We have gotten through overreaction Monday, and hopefully you have taken a breath and remembered that the Dallas Cowboys are still in good shape with the best record in the NFC (now tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the entire league). They remain the only team in the NFL that has locked up a playoff spot. Further, they only have to win two of the last three games to have the NFC East crown and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, no matter what any other team does.
But the loss still smarts, especially after the remarkable run the team was on. It is said that the best lessons are learned from adversity, so we hope that works for the team. Meanwhile, here are three things we learned after the disappointing loss to the New York Giants.
As long as he’s healthy, Dak is the quarterback.
Both Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones emphasized that they still have faith in Dak Prescott as the starting quarterback. He certainly has some serious issues to address after two consecutive poor games, but the team has made a commitment to him, and really cannot go back on it. The starting quarterback position is a unique one in football and pretty much all sports. You cannot undermine your starter without risking severe damage to his confidence and future with the team. That is even more true if that quarterback is a rookie. Pulling Prescott for Tony Romo due to bad performance would inevitably be seen as giving up on the rookie, at least in the short term.
The decision to keep him as the starter was not just about a calculation that he gave the Cowboys the best chance to win this season, but that he is the future leader of the franchise, likely for a decade or more. His performance has certainly fallen off since he was named the starter from here on out, but the team had to know that he was going to have bad games. Now they are locked into riding this out and coaching him back up. If he does not recover before the playoffs, it may be a short run for Dallas, but that cannot be changed now.
There is also the fact that, despite his career numbers, Romo still represents a large risk. No matter how healthy he is now, the risk of another season-ending injury is always there. And even if you are convinced that he can withstand the kind of punishment we saw Prescott taking against the Giants, we still don’t know how rapidly Romo would get his own rhythm back. There is certainly no reason to assume that Romo could have done any better against the fierce pass rush and tight coverage Prescott faced on Sunday night.
No matter what we may think as fans, the team has made the call, and it is not going to change, barring some total and complete disaster. And if you were paying attention the past few weeks, you probably knew this was how it was going to go.
The offensive problems were not all on Prescott.
The rookie was not the only problem against the Giants. The entire offense seemed off, with the exception of Ezekiel Elliott, who added another 100-yard effort to his impressive rookie campaign. But receivers were not getting as open as they needed to be, some balls were dropped, and Scott Linehan did not seem to be calling a very good game. The Cowboys have now only converted one third down in each of their last two games. That is not just on the quarterback. There are a lot of issues that need to be fixed.
Hopefully, returning to AT&T Stadium after two road games will help. Something needs to happen, because both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions are doing very well defensively of late, and have gotten hot in the past few weeks. But Prescott needs more support from his teammates.
The Cowboys defense may no longer be just good enough.
Lost in the pain of the loss and the struggles of the offense is that the Dallas D may be hitting its stride. They held the Minnesota Vikings to 15 points, and the Giants only scored 10. That is usually good enough to win. Against New York, they found some pass rush, sacking Eli Manning twice (and getting credit for a third when the ball just slipped out of Manning’s hand on what otherwise would probably have been a touchdown throw). They also managed three takeaways. Sean Lee was simply magnificent. Outside of the Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown and the play that was saved by Manning’s loss of the football, they were consistently making stops and getting off the field. The defense carried the team against the Vikings, and nearly did so in the loss.
That is very encouraging going into the playoffs. If Rod Marinelli can keep his charges playing at that level, the offense will not have to be overwhelming. The roles may be reversed for a bit, with the Cowboys needing the O to just be good enough to win. That may buy the team time to get the offensive problems worked out.
The doom and gloom always comes when a loss happens, and it is worse when there is a lot at stake. The Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East, but instead let the Giants stay alive in their pursuit of Dallas for the division crown. Dallas still has a two game lead over them. They also have the same advantage over the Lions for home-field advantage. Now the coaching staff and the players have to work on fixing things, win a couple of more games, and head into the playoffs.