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Cowboys lose 25-22 to the Cardinals, playoff seeding takes a hit

Sadly, Dallas looks like a pretender again.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
It was a rough day for the home team.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys came into their last home game of the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals needing to prove they were a legitimate power in the NFC. Instead, a 25-22 defeat left them with the same questions that have plagued them all season. The offense sputtered, the defense was far less able to contain a good quarterback, and we are not sure just what prospects they have going into the playoffs.

Winning this game was important for the Cowboys, as both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams survived with last-minute wins earlier in the day. A victory would have meant the Cowboys were still holding the number two seed, while the loss now drops them back into number four. More importantly, Dallas needed to win to make some claim to being a legitimate playoff contender. That looks very shaky.

They certainly didn’t get off to a good start. After getting the ball to open the game, they stalled after an initial first down. The Cardinals got off to a much stronger start. Running back Greg Dortch, pressed into service because of injuries, burst off right tackle for 26 yards, and then Chase Edmunds went up the middle for 14. Just two plays and Arizona was in Cowboys territory after starting from their own 16. A few plays later, Trevon Diggs bit on a double move and Kyler Murray completed a deep ball to A.J. Green for 42 yards. Dallas’ defense made a stand there and held the damage to a field goal.

The next possession almost started with a disaster for the Cowboys as Budda Baker almost stepped in front of a Dak Prescott pass for what would have been an easy six points. That was a recurring concern through the first half, as he would see at least four of his passes tipped, and was truly fortunate to not get one picked as they repeatedly went up in the air. The defenders just could not get to them in time. After that, Dallas would get to the Cardinals 20 before a false start backed them up. That led to a 43-yard attempt by Greg Zuerlein which he missed. The Cowboys staff may not be willing to talk about the liability he has become, but they should.

Arizona had a rare three and out on the next series. Dallas reciprocated after a La’el Collins holding call wiped out an easy first down run by Tony Pollard. It looked like the Cowboys would get off the field on the next series, but Kliff Kingsbury dialed up a fake punt that succeeded when Jonathan Ward caught the pass by pinning it against Nahshon Wright’s helmet, on a play that also drew a DPI flag. That would keep alive a drive that would go for 15 yards and culminate in another fourth-down play that turned into a one-yard touchdown pass to Antoine Wesley. The Cardinals had a 10-0 lead, and the Cowboys seemed to have no answer.

Dallas would finally show some life with an eleven-play, 77-yard drive to get their first points of the game, capping it with a 21-yard score from Prescott to Michael Gallup. But even this came with bad news, as he suffered an apparent knee injury and would be ruled out for the remainder of the game. That pulled the Cowboys within three points, but they left a minute and twenty-five seconds on the clock. Somehow Arizona would manage to run ten plays and get a 53-yard field goal from Matt Prater, and a six-point lead.

The Cardinals would get the kickoff coming out of half, and put together another scoring drive, marching 75 yards in just eight plays. The killer was a 43-yard completion to Christian Kirk. It gave them a twelve-point lead, 19-7, as they elected to go for the two-point conversion and failed.

By this point, things were beginning to snowball on Dallas, They were unable to sustain drives as the run was ineffective early and unusable late, Prescott began missing throws, receivers were dropping ones he did get to them, and penalties killed drives. Defensively, the Cowboys had no answer for the deep pass from Murray. His legs were not the threat many had feared early, but as the defense got worn down, he began to hurt them.

The Cardinals added another field goal, but the worst part for Dallas was that they went three and out both before and after the kick. It was now a 22-7 deficit with the third quarter running down. They needed something.

Finally they did get a big play as Dorance Armstrong got the first (and only) sack of Murray on the day. It, along with a false start, led to the Cardinals punting from their own five-yard line. CeeDee Lamb would field it around midfield, and get the ball to the Arizona 31. It was by far the best field position of the day for their offense, but things were still ragged. It would take a fourth-down conversion on Prescott’s legs to set up a two-yard touchdown throw to Cedrick Wilson. They would line up for a two-point try to cut it to a seven-point game, but Prescott would get flagged and they would instead try the extra point. Zuerlein just got it inside the upright. It would leave them down by eight with most of the fourth quarter left to play.

They would force a punt, but the disaster they had skirted so often before finally struck as Prescott would fumble the ball trying to make something out of a busted play. It gave the visitors the ball back at the Dallas 44. They would get another field goal out of it, and now held an eleven-point advantage with eight and a half minutes left in the game.

The offense would need to drive and score without taking too much time. They would need a fourth and one conversion to Cedrick Wilson, and he would later throw a 31-yard completion to Tony Pollard on a double pass, and they would get a four-yard touchdown to Amari Cooper. This time, the two-point conversion would work, with Wilson catching it. Now the Cowboys only trailed by three points. The biggest problem was only having 4:42 on the clock. They would have to kick off, stop a Cardinals attack they had struggled with most of the game, and drive for their own score.

The problem with that is that Murray is dangerous whether he is throwing or running. He and his teammates would get yards and first downs, bleeding clock. The Cowboys had to call timeouts to try and salvage clock, and that left them unable to challenge a play just before the two minute warning that certainly looked like an Arizona fumble. But the rules, right or wrong, are the rules, and this game just got away from Dallas.


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