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Cowboys news: Dallas playoff hopes crushed, Mike McCarthy defends questionable decisions

The Cowboys news isn’t good on this Friday.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys just squandered their only chance to make the playoffs in a well-deserved loss - David Moore, DMN

After a surprise win in Minnesota reignited playoff talk, Thursday’s debacle has basically closed that window for the Cowboys.

It will take a few more weeks for it to become official.

The Cowboys might even tease their fans with an unexpected victory in these next five-and-a-half weeks, no matter how unfathomable that seems in the aftermath of what took place on Thanksgiving.

But make no mistake. The Cowboys lost the division and their only chance to make the playoffs with Thursday’s 41-16 loss at AT&T Stadium.

Any pretense that Dallas can win the NFC East is now gone. Any talk about climbing back into contention is ludicrous.

The Cowboys have lost three division games in the last four-and-a-half weeks. The team has been outscored 89-28 in those games.

5 thoughts from Cowboys-Washington: Terrible fake punt call dooms Dallas, and its season appears over - Calvin Watkins, DMN

The Cowboys really made a mistake by choosing to throw the ball on a fourth-down play that was under a yard to go.

Fourth-and-1 questions

In the first half, there was a questionable play call by offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. On a third-and-1 from the Cowboys’ 34, CeeDee Lamb was stopped for no gain on a jet sweep. So on fourth-and-1, Andy Dalton threw a pass to Lamb that was incomplete, though contact occurred during the play. However, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Dalton Schultz made everything moot. Why not run the ball with Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard? With the short field, Washington was able to score on a Logan Thomas five-yard reception to take a 17-10 lead. These short down-and-distance situations raised so many questions for the Cowboys. Early in the second quarter, there was a third-and-1 from the Dallas 44 and Pollard gained one yard while breaking two tackles in doing so. After seeing Pollard’s accomplishments, it was interesting to see Moore call a jet sweep and a pass. Just give the ball to Elliott. Or, as we said, Pollard.

Then there was the crazy fake punt call.

Worst fake punt of the season

There are so many plays that can determine a game, maybe even a season. Thursday afternoon, we probably saw the end of the Cowboys’ chances of making a legit run to the postseason when they tried a fake punt with 12:13 left in the fourth quarter at their own 24. Yes, at their own 24. Faced with a fourth-and-10, deep snapper LP Ladouceur sent the ball to upback Darian Thompson, who moved toward his left and gave the ball to Cedrick Wilson. Punter Hunter Niswander tried to get out and block Khaleke Hudson, who made the tackle of Wilson. It was a terrible play-call at that moment of the game. It’s almost hard to excuse.

Mike McCarthy defends fake punt call in fourth quarter of Cowboys’ loss to Washington - Jeremy Bergman, NFL.com

It’s hard to understand what the Cowboys coaches were thinking on the fake punt call, but coach Mike McCarthy tried to explain it.

“You won’t get anywhere if you’re thinking about negatives all the time,” McCarthy said. “Obviously it was a solid play call, it’s a good play design. Their gunner made a good play, came off of it. He put us in a high-low read for Cedrick.

“You never convert them obviously if you don’t call them and if you don’t believe in them. I clearly understood the situation when it was called.”

McCarthy’s power of positivity did not take hold Thursday evening, though he can’t be blamed for lack of trying.

...

“There’s obviously film study that goes into the call, when to call it, but when you call it, you’re obviously looking to convert it,” McCarthy said. “You obviously understand on fourth-down calls what your options are: You either convert or you don’t convert. You always know that going into… There’s flow of the game. All those things are factored into that decision. I’m very confident in our players and put them in position to make big plays.”

Updates: Zack Martin, Erving Hurt vs. Washington - Nick Eatman, Rob Phillips & David Helman, DallasCowboys.com

The Cowboys season keeps taking hits as they lost both starting tackles early in the game against Washington.

Zack Martin, making his second straight start at right tackle, limped off the field at the end of Dallas’ field goal drive and headed for the locker room with assistance from the athletic training staff. He has been ruled out of the game with a calf injury.

Cam Erving suffered a knee injury during an 11-yard scramble by quarterback Andy Dalton earlier in the possession. He is questionable to return to the game.

Brandon Knight and Terence Steele are filling in at left and right tackle, respectively.

Erving never returned to the game.

Game Recap: Cowboys Lose to Washington, 41-16 - Kurt Daniels, DallasCowboys.com

The Cowboys offense never got going, and the defense finally broke at the end.

Without [Martin and Erving], particularly the cornerstone Martin, the Dallas offense struggled with Ezekiel Elliott rushing for only 32 yards on 10 carries, the team totaling just 60 yards on the ground as a group. Andy Dalton completed 71. 4 percent of his passes, but totaled only 215 yards through the air, 112 to Amari Cooper, as the Cowboys finished with 247 yards of offense overall.

On the other side of the ball, the Dallas defense surrendered 338 yards of offense, but was continually put in difficult situations due to questionable play calls and turnovers. Washington started three of its possessions deep in Cowboys’ territory, and also had an interception return for a touchdown as well, those four swings of momentum totaling 24 points.

Which was basically the difference in the game.

Cowboys’ lopsided loss to Washington just more of the same - Todd Archer, ESPN

Besides some of the very questionable calls by various members of the coaching staff, there were plenty of other reasons the Cowboys lost.

The inability to make stops in goal-to-go situations. Washington scored two touchdowns and a field goal in those situations Thursday. The Cowboys have given up 21 touchdowns in 23 goal-to-go situations on the season. They have recorded one stop, which came when these teams met in October.

Turning the ball over. Ezekiel Elliott lost a fumble in the third quarter that Washington turned into a field goal and a 20-13 lead. With 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter, Montez Sweat gobbled up an Andy Dalton pass and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.

Red zone ineffectiveness. After Jaylon Smith returned an interception to the Washington 4-yard line in the third quarter, the Cowboys lost 6 yards and settled for a field goal. The Cowboys had three trips inside the Washington 20 and did not score a touchdown.

Washington takes over first place in NFC East with blowout of Cowboys - Charean Williams, PFT

The play by Washington’s Terry McLaurin was about as big as any play on the day.

The Cowboys had a chance to tie it late in the third quarter when Smith intercepted a Smith pass intended for McLaurin. Smith had nobody in front of him for what should have been a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown, but McLaurin caught him from behind at the 4-yard line.

It proved large as Dallas never got any closer, going backward before settling for a 28-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal. The Cowboys kicked three field goals on red zone possessions that reached the Washington 15, 14 and 10.

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