It may have looked like a bang with the Dallas Cowboys putting the most points of the season on the board and getting the biggest winning margin as well, thrashing Washington 47-16. But it was really just a whimper as the Philadelphia Eagles delivered a similar beating to the New York Giants. The Eagles will represent the NFC East in the playoffs as a result.
It was the final frustration in a season that has been one of wasted opportunity and incredibly uneven efforts for Dallas. Had they found a way to win just one of the games they lost, they would have made the playoffs. But they largely crumpled when it mattered. Now we face what promises to be a rather tumultuous offseason, that starts now.
Despite the eventual results, this game still displayed many of the issues that plagued the Cowboys all season. Above all, they were inconsistent. They would have a scintillating drive, then let Washington come right back at them. The defense was great one drive, and Swiss cheese on another. Penalties either stalled their own drives or kept Washington’s alive, such as the facemask call on Jaylon Smith that nullified a sack and led to a Washington TD. Dak Prescott made great throws and had misses, plus lost the handle a couple of times, one of which was recovered by the opponent. Michael Gallup dropped balls and made an absolutely beautiful, toe-tapping touchdown catch. Ezekiel Elliott had his longest run of the season for one score and caught a TD pass, but also came close to losing a couple of fumbles himself. Special teams had some real clunkers, including a punt that only netted 18 yards. The defense got takeaways on the first two Washington possessions, but the offense could only get two Kai Forbath field goals out of it.
Mostly, this was a case of the superior Dallas talent just winning out over a very depleted Washington team. It was a fitting cap to a season where the Cowboys scored at least 31 points in eight victories, but could not find a way to win otherwise. In the eight losses, they scored 24 or less. It is a strange split.
Of course, the big question now is what is going to happen with the head coaching job. While missing the playoffs is of course the biggest factor in the widely expected departure of Jason Garrett, this game also provided some additional evidence of why things need to change in Dallas. The Cowboys won the toss to start the game, but rather than defer as is now common, they chose to receive to “set the tone” as Troy Aikman observed. They almost did - the wrong way. They went three-and-out, and only the interception by Jaylon Smith to stop Washington allowed them to get on the board first. It was the kind of “making calls from the gut” that has emerged as a real concern about Garrett. Late in the game, the Cowboys had a third and one at the Washington 26, and were driving for another touchdown, and decided to get too cute. Instead of running the ball with Elliott, who had one of his best overall performances of the season, they tried a pass, and Prescott got sacked. It wound up having no effect on anything at all, but it was reflective of the frequent questionable thinking from the entire staff.
It was a game where we the impressive numbers put up by some of the players just added to the frustrations of this season. Elliott had well over 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Gallup scored three times, and was pushing 100 yards receiving. Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb both had excellent performances, also getting close to the century mark receiving. Cooper’s 48 yard reception in the second quarter provided a huge spark to the offense. They simply took off from that point and the outcome was mostly about the Cowboys offense overwhelming the undermanned Washington defense.
Why did this kind of performance only show up half the time this year? The search for those answers will likely fall on a new head coach.
It shouldn’t have ended like this. But it did.