The Cowboys didn't make the playoffs -- again -- and now face an off-season of questions. But before we look ahead, let's look back at 2011. This week we pose the question:
What was the Cowboys' biggest disappointment in 2011? Cast your vote, or post in the comments below.
Clarence Hill, Cowboys beat writer: The biggest disappointment was coach Jason Garrett. He was supposed to be detail oriented, prepared, in charge and the leader of men -- the antithesis of the supposed mealy mouth and slouthful Wade Phillips. Well, the Cowboys failed in crucial final game situations starting in the sesason opener and continued throughout much of the season, which is why they blew five fourth-quarter leads. The kicker was the unforgiveable breakdown in game management in the criminal loss to the Cardinals that turned the season.
First, it was the decision not to call a timeout and settling for a 49-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the game. Then, it was the decision to unwittingly ice their kicker. Finally, the Cowboys lost four of their final five games, including a first-half no-show by falling behind 21-0 in the winner-take-all season finale against the Giants. This team worked on getting better every day, but it didn't play inspired football when it mattered most. In the end, what we saw in 2010 when the Cowboys went 5-3 under Garrett after he took over for Phillips was rendered obsolete by the 2011 finish, likely putting his job on notice in 2012.
Carlos Mendez, Cowboys beat writer: The zero impact the defense had on games when the games started to matter. They couldn't get a handle on Rex Grossman. Gimpy Kevin Kolb was making plays on them. There was never any doubt Eli Manning was going to move the ball in the Cowboys Stadium game. And in Week 17, when the Cowboys had to keep the Giants to 21, they couldn't. For all the confidence he expressed in his players and how much he sold himself selling, Rob Ryan never got a statement game from his defense.
Charean Williams, Cowboys beat writer: Miles Austin losing the pass in the lights against the Giants. It was the play that cost the Cowboys a playoff berth. Austin ran by cornerback Aaron Ross and was wide open up the seam on a third-and-five play with 2:25 remaining in the Cowboys' loss to the Giants at Cowboys Stadium. But Austin lost Tony Romo's throw in the lights. The Cowboys punted and the Giants scored to come back from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit. Dallas would have buried the Giants with a victory, and things would be very, very different this week. Whether the Cowboys could have done what the Giants have done in reaching the title game is questionable, but at least they would have had a chance. (DeMarco Murray getting hurt would be my No. 2 disappointment. They were a different offense with him than without him.)
David Humphrey, assignment editor: Special teams return game. I can't recall anytime in modern-day franchise history that the Cowboys posed no consistent threat in the return game like this season. Only in brief appearances by Dez Bryant on punt returns and Felix Jones on kickoff returns was there any hope for success. While touchdowns obviously were not expected on each return, at least the threat of the big play should be present. It wasn't. The rankings (20th on kickoff returns and 27th on punt returns) don't accurately reflex how weak the units were for the Cowboys.
(Photo of Garrett by Rodger Mallison/Star-Telegram)