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This Cowboys’ Playoff Game Was Lost In Philadelphia

Unable to learn from 2007, the Dallas Cowboys coaches once again allowed the team to mail in their final “meaningless” game against an NFC East opponent, then came up short in the Divisional Round against a hot team.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What an excruciating way to lose another playoff game. The Cowboys fought gamely to the end, and rallied furiously once they found their rhythm to erase what was once an 18-point deficit, finally tying the game up 28-28 with 4:08 left. The teams would trade long field goals to re-tie the game at 31, but Dallas left Aaron Rodgers one too many plays, and he burned them much like 2014, when Rodgers hit Randall Cobb along the same sideline to put them in position for a first half field goal that would play a major role in the outcome.

There are lots of angles to this game. Any game that comes down to essentially one play means that had any number of things gone differently, the outcome could have been different.

What sticks out to me is how the Cowboys got totally outplayed in the first quarter and a half, when Green Bay drove for three touchdowns in a row to take a 21-3 lead. That’s when the game was lost.

Should we blame the defense for that? Certainly. No team had done that to Dallas’ defense all season.

But another problem was that the offense couldn’t keep pace in the early going. The crazy (and rather ridiculous) unsportsmanlike penalty against Brice Butler killed one drive. The odd decision to have Dak go long to Dez on third and two on the first drive when a Zeke or Dak run, or a pass to Beasley or Witten would have been wiser, kept Dallas to only a field goal. A dropped pass by Terrance Williams killed the third drive, and it was 21-3.

In my view, these misfires were borne out of the decision to rest the rookie quarterback and several other players in the road game in Philadelphia, and essentially take their foot off the gas pedal. Instead of building on the near-perfect demolition of Detroit in week 16, the Cowboys coasted, more interested in finding out if Tony Romo still had it, and giving half the game in a meaningless exercise finding out that Mark Sanchez shouldn’t be re-signed to be the backup quarterback.

Had Tony Romo been our quarterback, a decision to keep him out of harms way in Philly would have made sense. But Dak Prescott was not much of an injury risk, and had shown already this season to come out slowly off of bye games. For example, he didn’t play in the last pre-season game, then didn’t play his best in the opener. His worst game of the year to that point was against Philadelphia, also after a bye. And the second Giants game was off a 10-day break after the Vikings game. Why not try to keep the offense sharp against Philly and send the message that no game is meaningless, and the team is going to come to play regardless the circumstances?

Certainly Dak Prescott played valiantly, as did Ezekiel Elliott. For that, see the Dak and Zeke report.

It sounds like second-guessing, and it is, but did the coaches make the wrong choice? All along they said they didn’t want to repeat 2007, but then did it anyway, in a totally different game but with the same disappointing outcome. This Cowboys team was better than the Packers, but their slow start left them in a hole they couldn’t quite dig out of.

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