<
>

Cowboys are in need of reality check

IRVING, Texas -- This is how bad things are for the Dallas Cowboys.

They have won just two playoff games since their last Super Bowl title in 1995. We have seen four NFC East titles and five 10-plus-win seasons, but there have been six 10-plus-loss seasons. We have also seen two 8-8 seasons, including one that ended with a 31-14 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night in the win-or-go-home regular-season finale.

It wasn't so much the Cowboys' inability to win that game that's bothersome, it was the decisions leading up to the loss that really stick out.

Jerry Jones, the owner/general manager of the Cowboys, is in denial about his club. He's of the belief that he's got a talented team with a core group of players capable of providing a bright future for the Dallas Cowboys.

"I feel very good and want to take advantage of their talent and experience," Jones said.

The talent is there in spots, but Jones needs to do more work if Jason Garrett is going to succeed as head coach. His core group of players -- Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware -- are in or nearing their 30s.

"There are some subjective things that go along in how we [operate] and what we will do with our personnel," Jones said Sunday night after the loss to the Giants. "What [you don't want to do] is to fool yourself about it. At the end of the day you've got to get better, and we had an opportunity to step up here and win a ball game."

The Giants had more talent than the Cowboys. And while Jones said "this is our A team" facing the Giants, changes clearly need to be made.

Jones made mistakes in giving contract extensions to inconsistent players in safety Gerald Sensabaugh and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. He should have waited until the offseason before handing out any new deals.

Jones gave Scandrick a new contract because he values his skills and believes he'll start alongside Mike Jenkins in the future. But which Scandrick are you getting? Sensabaugh could have hit the free-agent market without much fanfare and the Cowboys probably could have re-signed him.

Left tackle Doug Free also got a new contract, and he struggled badly in 2011. Free admitted he wasn't at his best this season, and a move to right tackle next year is a possibility.

However, if Free does flip-flop spots with rookie Tyron Smith, he will still face talented rush ends such as the Eagles' Jason Babin and the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul.

The interior of the offensive line got old pretty quick when Jones gave Kyle Kosier a new contract after the lockout ended. Kosier, 33, battled a foot injury all season and will have surgery to repair a torn MCL suffered in the Giants game.

It's easy to second-guess the decisions now after what we've seen over a four-month season, taking into account ineffective play and injuries to key veterans.

Garrett acknowledged Monday that a team will have growing pains when it uses younger players. But Jones has to feel some regret for some of the moves he made over the course of the year.

In 2010, the Cowboys were in an 0-2 hole and couldn't get out of it, losing their quarterback in the process. So missing the playoffs, based on how things started, wasn't much of a surprise.

"Oh, yeah, yes, certainly we were disappointed the way we started last year," Jones said. "But then fate dealt us a hand without having Romo. I knew it would be an uphill battle when we didn't have Romo."

Jones had Romo for this run and it still wasn't good enough.

This season Jones said the team wasn't rebuilding, but the actions the team took -- cutting several veterans -- told a different story. Yet the Cowboys still had a chance to reach the postseason, despite blowing five fourth-quarter leads and having numerous starters banged up.

But Jones still expected to win Sunday night and was surprised when the Cowboys lost.

Jones must now refocus his energies on fixing this franchise. The years are getting too long for the Cowboys to be minus a Super Bowl trophy.

Before you know it, New England and Green Bay will surpass the Cowboys with Super Bowl titles.

And what will Jones do then?

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.