The Dallas Cowboys came into their game with the Green Bay Packers with the knowledge that both Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles had won their games earlier that afternoon. The stakes were simple to understand. They had to win the game to stay just one back of the leaders. Lose, and they would trail by two games with only three to play, as impossible a situation as they have been in in a year when they have faced nothing but the longest of odds almost from the very beginning.
While they are technically still not eliminated from the playoffs, the 28-7 defeat the Cowboys suffered at the hands of the Packers is about as close to it as you can get kin light of what is going on with the rest of the division. Although the Dallas staff is not going to go into tank mode, there is very little to play for now other than draft position.
The offensive problems for the Cowboys in 2015 were, to a certain degree, encapsulated in the end of their first offensive drive. After Darren McFadden had the one explosive offensive play of the first half for Dallas, a pass to Jason Witten got them to the Green Bay 2 yard line. And then the same sad story we have seen over and over again this season played out.
On first down, the team lined up in their "Heavy" package with three tight ends. And, as has become totally predictable this season when they do that, the run was stuffed in the backfield for a yard loss. If it was a sometime thing, it might make sense to keep dong this, but this formation is simply not working. The Cowboys announce that they are going to run the ball right up the middle, and then are thwarted. It is a failure of coaching and execution, but the biggest issue is that they do not rip that page out of their playbook for now.
Second down saw an incomplete pass to Witten, and then Matt Cassel threw a high ball to Dez Bryant, who got his hands on it but could not hang on. The rebound (of course) bounced right into Sam Shields' arms for an interception. An opportunity to get an early lead became an emotional boost for the Packers.
The Cowboys continued to have just about nothing work for them throughout the first half. Bryant continued to drop balls. Cassel was inaccurate. The offense could not sustain drives. The defense could not get off the field. A great defensive stand to answer the interception was wasted when, as normal, Dallas could not convert a third and one and had to punt, giving Green Bay a short field to drive for their first touchdown. The defense had some good plays throughout the half, but the disparity in possession time and plays run just overwhelmed them.
Just when the game looked completely out of hand, Dallas has a sudden scoring drive, but it did not come the usual way. Dallas went 80 yards in four plays without throwing a pass. The highlight was the 46 yard run by McFadden, very similar to his 50 yard run in the first quarter. A highlight was La'el Collins leading the way for the whole run in a remarkable display of speed for a man his size. It was capped by Robert Turbin going seven yards up the gut with no Packer coming within an arm's length of laying a hand on him. The game was suddenly 14-7.
Dallas' offense would continue to sputter, but the defense seemed to step up, finding some pressure and forcing punts. But Matt Cassel continued to complete third down passes that were short of the first down marker. While this is also on the receivers, it also seems to be a matter of timing and Cassel always finding the guy who is just a yard or so shy. And all Green Bay had to do was find one more scoring drive to put things out of reach. They finally managed that with under five minutes left in the game as the Dallas defense broke down on a 2nd and 25 play to allow James Starks to go all the way in for a touchdown. A tiring defense would yield one more touchdown that made the score look more like the embarrassment the game really was.
Everyone is looking for who to blame for the debacle of this year, but this is just a bizarre collapse. The inability to win without Tony Romo points to much deeper issues than almost anyone imagined during the preseason. And it extends throughout the team. Although the defense has looked better than the offense for most of the year, there still is the mystifying and almost statistically inexplicable failure to get any takeaways all season. A staff and roster that was so successful last season returned largely intact. The loss of Romo probably would have kept them from doing as well, but it should not have led to such a systemic collapse.
It isn't totally over. Except it probably is. As Don Meredith used to say, turn out the lights, because this party is done.