Your Comprehensive Preview of the Dallas Cowboys’ 2011 Season

I previewed every game this season. That’s right. Every game. It’s after the jump.

WEEK 1: at New York Jets On the Wednesday before the game, the New York Post‘s Emily Smith prints an item suggestingTony Romo’s new wife, Candace Crawford, is a werepanther. Initially, Romo refuses to address the report. But by the morning of the game, the media attention becomes so intense that he is forced to reluctantly give a short interview to ESPN’s Ed Werder; he strongly denies Smith’s assertion. Despite the carnival atmosphere leading up to the game, Romo and the Cowboys win, 21-17.

WEEK 2: at San Francisco 49ers The “Candace Crawford is a werepanther” story refuses to die. ESPN dispatches reporters Colleen Dominguez, Rachel Nichols, and Pedro Gomez to Dallas to join Werder in covering the story, and TMZ.com and Access Hollywood send cameras to town, as well. Romo tries to make light of the situation, telling reporters that he’s “always been more of a vampire guy” and introducing Carlos, Jason Witten’s new Alaskan malamute puppy, as his “nephew.” By week’s end, though, he again refuses to speak to the media. Still, a clearly distracted Romo (12-35, 190 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs) manages to lead Dallas to a 10-9 victory.

WEEK 3: Washington Redskins A distraught Crawford is spotted leaving her and Romo’s home early Tuesday morning. Channel 8’s Brett Shipp ambushes Romo after practice on Wednesday, demanding to know how he “could abandon [his] wife at a time like this” and asking if he “treat[ed] all mythological creatures the same way.” When Shipp refuses to let Romo leave, Miles Austin nudges him aside; Byron Harris later reports Shipp is “resting comfortably” and that “his injuries are not deemed serious.” Romo, noticeably thinner than he was in training camp, runs out of energy late in the fourth quarter against the Redskins. A last-gasp drive ends at the ‘Skins’ 20-yard-line. The Cowboys lose 13-7.

WEEK 4: Detroit Lions Ironically, the Carolina Panthers provide Romo and the Cowboys with some relief from the media when reports surface that the team has made contact with Brett Favre about coming out of retirement to play quarterback for them, while top draft pick Cam Newton gets up to speed. ESPN sends Werder, Dominguez, Gomez, and Nichols to Favre’s Mississippi home, and John Clayton, Herm Edwards, Mike Golic, Trent Dilfer, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, and Trey Wingo to Carolina’s HQ. Freed from distraction, the Cowboys roll, 41-10.

WEEK 5: Bye Week Romo and the team enjoy another controversy-free week while Favre continues to prolong his decision to return to football. There is a mild furor when Romo leaves the team — along with Witten, DeMarco Murray, and the guy who plays Rowdy — to spend a long weekend in Galveston. But mostly because everyone agrees it’s kind of a boring choice.

WEEK 6: at New England Patriots Werepanthergate gets fresh legs when former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin appears shirtless on the cover of True Blood fanzine Sookie Sookie Now, sporting fangs and a smear of blood across his chest. In the accompanying interview, Irvin says he “can’t be certain” that Crawford is a werepanther but that, in the White House days, he “used to party with a shape-shifter named Charmagne” and that “anything is possible.” Jerry Jones responds that, “Michael, of course, is part of the Dallas Cowboys family and that, as such, we treat him as a member of the family, like you do, and sometimes you have to ignore that which is, as you know, part and parcel of that and so on.” The Patriots pound the Cowboys, 38-0, as Romo throws 4 INTs in the first half and watches from the bench the entire fourth quarter.

WEEK 7: St. Louis Rams Romo, now thin to the point of being gaunt, is held out of practice all week, and refuses to speak to the media. In solidarity with their QB, so does the rest of the team, leaving Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones to do all the talking. Running out of available topics, ESPN Dallas’ Matt Mosley jokingly asks Jones if, should Crawford turn out to actually be a werepanther, would he consider signing her to play strong safety. Jones says that, “Of course, you know, in my capacity as general manager of the Cowboys, I would have to look at all available options to make our Cowboys team better, which, to answer the question you just asked me, certainly would have to include doing my due diligence to see if, of course, a werepanther would fit in.” Romo doesn’t suit up, but Jon Kitna leads the team to a 10-3 win that sort of feels like a loss anyway.

WEEK 8: at Philadelphia Eagles The werepanther controversy finally pays dividends as Michael Vick is bombarded with questions regarding his feelings about werepanthers, and if he would ever consider training them to fight one another. A flustered Vick throws two picks before leaving with a hip contusion. Romo, back in action, throws 3 TDs in a 24-7 win.

WEEK 9: Seattle Seahawks The Cowboys catch a break when ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly, in a crowded lockerroom, asks Denver QB Tim Tebow to turn a cooler full of Tangerine Rain Gatorade into wine. The media feeding frenzy is, predictably, intense, with even presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry weighing in. In contrast, the climate around ‘Boys is so calm, Alan Peppard notes that Crawford felt comfortable enough to attend a team charity event during the week. Cowboys win, 23-10.

WEEK 10: Buffalo Bills The detente is short-lived. Deadspin runs a series of photos, purportedly showing Crawford in full werepanther transformation. The photos are low quality, but the images are hard to ignore. Romo throws a team-record 7 INTs, five of which are returned for TDs, and the Cowboys lose 42-0. After the game, Romo announces he is leaving the team “for the time being” to focus on his family, but refuses to confirm or deny the otherworldly nature of his wife.

WEEK 11: at Washington Redskins Desperate to salvage a still-promising season, Jones convinces Favre to finally come out of retirement. ESPN broadcasts SportsCenter live from Valley Ranch all week. But, mostly due to his unfamiliarity with the playbook, Favre fails to lead the Cowboys to a win. Despite the 17-13 loss, Favre says it “felt good to be back out there with the guys, throwing the ol’ ball around.”

WEEK 12: Miami Dolphins Romo and Crawford appear on Piers Morgan Live to admit that Crawford is, in fact, a werepanther. Now that Favre is back, ESPN loses interest in the story, but the couple appears on the cover of InTouch, US Weekly, People, and Jet. Meanwhile, Favre looks every second of his age, throwing 4 INTs — including an ill-advised no-look, left-handed shovel pass — as the Cowboys fall 28-6.

WEEK 13: at Arizona Cardinals Rumors circulate that Jones has met with Romo and Crawford in an attempt to convince both of them to join the team. During a wide-ranging interview on The Ben & Skin Show, Romo downplays the rumors but adds that Crawford, in werepanther form, is faster than any player in the league “by far.” Favre has his best showing as a Cowboy, throwing 1 TD and filming a new Wranglers ad, and the team wins 22-14.

WEEK 14: New York Giants Crawford and Romo join the team on the sidelines, and the Cowboys, buoyed by their presence, dominate an over-matched Giants squad, 35-16. Giants QB Eli Manning admits later that the sight of Crawford “rattled me a little bit” and says that he has had a strong fear of felines since a stray tomcat attacked him in New Orleans as a boy.

WEEK 15: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Controversy returns as ESPN’s Werder reports there was an altercation between Crawford and Favre late Wednesday night at Valley Ranch. Details are unclear, but Favre shows up in Tampa with a noticeable scratch on his face. Favre plays poorly in the first two quarters, and is benched for the second half of a desultory 13-10 loss. After the game, he announces he is done for good and will be headed directly to Mississippi.

WEEK 16: Philadelphia Eagles Romo makes a triumphant return behind center, throwing 4 TDs in a 28-3 win. After the game, he walks around in a Dillon Panthers t-shirt, but refuses to say anything to reporters, other than “I hope that, going forward, we can focus on football.”

WEEK 17: at New York Giants Needing a victory to make the playoffs, the game comes down to the final series. Romo leads the team the Giants’ 5-yard-line with 8 seconds left, down by six points. But Romo bobbles the shotgun snap and the game — and the season — ends with him running backwards to avoid the Giants’ defense. He is finally brought down at the 27-yard-line. After the game, Romo leaves without showering. Jones says that, “Going forward, into next season and beyond, we need better play in the secondary and at running back, and there is really very much a possibility that the werepanther thing, certainly, hurt us in some ways.”

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