December demons haunt Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' end-of-the-season swoon has arrived, as it usually does when December arrives.

And it doesn't matter if it's a trend coach Jason Garrett chooses not to discuss. What does matter is this is the time of year when the Cowboys find creative ways to lose.

Last week, Garrett bungled the game's time-management aspect late in the fourth quarter, ultimately allowing the Arizona Cardinals to beat Dallas in overtime.

This week, the Cowboys needed a total team effort to blow a 12-point lead in the final 5:41 as the New York Giants ended a four-game losing steak with a 37-34 victory and moved into first place in the NFC East.

Your Cowboys are 0-2 this December -- they're 13-17 in December/January since 2005 -- and if they don't win each of their last three games, don't expect to see them in the playoffs.

Especially after Atlanta and Detroit each won Sunday. Winning the division is the only sure way the Cowboys can get into the playoffs.

Right now, it doesn't look good.

This team can only blame itself. It's too easy to say the Cowboys choked, because it implies they couldn't handle the pressure of holding a fourth-quarter lead against the Giants.

That's not what happened.

The Cowboys gave this one away. That's right, they gift-wrapped it and handed it over to the loudmouths from New York with a series of dumb mistakes and mind-numbing plays that gave the Giants no choice but to win the game.

Frankly, the Cowboys team we saw in the fourth quarter looked every bit like those hapless teams Wade Phillips coached to a 1-7 record before Jerry Jones fired him last November.

This was a collapse of epic proportion.

What makes it so bad is that many of the Cowboys' best players were involved in the collapse.

Tony Romo. Miles Austin. DeMarcus Ware. Mat McBriar. Dan Bailey.

How sad.

On third-and-5 with 2:25 left and Dallas leading 34-29, the Giants blitzed everyone, leaving the middle of the field uncovered. Austin beat Aaron Ross at the line of scrimmage.

He could not have been more open. Depending on who you believe, Austin either lost the ball in the lights or Romo overthrew him.

Instead of a game-clinching 75-yard touchdown, it was an incompletion.

Then McBriar's 33-yard punt gave the Giants the ball at their 42. Six plays later, the Giants took a 37-34 lead on Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard run and D.J. Ware's subsequent two-point run.

During the drive, Ware lined up offside for the second time in the fourth quarter and Frank Walker's holding penalty, seemingly a weekly occurrence, gave the Giants a first down.

Rob Ryan, rapidly moving into the category of overrated defensive coordinators, watched Eli Manning throw for 400 yards against his defense, which made stars of average players such as Rex Grossman, Matt Moore and Kevin Kolb the past three weeks.

Hakeem Nicks became the fourth straight receiver to record a 100-yard game against the Cowboys' beleaguered secondary.

Still, the Cowboys moved into field goal position with six seconds left.

Bailey made the apparent game-tying 47-yard field goal that would've sent the game into overtime, but the Giants called timeout just before the snap.

Jason Pierre-Paul blocked the second attempt.

Judging from the long faces in the locker room, Garrett lied when he spent all last week saying this is just another game, one no more important than any of the other 16 games the Cowboys play during the season.

The same goes for Romo.

The disappointing loss stung so much that Jerry Jones spoke briefly after the game and declined to take questions. Usually, he takes 10-15 minutes worth of questions.

We never even saw Jason Witten, perhaps a first for one of the team's leaders.

Every player and coach knows the Cowboys blew an opportunity to put a choke hold on the division.

Garrett can refuse to talk about this team's propensity for collapsing in December, but that's not going to make the chatter disappear.

This is sixth time in the past seven seasons the Cowboys entered December with at least seven wins.

Only twice have they won at least 10 games in that span.

For whatever reason, they've stunk in December when the best teams play their best football.

Garrett has three weeks to figure out the problem and fix it. Or these Cowboys will be home for the postseason.


Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.