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Mile High Misery





Rob PhillipsEmail Staff Writer

DENVER – Fraught with disappointment, Cowboys receiver Sam Hurd stayed motionless on the turf for a few moments.

He had just come within a Champ Bailey deflection of catching his first career touchdown pass on Sunday’s final play, and at the same time, perhaps saving a game the Cowboys ultimately gave away.

Instead, Tony Romo’s fourth-down pass to Hurd from the Broncos’ two-yard line fell incomplete – and as the sun set on a chilly Denver afternoon, the Cowboys (2-2) left INVESCO Field at Mile High with a stinging 17-10 loss.

Seven plays earlier, Hurd had put the Cowboys in scoring position with a 53-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline. With Roy Williams (bruised ribs) sidelined for the final series, Romo looked to Hurd with the game on the line.

"I felt I had (Bailey) beat by a little bit," Hurd said. "Just gotta make the play."

Hurd didn’t claim Bailey illegal held him. He made no excuses. Neither did his teammates.

Long before that final play, the Cowboys had put themselves in emergency mode with mistakes and missed opportunities.

The Broncos (4-0) capitalized. They outscored the Cowboys 17-0 after the first quarter and took the lead for good with 1:46 remaining, when Brandon Marshall snatched a ball out of cornerback Terence Newman’s hands and took it 51 yards for a touchdown.

"We were trying to catch him but couldn’t," linebacker Bradie James said. "It was time for someone to make a play and he was the one that made it."

Two Romo turnovers – a lost fumble following a sack in the second quarter and an interception in the third quarter – proved costly, along with seven penalties for 70 yards.

Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton threw a touchdown pass on the first play after Romo’s fumble. Romo’s interception – an apparent miscommunication with receiver Miles Austin – stalled a divine drive that began at the Denver 27 following a defensive takeaway, James’ fumble recovery. The Cowboys were clinging to a 10-7 lead at the time.

"We knew it was going to be that kind of game," head coach Wade Phillips said. "We had to take advantage of opportunities. They got a fumble and scored. We got a fumble and didn’t score. That really was the difference in the ball game."

Playing without Felix Jones (sprained PCL), Marion Barber and Tashard Choice ran the ball effectively early but only gained 19 yards on seven carries in the second half. Romo (25-of-42, 255 yards) was sacked five times and went back-to-back games without a touchdown pass for the first time in his career.

The Cowboys’ 10 points was their third-lowest total since Dec. 25, 2006 (23-7 loss to Philadelphia). They entered Sunday’s game ranked fifth in scoring average (28.7) and third in total yardage (429.7). Denver’s top-ranked defense only allowed 315 yards.

More maddening, Romo said, was the offense’s inability to reward the defense’s effort. The Cowboys had allowed only seven points until Denver’s 10-point run in the final 5:58, starting with Matt Prater’s 28-yard field goal.

"When the game is in that situation at that time, we knew that our defense was playing great football and any kind of points would have helped out tremendously," Romo said. "It’s very frustrating not to be able to do that."

The defense held Denver scoreless on four straight drives between the second and fourth quarter. But the players left upset that the Broncos managed to score on back-to-back drives late in the fourth.

"We didn’t play good enough to win," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "It doesn’t matter what the offense did. We went into the half and it was our game to win. We were up 10-7 and if they don’t score anymore then we win. They had one long drive on us and one long play. I don’t care how good we played for 64-of-65 plays if there are 65 plays in the game you have to play well for 65 plays. I don’t want to hear the offense getting blamed. We win as a team and we lose as a team."

At 2-2, the Cowboys are tied with the Washington Redskins for last place behind the New York Giants (4-0) and Philadelphia Eagles (2-1). Next up is another road trip against the struggling Kansas City Chiefs (0-4), followed by a relatively early bye week.

"We’re done with the first quarter of the season," Brooking said. "The ball game’s tied up. We’ve got to win the next three quarters. It’s the only way I know to look at it.

"We win the next three quarters and we’re going to be where we want to be."