The Dallas Cowboys came into the final game of the season with hopes to at least still be alive for the playoffs with a win over the New York Giants, but they made too many mistakes and fell short, losing 23-19. Too many field goals instead of touchdowns, a very poor decision by the head coach, and so many of the problems that plagued them earlier in the season left the Giants rather than the Cowboys hoping for the Philadelphia Eagles to defeat the Washington Football Team tonight.
It was a game where the Giants started off red hot, while the Cowboys were visibly struggling on both sides of the ball. The end of the first half would see more frustrations for Dallas. But they seemed to find a rhythm and some luck in the third quarter. A big part of even being in the game at the end was that the defense continued its streak of takeaways.
After allowing New York to get back to a four point lead after Mike McCarthy failed to challenge a pass completion that should have been overturned that got the ball just inside Graham Gano’s range, the Cowboys had the ball needing to score a touchdown. But heavy pressure would lead to an interception in the end zone with just 1:15 left in the game, and the season was over, despite a near recovery of a Wayne Gallman fumble.
It was a game where Dallas came up with almost enough. Andy Dalton would not only lead the last drive, but would be the team’s leading rusher. But the six times he was sacked would have a huge impact. Dalton Schultz would lead all Cowboys receivers, which was a testament to him, but also reflected how the wide receivers were largely held in check by the opponents.
The Cowboys could not have started the game much worse. After deferring on the toss, they let the Giants march almost effortlessly down the field. Starting from their own 22, they did not face a third down, running and throwing for big gains before Sterling Shepard would take the ball 23 yards on an end around for the touchdown. Sean Lee had more than one missed tackle as the defense had no answers. The only thing that went right was Gano missing the extra point. Daniel Jones looked very good in the early going, but both he and Dalton would have more than their share of dropped balls in the game.
Dallas was unable to move the ball and nearly gave the ball up on an interception, but a defensive holding call on CeeDee Lamb saved them. They still had to punt, and it looked like the Giant were going to drive again. But a botched handoff between Daniel Jones and Wayne Gallman led to a Chidobe Awuzie fumble recovery. However, the offense stalled and had to settle for 3. More crucially, Ezekiel Elliott took himself out after a nice pass reception and may have aggravated his leg injury. He would return and have multiple tough runs and some crucial conversions, but it was a worrisome moment.
The Cowboys started to show a little on defense, with Dorance Armstrong doing a nice job in pass coverage, not the first time this season he has handled that assignment. But a stupid penalty by Jourdan Lewis after a play gifted the Giants with a first down, and they really didn’t need the help. Finally, however, the defense forced a punt right after that.
In the early going, Dalton looked off. His first couple of passes just seemed to slip out of his hand, and he was off target on others. Additionally, he was sacked twice in the first quarter as he held the ball too long. With Elliott looking like he was fighting through his injury issue, the team needed Dalton to step up.
The special teams had their own breakdown early, allowing a 20 yard punt return after yet another failed series for the offense. But the defense began to stiffen and forced another punt. After the hot start by the Giants, both teams were unable to do much with the ball, with the first third down conversion for either team not coming until there were only about four and a half minutes left in the first half when Elliott converted a third and one.
The Dallas problems extended to foolish penalties in a game that was pretty chippy from the start, as Jourdan Lewis and Randy Gregory would both be flagged for unneeded activity after the play. The latter led to the second Giants touchdown of the game. At that point, the Cowboys had only put up a total of 29 yards in the game, averaging just 1.5 yards per play. They finally got a bit going on their final possession, including that initial third down conversion, but after the third sack of Dalton, they played for a field goal to draw within seven. It was potentially hazardous decision, leaving New York over two minutes to try and get more points. That is exactly what they would do, driving down the field with the aid of a couple of penalties on the Cowboys’ defense and scoring on a 32 yard pass down the middle. Following a long Greg Zuerlein field goal, it left Dallas in a 11 point hole at halftime, and any hopes of getting into the playoffs withering rapidly.
Dallas badly needed to come out of halftime strong. Instead, they were just as limp and ineffectual on offense has they had been before the break, forced into a three and out. But one positive trend continued for the Cowboys, as Donovan Wilson grabbed a deflected pass on the ensuing Giants series to get the ball back. It seemed to finally provide a spark, with newly extended OC Kellen Moore going up tempo to drive into the red zone. It would take a little help from a defensive holding penalty, but Amari Cooper would get the ball inside the one yard line with a first down to lead to a hard fought touchdown plunge from Elliott, drawing the Cowboys to within four points.
Then a bit of luck got the ball back for Dallas as a phantom crackback block that really didn’t happen helped end the next Giants drive. The Cowboys would drive to the red zone, but stalled yet again and had to settle for another Zuerlein field goal to cut the deficit to a single point with most of the fourth quarter remaining. Another injury concern emerged, however, as Dalton’s left hand was injured when Leonard Williams stepped on it after a scramble for a first down. It would set up the final, unhappy act of the game.