It’s not surprising the season of the 2020 Dallas Cowboys came to an end in disappointing fashion. It might be a little surprising it came as a result of a struggling New York Giants team as the home team prevailed on Sunday, 23-19. It was a game filled with a lot of frustration, from a non-existent early offense to a too-little-too late finish that kept us on the edge of our seats. It brought about some feelings that we might’ve forgotten we had as this team suckered us in to those anxious-feeling moments one last time. Here are ten thoughts on the Cowboys loss to the Giants.
1. Such a ridiculously slow start
After three straight games where this team put up at least 30 points, it was painful to watch the offense struggle so badly. Early on, the Cowboys offense could not get anything going to save their life. During their first five possessions of the game, the offense only gained a total of 34 yards with a pathetic average of just 1.6 yards per play. That is not how you want to start out in the team’s biggest game of the season.
2. Third-down deficiencies
The Cowboys started the game 0 for 5 on third down, but they did pick things up as they converted six of their remaining 12 attempts on third down. But would you believe the Giants offense didn’t covert a single third down the entire game? That’s right, the Giants offense scored 23 points while going 0-for-7 on the money down.
On one hand, the Cowboys defense played really well on third down, getting the Giants offense off the field in those situations. But on the other hand, the defense didn’t show up on early downs allowing the Giants offense to just move the ball at will to where often times they never got to third down.
Losing a game where your opponent never had to convert a single third down (0 for 7) is such a Cowboys thing to do.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 3, 2021
3. Losing their cool
When points are scarce, the last thing you want to do is give your opponent second chances. In what was clearly an emotionally charged game, the Cowboys got bit twice with personal foul penalties. After Trevon Diggs tackled Sterling Shepard for a one-yard gain, the defense had the Giants offense in a 3rd-and-9, but they were given a fresh set of downs when Jourdan Lewis decided to headbutt a Giants player.
The Cowboys got hit with another personal foul penalty when Randy Gregory was called for unnecessary roughness after shoving a Giants lineman. Replay showed that it was the Giants center, and perpetual instigator, Nick Gates, that jumped on the pile late, but the Cowboys needed to do a better job keeping their cool in those heated moments.
4. Got two takeaways, needed three
For the fourth straight game, the Cowboys defense had multiple takeaways in a game. On this day, the Giants were in a giving mood as they lost the ball on a muffed handoff exchange as well as an interception when the ball bounced off the hands of tight end Evan Engram. The Cowboys defense was in the perfect spot to pounce each time.
Of course, it would’ve been nice if the Giants gave up the ball a third time which almost happened when running back Wayne Gallman put the ball on the turf in what ended up being the game-cinching run. Gallman gained enough for the first down, but in all the excitement just lost control of the ball. There was a moment where we thought that maybe, just maybe, the Cowboys season had been given new life after the referee signaled a Cowboys recovery. But then the refs reconvened and ruled what we all saw in the replay and it was that the Giants had recovered the ball. So close.
It’s still nice seeing the Cowboys defense take the ball away even if these instances came more from New York foul ups. Dallas finished the year with 12 takeaways over their last four games, which is more than they had during their first 12 games of the season. That’s quite the improvement.
5. Gutsy performance by Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton was just terrible early on. Not only was he misfiring frequently, but some were so bad that the Cowboys were fortunate they didn’t turn into costly picks. As the game wore on, Dalton started settling down and connecting with his receivers. He finished the game going 29/47 for 243 yards.
After hitting all three of his star receivers for big plays last week, he wasn’t able to pull out any huge gains this week. He did spread the ball around well as the big three of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb all had at least 40 yards receiving, but not more than 50. Instead, Dalton Schultz ended up being the team’s leading receiver with seven catches for 70 yards.
While the passing game was held in check, Dalton came through with some key runs. He actually led the team in rushing with 48 yards on seven carries, including some nice scrambles and a crucial fourth-down keeper on a read-option play.
The Cowboys quarterbacks haven’t fared well against the Giants when they take off running as Dalton had his left hand stepped on by a 300-pound defender. Credit Dalton for showing great toughness to stick it out and keep making plays for the offense.
6. Zeke’s toughness
Ezekiel Elliott’s 42 yards on 14 carries doesn’t mean anything the box score, but his fight was very much needed for this game. Multiple times the Cowboys running back showed off his toughness with some strong finishes. The holes weren’t plentiful on this day, but Elliott continued to push with those powerful legs for some much needed gains.
Even though the rushing efficiency wasn’t there, the Zeke effect was felt. Early on, when it looked as if Elliott was hobbled, the Giants defense used more players to defend the pass, making it difficult for Dalton to find open receivers. But the Cowboys didn’t abandon the run, forcing the Giants to be mindful of the rushing attack. This opened things up for Dalton in the passing game.
7. Why not go for two?
Midway through the third quarter the Cowboys made it a 20-16 point game after Elliott pushed his way into the end zone for a one-yard score. Of course, they had an opportunity to make it a three-point game by going for two, but chose to kick the extra point instead.
For such an “analytics” guy like Mike McCarthy, it was surprising to see him defy the odds by choosing to kick there.
The decision to go for two seems even more correct in a game situation where points are hard to come by. What stings even more is that this decision came back to bite them as the Cowboys needed to score a touchdown on their final drive rather than a field goal. Hindsight is 20/20, but not having the foresight to make the correct decision there is aggravating.
8. The inexcusable no-challenge
And if the coaching decision to kick the PAT wasn’t enough to upset you, the Cowboys provided a curtain call by not challenging a huge third-down catch with six and an half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Replay clearly showed that Giants receiver Dante Pettis used the ground to complete the catch, but for some reason the Cowboys didn’t throw the challenge flag. Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, and even Mike Pereira were very puzzled by the decision as well, as there was clear evidence of the ball hitting the ground without the receiver having complete control.
Had the Cowboys challenged the call, the play would have been ruled incomplete, taking the Giants out of field goal range, keeping it a 20-19 game. This was extremely costly because instead of having to get into the end zone at the end, the Cowboys could have instead kicked the game-winning field goal.
It’s unclear where the blame falls as McCarthy is at the mercy of the guys upstairs who should signal him when to throw the flag. The broadcast team kept harping on McCarthy indicating he had a look at it on the big screen, but he can’t risk those precious timeouts if he’s not sure it’s going to be overturned. Unfortunately, the guys upstairs had the correct vantage point and they failed in a big way.
9. Costly sack
The Cowboys backup offensive line unit picked a bad time to have a poor game. On the day, Dalton was sacked six times. Three of those came courtesy of Leonard Williams. While the offensive line had struggles all day, it was sack no. 6 that did the Cowboys in.
When Dalton found Schultz for a nice seven-yard gain on a 3rd-and-1 that gave the Cowboys the ball first-and-goal on the Giants seven-yard line, things were looking real promising. The Giants even had to burn a timeout to allow them time should the Cowboys offense score and jump ahead. Unfortunately, that feeling of hope turned to despair when Dalton was sacked creating a second-and-goal from the 17-yard line. To make matters worse, Lamb dropped a pass over the middle on the very next play that would’ve set them back up inside the ten-yard line.
The Cowboys drive (and season) came to an end when Dalton floated a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by rookie safety Xavier McKinney.
10. It’s a moot point
It would’ve been nice to end the season on a four-game winning streak, but the real prize was that NFC East crown that came with the right to host a playoff game next week. The Cowboys ended their season on their own terms, but had they been able to pull it off, all it would’ve done is delayed the disappointment as the Cowboys would’ve gotten no help for those pesky Philadelphia Eagles.
In the Sunday night game, Washington took care of business, beating the Eagles 20-14. With that win, Washington takes down the NFC East. Not only that, but the Cowboys officially will have the no. 10 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.