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Cowboys hot topic: Was going 3-3 without Zeke success or failure?

It all may depend on how you define it.

Kansas City Chiefs v Dallas Cowboys
He’s back - but did the team do enough without him?
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It has been a long six weeks for the Dallas Cowboys as they waited out the suspension of running back and offensive centerpiece Ezekiel Elliott. Now it is done, and Zeke is set to take the field this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

The problem is that it may be too late to salvage the season and get the Cowboys into the playoffs. In order for them to do so, they have to not only win their last two games, but need some help in the form of the Detroit Lions losing one game and one of the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, or Atlanta Falcons losing both their remaining games. (Apologies if there is another scenario out there I am unaware of.)

At the time Elliott started his suspension, Dallas was sitting at 5-3, and was still very much in the thick of things. That quickly went south as the team had a terrible three-game losing streak where they just could not do anything offensively, and were blown out in each.

Just when it looked that all hope was lost (at least according to social media), the team then went on a three-game winning streak, with two convincing wins followed by the cliff-hanger finish in a win over the Oakland Raiders last Sunday.

If you are slow on the math, that means that the Cowboys sit at 8-6. Winning out would give them a 10-6 record. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, that would be a pretty good season by most standards. Double-digit wins are kind of a cutoff in the NFL, and usually are good enough for a trip to the playoffs..

So has Dallas done a good job just to still be in contention at this point? The odds have actually improved for them a bit each week since they remembered how to win games. Staying alive was largely the goal for them when the suspension started. If you look back, there was a bit of a consensus that the team had to win at least three of the six games to have any chance. That is exactly what they did.

Of course, they would be in control of their own destiny (trite as that phrase is) if they had found just one more W earlier in the year. The four blowout losses this season were all games that they just seemed destined to lose, but there are those two frustrating losses to the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers. Both were games the Cowboys had a lead during the fourth quarter, but could not hold on.

And both were games with Elliott on the field.

It is not really all that surprising that Dallas would lose half the games in his absence. In truth, things looked so bad, and created such despair in the fans, because of the lopsided scores in the losses and the inept offensive output. There are still many questions about the team, and how much it depends on Elliott to make things work (although for Dallas, he is more equivalent to a starting quarterback than anything else). And it is possible they will have to get through the next game, at least, without Tyron Smith. He had a knee injury during the Raiders game that is reported as not serous, but that could still force him to sit.

The simple fact is that the Cowboys left themselves in a position where their eventual playoff fate depends as much on other teams as on their own performance the rest of the way. That is seldom a recipe for success. Actually, when some of your pathways to the postseason rest on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, or the Cincinnati Bengals winning some games, you are usually in deep trouble.

The consolation prize for them, if you will, is that just one more win would finally give Dallas back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2008-2009. But that is not going to be enough for most fans.

The only thing that matters is whether the Cowboys can indeed squeeze into that last wild card spot. If they do, then the 3-3 stretch without Zeke will have been just enough (imagine how huge Jeff Heath and his two great plays at the end of the Oakland game will loom then). If they stumble, or just don’t get enough help, then it will have been too little.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. That is where we may be in the offseason. Let’s hope not.

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