TAMPA, Fla. -- If it had not reached that point already -- with six straight losses without Tony Romo -- the Dallas Cowboys' season officially became absurd Sunday. The seventh straight loss was ridiculously painful and self-inflicted.
The penalty on Heath wiped out a two-interception performance by the third-year safety, but the drive exposed the Cowboys' defense for what it is: not good when it counts most.
The Cowboys had been tied or in the lead in the fourth quarter in six of the seven losses, only to drop every single one.
But it was actually the closest the Cowboys came to the end zone all day.
For the third time this season, the Cowboys' offense failed to score a touchdown. It is the second time in the past three Cassel starts the Cowboys didn't get a touchdown. The last time the Cowboys had three games without an offensive touchdown in the same season was in 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It makes you wonder just how much Tony Romo covered up for this offense over the years.
And now not even Romo's return can be a sure fix to all the Cowboys problems.
Mr. Versatile: Byron Jones opened the game as the Cowboys' starting free safety. When Morris Claiborne went down in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, he moved to outside cornerback and saw his first significant playing time there since training camp. J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath split the safety snaps. When the Cowboys went to their nickel defense, Tyler Patmon took over in the slot.
What were they thinking? Mike Evans finished with eight catches for 126 yards. How can other teams take Dez Bryant away so easily but the Cowboys can't seem to do the same defensively? Evans had his way with Claiborne and then he worked over Brandon Carr a little bit. Is it too much to pay a little more attention to a receiver like Evans, especially when Vincent Jackson is not playing?
One reason to get excited: Do you need to ask? Tony Romo plays next week against the Miami Dolphins. Will it matter?
One reason to panic: The Cowboys couldn't get anything going on the ground. Darren McFadden's longest run was 7 yards. It was always going to be a grind against Tampa's defense, but the Cowboys entered the game feeling better about their run game than at any point of the season. Instead, they had just 21 carries for 42 yards.
No longer perfect: Dan Bailey opened the game with field goals of 42 and 53 yards, giving him 18 in a row to start the season. His 53-yarder grazed the left upright, marking the second straight week he needed good fortune to make a kick. He wasn't so fortunate later in the second quarter when he missed wide right from 48 yards. It was just the fourth miss between 40-49 yards in his career. That miss meant the Cowboys needed a touchdown, not a field goal, to win the game in the final minute.