Sunday, December 26, 2010

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This loss doesn't fall just at the right foot of David Buehler. Aim a lot higher than that when assigning blame.

That doesn't excuse Buehler for missing an extra point after the Dallas Cowboys took their first lead of the game with 1:41 remaining. That ended up being the difference in a 27-26 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the last-place team in the NFL's worst division.
Just don't let owner/general manager Jerry Jones off the hook.

Jones is the one who insisted that the Cowboys count on Buehler as their placekicker this season. When Buehler fails on field goals or extra points, the boss gets a share of the blame.

"I don't even fathom missing an extra point. I don't even fathom," Jones said. "I just can't think about an extra point, and so that's a freak thing when we miss an extra point."

Sorry, but you can't act too shocked after any Buehler miss. He's been erratic all season, much like he was at USC.

Buehler ranks in the league's bottom third in field-goal accuracy at 77.4 percent. His misses were key factors in losses to the Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, although the 59-yarder as time expired on Thanksgiving can't be held against him.

And it certainly hasn't been all bad for Buehler. He made game-winning kicks twice this month, making a 38-yarder against the Indianapolis Colts and a 39-yarder against the Redskins. He's made four of five attempts from 50-plus yards Cardinals. And he's back to being a dominant kickoff man after an early-season slump.

Buehler made both field-goal attempts against the Cardinals, drilling 42- and 53-yarders. But he missed the gimme, going wide left on the extra point, and that's all that mattered after the Cowboys' Christmas loss.

"This year has been a roller coaster," Buehler said. "We've had some ups lately, some downs at the beginning of the season. This is rock bottom almost."

Jones was "mad as hell" after the loss and assumed that all Cowboys fans felt the same way. I wouldn't be so sure about that.

When bad teams lose late in the season, there is always a silver lining. This pretty much wrapped up a top-10 draft pick for the Cowboys. It should also force Jones to re-evaluate whether the Cowboys can rely on Buehler as the full-time kicker.

"I think he's proven he's a quality kickoff guy but one of the things you want from your kicker is consistency," interim coach Jason Garrett said. "I think he's been a fairly consistent kicker at times and at other times he's missed some kicks, he's certainly capable of making."

The Cowboys can hope that changes next season, crossing their fingers that Buehler develops consistency after working more with kicking consultant Chris Boniol. But they'd be setting themselves up for more disappointment, perhaps with playoff implications next time.

Remember that the Cowboys' didn't draft Buehler to kick field goals and extra points. They selected the strong-legged workout wonder in the fifth round last season to solve their kickoff woes and play other special teams roles. He excelled in that job description as a rookie.

It wasn't until Nick Folk developed a drastic case of the yips that the Cowboys seriously considered Buehler for a points-scoring role. And he wasn't good enough last season to prevent the Cowboys from signing a kicker off the streets after they cut Folk.

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For some reason, Jones determined during the offseason that the Cowboys couldn't afford to use two roster spots on kickers. He basically demanded that Buehler would handle all kicking duties.

Jones needs to reassess the situation. Buehler is a weapon if he can focus on kickoffs and 50-plus-yard field goals. He's a liability if he's counted on to make take every field goal and extra point. Is saving a roster spot really worth the risk?

Buehler understands that NFL kickers don't exactly enjoy job security. All he's really guaranteed right now is the opportunity to finish the season.

"I can't think about that," Buehler said. "I've just got to go out there and do my job."

It's up to Jones -- and anyone who has the owner's ear -- to determine what that job should be.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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