Mavs Donuts: Is Dallas A 'Soft' Sports Town?
Posted Sep 15, 2011

How demanding should we be of our pro sports teams? How hard should we be on them? Because the Mavs won a title, is the heat off … or intensified? Do the Rangers deserve slack because they seem lovable? And have we gone marshmallowy soft on a Cowboys team that ought to be getting thrashed for its Week 1 loss? Let’s put Tony Romo and the Cowboys under the Donuts microscope:

DONUT 1: This is a football town. So it’s queer to hear a what I would term a "baseball-like mentality'' being misapplied by apologists who see the sunny side of the Dallas Cowboys’ come-from-ahead 27-24 loss Sunday night to the Jets.

“They played better than I thought they would.’’ “It’s early so there are going to be growing pains.’’ “This was a ‘schedule loss’ and therefore excusable.’’

Those are patient philosophies befitting the observation of a baseball team, which is allowed 162 regular-season chances at redemption and growth and excuses. (I don't mean that as a dig at the Rangers, who deserve a great deal of praise for what they've built.) But this is football. You only get 16 shots. To lose the season-opener at New York in an unprecedented fashion (never before has the Dallas franchise lost a game in which it held a 14-point fourth-quarter lead)?

That might be a philosophy applicable to next year’s Mavs, too. How many times did you tell yourself, “If the Mavs could only win one title … just one! … I’d die a happy MFFL!’’

Now, I bet you are ready to alter that philosophy now and move that bar. But you are free to adhere to your self-promise.


DONUT 2: In the NFL, though, one week is a season-changer. And that same bar that is being elevated for the Mavs is already dragging on the carpet for the ‘Boys.

DONUT 3: Now, if the Cowboys continue along this path, maybe they will contribute to DFW becoming something other than a football town. There are this fall's Texas Rangers. There might be this year's Dallas Mavericks, and for many of us, that is sports enough. And I hear the Dallas Symphony Orchestra puts on a lovely show. (Don’t giggle. If you want to see Dirk Nowitzki all dressed up, check out the DSO. He’s a regular.)

DONUT 4: But if you consider yourself a contender – and in Week 1 of the NFL, every team should – you must consider yourself capable of beating a Jets team that is as all-Super-Bowl-talk/no-Super-Bowl-results as Dallas itself has now been for 16 years.

And the Cowboys are capable of beating the Jets. And most everyone else, too.

DONUT 5: It won’t happen, though, if one of their supposed advantages continues to go numb above the neck every time simple execution is called for.

Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t play better than you thought he would. For Romo, the days of growing pains should be a more distant memory than Jessica Simpson. And excuses? Happily, Tony didn’t offer those.


“Really this game just came down to one or two plays,” Romo said. “Those plays were plays that I gave them the ball … I cost us the game.”

DONUT 6: One or two plays or three plays. Let’s count ‘em down:

* The final miscue was a zany bobbled shotgun snap with eight seconds remaining in the game and Dallas hoping for a miracle. I don’t downgrade Romo for missing out on a miracle. So forget that one.

* The second-to-last dunderheaded action is the one getting the most attention, and wrongly so. With a minute to go in the game and the score tied, Romo underthrew Dez Bryant along the right sideline. But it wasn’t a poor throw (or poor communication between QB and young receiver) as much as it was the Cowboys losing a mental chess match. The Jets showed man coverage, baiting Romo into throwing in the direction of the NFL’s best corner, Darrelle Revis.

“Only the Lord knows what Romo was looking at,’’ writes my friend Peter King of Sports Illustrated, but really, both teams’ head coaches knew, too.

Dallas’ Jason Garrett conceded that maybe “Tony was fooled by it a little bit.’’

New York’s Rex Ryan said, “We have this play called ‘Jet Mike Mix’ that we call. … We wanted them to think it was one-on-one, but we actually had help on top. Revis was able to undercut it and get the interception.”

Why am I so accepting of an interception? Hey, they happen. Bad call, bad throw, bad route, bad protection, bad read, bad bounce … or … good defensive call, good defensive pressure, good defensive play … They happen. That’s 100-Yard Chess.

However …

DONUT 7: Tony’s effort in the truly inexcusable goof-up is does not involve the opponent, does not involve problem-solving, does not bow to “stuff-happens’’ law.

*The Cowboys were up 24-10 after three quarters, in large part due to Romo’s brilliance. He’d captained an offense that featured a new, young line, and it had survived the vaunted Jets attack. With nine minutes remaining in the game, Romo had the ‘Boys at the New York 2-yard-line while protecting a 24-17 lead. A touchdown would’ve been lovely. But the mentality there simply must be to protect the ball well enough to get the certain field goal and the 10-point lead.

An interception in those situations is bothersome. But again, on an interception, so factors reach in like the arms of an octopus.

How about a fumble? How about one essentially unforced? How about one where a quarterback is attempting to run toward a wall of Jets defenders and has zero chance of making a play?

That’s what Tony Romo did in the opener that makes all the excuses and all the acceptance so empty. It’s not the shortage of miracles. It’s not the occasional interception, which is going to happen when your offense is “Romo-friendly’’ and geared to get from him 22-of-35 passing for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

It’s the inconceivable fumble, the result of Romo playing “Old-West Gunslinger’’ on a play when “Mild-Mannered School Marm’’ would’ve been enough to win the game.

DONUT 8: In this space we’ve talked a great deal about BBIQ. Jason Kidd defines it. We’ve seen a lack of it overcome with the Mavs, too. Consider this way-under-publicized angle: How did the 2006 Mavs advance to the NBA Finals with Jason Terry at point guard and with Josh Howard also playing such a central role?

Maybe Avery Johnson deserves a tip of the cap for that.

DONUT 9: So … At what level is Tony Romo’s “FBIQ’’? I hear my old friend Jason Garrett say “maybe Tony will learn from this,’’ but Romo is 31. He’s been playing football for almost 25 years. It’s not a matter of “learning,’’ but rather one of “unlearning.’’ I think it’s become trite to say Romo’s playing style intentionally emulates the Wisconsin hero he grew up idolizing. But “trite’’ doesn’t mean “untrue.’’ And did teenage Tony not watch anybody but Brett Favre? Did the Racine TV channels not allow him to also see Aikman?

DONUT 10: Romo has the support of his locker room, as evidenced by teammate Keith Brooking’s wacky assertion that “I’d take that guy over anybody in the league.’’ He also has the backhanded support of Bill Parcells, who was on watch as the Cowboys coach when Romo came on the NFL scene. “His gift is his curse,’’ Parcells commented on ESPN this week.

Parcells’ thoughts are especially pertinent here because he spent years trying to coach Tony down from the idea that playing quarterback was supposed to be circus-like. Trying … and failing. One of Garrett’s greatest tests now is attempting to do the same. If Jason – he of the high IQ in virtually every area – cannot play “wise professor’’ to Romo’s “prized pupil,’’ then Garrett’s run here will be ill-fated.

DONUT 11: I don’t know if the Cowboys are “soft.’’ But the analysis of this loss certainly is.

“They played better than I thought they would.’’ “It’s early so there are going to be growing pains.’’ “This was a ‘schedule loss’ and therefore excusable.’’

You only get 16 of these. I ain’t that good at math. But I know that losing one is the equivalent of a five-game losing-streak in the NBA and a 10-game losing streak in baseball. It digs a hole.


DONUT 12:“It’s disappointing to work very hard to make sure that you’re put in those positions to win the game, and it’s hard to swallow a game like that,’’ Romo said. “I’ve got to be better. That’s the bottom line.”

I’m glad he sees that. I’m perplexed that more Cowboys observers, maybe marshmallowed by years of mediocrity, do not.

What are we turning into around here, a dang baseball town?

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