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Cowboys magical season comes to a frustrating end at the hands of the Rams

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The final game didn’t go as planned, but the season sure was a fun ride.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s over. The Dallas Cowboys season was abruptly ended at the hands of a superior Los Angeles Rams team. The Cowboys defense certainly didn’t play up to the standard they set throughout the season. They seemed both befuddled and beaten physically. It was an ugly combination. The offense was wildly inconsistent. Still, the Cowboys didn’t get blown out, and if a few plays, or a few mistakes, hadn’t happened, the final result may have been different. In the end, though, most observers would have to say the better team won the game.

We’ll be breaking down the game, and all the reasons the Cowboys failed. It is a somber moment for Dallas and their fans. Still, even with the loss, it’s not hard to feel good about this team’s future and the ride they took us on this season. It certainly didn’t start well, but by the end of the year, you could envision a team that is going to be a contender, and should be a contender for a while.

Our own OCC has ably shown that this team is the youngest in the league in a lot of important categories. Youth that is not winning is not exciting. Youth that is winning means a potential championship window. The Cowboys have an abundance of young talent that should only improve. Is there any doubt someone like Leighton Vander Esch will be an improved player with a year of experience under his belt? How about the noticeable improvement down the stretch from Michael Gallup who looks like he could be a real weapon at wide receiver? Dallas hasn’t had an offseason to fully incorporate Amari Cooper into the offense. Connor Williams is going to truly benefit from a year in the strength program. The list goes on. And none of this touches on the improvements that can be made in the coaching staff, in free agency and in the draft.

We’re not trying to set up a kool-aid stand here. The Cowboys have problems like any other team. The loss to the Rams exposed a defense that was supposed to be a strength. The offensive coordinator questions hangs out there for the offseason. There are issues, and they will have to work their way through an offseason without a first-round pick. So consider an acknowledgement made to the downside of things. But the way this team fought back from their 3-5 start, to win the division, to win a playoff game, and the way they improved over that time is hard to ignore.

Dak Prescott didn’t have his best game against Los Angeles, he was off-target on a batch of crucial throws, and his decision not to run the ball on some plays was baffling. But his play down the stretch of the season, when the team went on a remarkable 8-1 finish before this loss, shows that he is resembling the guy who went 13-3 in 2016, more than the guy who had an extended slump from the middle of 2017 into the early part of the 2018 season. He still has a lot to work on, but the material for a winning quarterback is in place. One thing he could benefit from would be a more innovative and modern offense. Just because Ezekiel Elliot is in the backfield doesn’t mean the Cowboys couldn’t update the way the operate their offense.

We can feel a painful loss and have a hopeful outlook at the same time. Optimism should be a part of every Cowboys fan’s ‘basket of emotions’ after that loss. We all wanted to win that game, and there’s no excusing some of the issues that cropped up in that game. Looking at context, though, the Cowboys were on the road facing a team that went 13-3 in the regular season. A team that was among the favorites to go to the Super Bowl. There is no shame in losing to that team. It’s frustrating that as bad as the Cowboys played they were still in the game and could have won it. It makes you think that the difference between Dallas and Los Angeles isn’t as big as we, and others, might think. It may be a gap that can be closed in an offseason.

This year is over, but it really feels like this edition of the Cowboys is just getting started.