It would be easy to write off the Cowboys' 1-3 start as a result of a lack of discipline. It's true, the team had yet another meltdown against the Titans, with 12 penalties for 133 yards, including a crucial unsportsmanlike flag after a touchdown that set the ensuing kickoff back 15 yards and helped set up a 73-yard return for Tennessee and the game-winning score. But the Cowboys also are suffering through some poor play by players who were thought to be key pieces of a championship-caliber squad entering the season.
The PFW Spin
We need to start with the penalties, which are killing the Cowboys. Two crucial ones came from CB Mike Jenkins, a player who had been developing into a front-line cover man last season. He was flagged for pass interference twice on the first drive, netting the Titans 48 yards of field position, which eventually led to a score. On the touchdown, CB Orlando Scandrick failed to turn around with the ball in the air, a mistake he took blame for on Monday.
On the Titans' second TD drive, Stephen Bowen was called for illegal use of hands on what would have been a third-down sack by DeMarcus Ware. Instead of the Titans having to punt, the drive continued and the Titans made the score 17-3. The Cowboys faced a big hole they had to dig themselves out of then, just as their season has become a 1-3 hole.
The penalties kept coming. Doug Free was called for holding, negating a 25-yard pass play. Free then false-started on 3rd-and-goal from the Titans' three in the fourth quarter, a drive that eventually ended with a field goal, not a touchdown; instead of taking the lead, the Cowboys had to settle for a tie. Then of course, there was the illegal celebration that happened after TE Jason Witten scored to tie the game with less than five minutes left. He handed the ball to ORT Marc Colombo, which resulted in a team celebration penalty. It might be a questionable rule, but it's a rule and one that the players should know.
But it wasn't all penalties; poor play was a big problem, too. The offensive line was not good, allowing six sacks. Free had a rough game, and ORG Leonard Davis was benched in the first half (he came back in only because Montrae Holland got hurt later). Romo had three picks, only one of them coming when he was trying to make a desperation play. PK David Buehler made two field goals but also missed a 44-yarder that shifted momentum in the third quarter.
The Cowboys have outgained each of their opponents but have lost three of those four games. They find themselves at the bottom of the NFC East and in need of answers. A game after a rebound victory over the Texans, all the good will has been undercut by a frustrating loss to the Titans. Discipline is only one of the issues the team faces as it tries to figure out what it can do to salvage a tough start to the season.