ATLANTA -- It took a former first-round pick, cornerback Mike Jenkins, to sum up what the Dallas Cowboys' defense and maybe the team is about after a 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night.
"It's frustrating to get that close to taste it," Jenkins said. "It's just like we didn't want it bad enough. We wanted it, but we didn't want it bad enough. We got to find a way to finish as a core. I don't know what it is, what we got to do, but we need to find that in each other. We all need to look in the mirror and question each other before we can question anybody else. We're too good as a team to be losing like that."
The bottom line is the defense didn't make enough plays to win. When the game was on the line, cornerback Orlando Scandrick failed.
Maybe defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, too.
Scandrick screwed up two big third-down plays in the fourth quarter when the defense was trying to give the offense a final shot at a win.
Atlanta led 16-13, with about four minutes to play when it was faced with a third-and-6 from its 24. Quarterback Matt Ryan sent a short pass to running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the flat. Scandrick arrived to make a play, but missed, arm tackling instead of bringing his body into the runner at the 25. By the time Rodgers was stopped, he had gained 31 yards. Scandrick walked down the field staring at the Georgia Dome ceiling.
"I just missed the tackle," he said. "It's a play I'm capable of making. I let everyone down, myself and my teammates. It's a very humbling experience."
Scandrick had another chance on the same drive.
This time it was on third-and-8 from the Dallas 43. Ryan sent a deep pass toward Roddy White. Scandrick was caught holding the receiver's jersey, drawing a defensive holding penalty for five yards and an Atlanta first down.
"I was competing," Scandrick said. "The game was on the line and once again, I can't make that mistake. Two bad plays in opportunistic times. I took it worse than anybody. It's killing me inside, it's going to kill me for a while. I need to get over it. We need to figure out a way to get a win and we need to figure out a way to turn those into motivation, into something that I just need to work hard at and get in tackling position and get great hand placement and footwork."
Scandrick is not totally to blame. On a third-and-5, Ryan found Rodgers again with a short pass. Rodgers made like Jim Brown and juked past safety Danny McCray for an 11-yard gain.
A few plays later, kicker Matt Bryant made a 32-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 19-13.
"It's frustrating," Scandrick said. "Anytime you give up plays, it hurts. We work too hard both as a defense and we work too hard as a team for me to make that mistake at that point of the game. I'm not a young player and no excuses, I take full accountability."
The Falcons averaged 28.7 points per game coming in, fifth best in the league. The Cowboys held them to nine points less than their average.
Ryan's defensive scheme was good for most of the night but had a flaw. He mixed two different types of zone coverages where he protected the sidelines and prevented deep plays. It exposed the middle of the field for short throws, and Ryan completed 21 short passes.
With this night over, Ryan and his defense must figure out a way of closing the show.
"[The players] weren't in good enough positions," Ryan said. "We could have called the game better, I could have called it [better]. It's all on me. It should have been a [punt] on that last third down. We didn't execute. That's definitely my fault and that's just the way the game is. They got a great talented offense, but hell, they out-executed us. They did better than I did, I know that."