When it comes to hopes and dreams in the National Football League, they all rest on the postseason. Part of the difficulty involves making it there. Getting to the playoffs is no easy task, but it is often said that the best way is the one that offers the most opportunity, winning your division. Some NFL teams construct their rosters so as to optimize their chances of winning the division, and thankfully for the Dallas Cowboys, the state of the NFC East is rather easy to conquer.
Such hasn’t always been the case, though, as there have been many times where we have all been left devastated by a Cowboys loss to one of their bitter rivals. We discussed some in recent memory on the latest episode of the NFC East Mixtape which you can listen to on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe on all major podcast platforms, Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Next week we will focus on some great in-division victories so look forward to that, but for the purposes of this week’s conversation we are re-visiting some losses. We kept these to relatively recent history (the last 10 years to be specific) and unfortunately there are still a number of contenders.
While it feels like a lifetime ago we are talking about a Cowboys team that unfortunately lost what were de-facto NFC East title games against each of their rivals in three consecutive seasons. Thankfully this list isn’t comprised entirely of those games.
New York Giants: 2011 Week 14 - Jason Pierre-Paul blocks the game-tying field goal
Honestly speaking. this might be the most painful one of the entire decade. It hurt a lot.
I’ve thought about this game plenty of times in the almost-decade that has passed and two years ago pondered a huge what-if about it.
Many people were understandably upset when the Cowboys lost to the Giants in Week 17 of the 2011 season, but if Dallas had beaten them on December 11th of that year then the second game would have been meaningless. The Cowboys would have won the NFC East in Jason Garrett’s first full season as head coach, and while they likely would not have experienced the same success that Tom Coughlin’s squad did, it would have gone a long way for fans.
What makes this game hurt so much looking back on it is the rut that Dallas was in collectively. They had just come off of an overtime loss on the road against the Arizona Cardinals where Jason Garrett iced Dan Bailey. and losing at home, to the Giants, on primetime, by virtue of a Jason Pierre-Paul block was all kinds of salt in many different wounds.
Cowboys record against the Giants over the last 10 years: 13-7
Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 Week 11 - Philly routs Dallas as the wheels come falling off
While the Giants loss is the most painful one of our list today, this one honestly incites the least amount of headaches when re-visiting it.
You will recall that the Cowboys were coming off of quite an embarrassing loss at this point in time as they had just gotten their doors blown off in Atlanta by Adrian Clayborn. The Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the NFL and ultimately played like it, but anyone who went into this game with legitimate expectations from the Cowboys came way disappointed.
Dallas was only two games into Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension and was also struggling without both Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey. They couldn’t seem to really ever get on solid footing which is why it was so easy for the Eagles to steamroll them.
In hindsight what makes this game particularly galling is that it was, at the time, the worst loss that the Cowboys had ever taken at AT&T Stadium. What is worse about that is that the halftime ceremony of this game featured Jerry Jones being honored for having gone into the Pro Football Hall of Fame three months prior. Sigh.
Cowboys record against the Eagles over the last 10 years: 11-9
Washington Football Team: 2012 Week 17 - Cowboys collapse with the NFC East on the line
You can go ahead and put this one right in the middle of this pain sandwich. This one definitely did not feel great.
The Cowboys managed to lose win-and-in games to each of their division rivals in three consecutive years as noted, but the most embarrassing of those losses came in the 2012 finale when they took on Washington. Then-rookie Robert Griffin III was lighting the league up and taking his team on a surprise run near the end of the season, but the Dallas offense had caught life over the final half of the season with Dez Bryant finally starting to realize his true potential.
Dallas had posted over 400 total offensive yards in back-to-back weeks before visiting Washington, and what’s more is that they had heaped 458 on the same team when they hosted them on Thanksgiving earlier that season (a game the Cowboys lost). The extremely potent offense they had did not show up and the Cowboys lost in painful fashion for the second year in a row.
Interestingly (in a super painful sense) this 2012 season was the last time that Washington had swept Dallas until this past season of 2020. Hopefully there are at least eight more years between now and whenever that ultimately happens again, but thankfully the Cowboys have won more often than not against all of their division rivals over the course of the last decade.
That counts for something, right?