What the Dallas Cowboys did last season was special. A Monday Night Football loss to the Tennessee Titans (in Amari Cooper’s debut and Jason Witten’s return home... funny how that worked out) seemed to have buried them. Amazingly they rallied, won five games in a row, put themselves in prime position within their division, and won the NFC East for the third time in five years.
It was a bit of an improbable run when you look back on it. What the Cowboys did last season was special and it was riveting. So much of that was because their wins were classic games that went down to the wire, but as many people pointed out over the offseason, that wasn’t necessarily sustainable.
Dallas won a lot of one-possession games in 2018
There are 16 games in the regular season. The Cowboys played a whole season and then two playoff games a year ago which made for 18 games total. Do you know how many of those contests were decided by one score?
14. That’s insane.
One-possession games played by the 2018 Dallas Cowboys:
- Week 1 at Carolina (16-8 loss)
- Week 2 vs. Giants (20-13 win)
- Week 4 vs. Lions (26-24 win)
- Week 5 at Houston (19-16 loss)
- Week 7 at Washington (20-17 loss)
- Week 10 at Philadelphia (27-20 win)
- Week 11 at Atlanta (22-19 win)
- Week 12 vs. Redskins (31-23 win)
- Week 13 vs. Saints (13-10 win)
- Week 14 vs. Eagles (29-23 win)
- Week 16 vs. Buccaneers (27-20 win)
- Week 17 at New York (36-35 win)
- Wildcard Round vs. Seahawks (24-22 win)
- Divisional Round at Los Angeles (30-22 loss)
This is in fact, in no world or universe, sustainable to any degree. Consider that two of those wins (Lions and at Atlanta) were last-second field goals. The win at home against Philadelphia was due to a tipped pass winding up in Amari Cooper’s hands in overtime. The final game of the regular season came down to an unbelievable throw from Dak Prescott to Cole Beasley to secure victory. In some sense, those are all sort of a flip of the coin.
Cowboys haven’t won a one-possession game so far in 2019
You can’t bank on always winning one-possession games, oftentimes because that final possession isn’t even one that your offense gets to have. When you live life too close to the edge you’re either going to prosper or get burnt, generally you’ll probably split the difference on average. This obviously wasn’t the case for the Cowboys last season though as things went their way more often than not when the going got tough.
Such has not been the case nine games through 2019. This season the Cowboys have yet to win a one-possession game with their latest chance coming just last Sunday when they squandered away a would-be win. Dallas has had cruise-control-level wins against the Giants (twice), Redskins, Dolphins, and Eagles, but when matters have been more difficult they haven’t been able to close.
So much of this is obviously because of the huge holes that the team has put themselves in. The loss to Green Bay wasn’t ultimately decided by one possession, but it was still a big mountain that they had to climb. They were down 31-3 at one point to the Packers, 21-3 to the Jets, and most recently 14-0 to the Minnesota Vikings. Ultimately their one-possession games (all losses) were against the Saints, Jets, and Vikings.
That the Cowboys have been able to narrow the Jets (this is said with a huge sigh) and Vikings games to one possession after finding themselves down big is a testament to their offense (currently ranked number one in DVOA by Football Outsiders). That’s also why they’ve been able to throttle teams - when they’re on, they’re on.
The NFL is so often a one-possession game across the league and the Cowboys need to find ways to close in those sorts of situations or the losses are going to continue to pile up.
That wouldn’t be very good.