeout remaining when his team could have done more to get him closer.

Instead, Jones whispered quietly that he didn't "take issue with it." He said he couldn't be mad at the coach when Garrett's plan resulted in an advantage in time of possession, offense and first downs.

But blame must be placed somewhere, right? Not if hope still remains.

It was the same story when Jones was asked about Dez Bryant's dropped pass on a botched two-point conversion try that would have tied the game. And Bailey's wide-left attempt in the waning moments.

"I do support them," Jones told me when I asked about his unwavering public faith. "When you keep the ball two-thirds of the time, I do support the head coach on his decision making. When Dez does the things he did on many other plays, I do support him. I think we have an outstanding kicker, and I'm not ashamed of the fact that when we lined up there with the wind to his back, I thought he would make that field goal.

"I sure do. I support all of them."

Of course, the Cowboys are 2-3. This will all change if the losing continues. Jones will think more about the possibility of firing Garrett, and some will wonder if that should also mean the end of quarterback Tony Romo's tenure in Dallas. Some will say Jones should give up control, since he's the constant fixture through the troubled years that are piling up.

But these are all consequences for another day, you see. Because hope still lives for Dallas, even if that hope currently hides in a dark corner and only comes to the surface often enough to remind us all that it's still around.

When Jones was asked Sunday once more about Garrett's late-game clock management, he once again passed on the opportunity to criticize.

"That's second-guessing," Jones said. "We don't ever think about that again. I know that something can happen on the next play. We felt real good. We had the wind to our back. Everybody felt good about making that field goal."

Everybody felt good about making that field goal, until everybody watched it sail to the left of the uprights. It was a tough break, indeed. But the Cowboys were close. So close.

For the most part on Sunday, Dallas did all the right things. So why in the world does it still feel so wrong?

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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