Day after reactions can be extreme and even misleading. Still, after the disappointing loss to the Green Bay Packers, it is no question that the Dallas Cowboys came crashing down to earth. A slow start, some bad miscues, and the seemingly inevitable penalties in critical situations resulted in a disheartening loss. Most glaring, perhaps, was how the vaunted defense under Dan Quinn could not protect a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter. Now the team faces some harsh and unwanted realities, plus some new questions.
A wild card bid may be the only remaining path
The way the Cowboys got to 6-2 before the bye started to seduced fans into feeling real optimism and even a touch of excitement about this team. Now that spell is shattered. While it is still just one game, and we will see if the Cowboys can rebound against the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday in a game that Dallas has opened as a 2-point favorite for some reason, the third loss of the year makes some things much more difficult.
Pending the results of Monday Night Football, it is hard to see how Dallas can overtake the Philadelphia Eagles, who are undefeated and face perhaps the easiest remaining schedule in the league. They also remain behind the New York Giants to even get to second place in the NFC East. We may be forced to hope that the division sends two teams to the playoffs, which appears likely with only seven teams in the NFC having a winning record.
That is hardly a given, though. There is always the risk of some of the teams under .500, including the Packers, getting hot down the stretch. If the Cowboys falter in a few more games, they could see the extremely promising start to the year and how they dealt with Dak Prescott’s injury wasted. The disappointment if this team is sitting at home in January will be huge.
If that happens, Mike McCarthy’s in trouble
Coming into the game, all the talk about McCarthy’s job being in jeopardy seemed nonsensical. Not only did the loss crack that door open, the way it went down means he is suddenly back to coaching for his job.
The decision to go for it on fourth down in overtime is going to generate a ton of criticism, but it was set up by the incomplete pass on third and three that preceded it. Dallas had run the ball on four plays in that series, and the fewest yards gained were seven. The Cowboys were already in Brett Maher’s range, but seemed concerned about the conditions. Had they run on third and three, the likelihood is that they would have gained a new set of downs. While that may fall more on Kellen Moore, this was exactly the kind of situation where McCarthy should have been pushing to keep the ball on the ground, especially with the bad throws Prescott had earlier. Instead, they wound up failing on fourth down, and lost the game.
The buck stops with the head coach, and this one may be a very expensive one for him.
This just doesn’t go away for Dallas. There were drive killers and free yards given up in both regulation and overtime. This also goes back to McCarthy, whose hissy fit after the game about the officiating just reinforces the impression that he is not taking the responsibility he should in this area. There were some very strange calls, both ones that went against the Cowboys and ones where the flags didn’t come out, such as what looked like pass interference on the failed fourth down in OT. That is no excuse for the deflection.
At times, it certainly looks like the zebras tilt things against Dallas, but that is nothing new. McCarthy needs to quit trying to shift the blame and work on both cutting down on the actual infractions and overcoming bad calls that go against his team. Exclaiming to the media he is very, very, very frustrated is childish.
The failure of the defense
It was a terrible collapse in the fourth quarter. While Dan Quinn’s group had some struggles before that, they had given the offense a golden opportunity in the second quarter when DeMarcus Lawrence stripped the ball from Aaron Rodgers at the Packers’ ten-yard line. It was not their fault it was squandered by an interception returned out of the end zone. But the way they surrendered two touchdown drives that let Green Bay force overtime was extremely disappointing. When needed the most, there were no answers for the Packers’ offense. And as we worried before the game, the run defense was too porous.
Micah Parsons had his worst game of the season, which may be because he is playing through injury. But it also may be because they used him more in an off-ball role, apparently a failed attempt to bolster things against the run. It showed that the linebacking corps as a whole is not getting the job done. And the secondary is suddenly looking like a concern. Outside of Trevon Diggs, who only saw one pass come his way the entire game, the defensive backs failed. They let unheralded receiver Christian Watson have a career game with 107 yards and three touchdowns on only four catches, and the ridiculously easy 36-yard catch and run by Alan Lazard in OT effectively ended things by getting Green Bay into easy field goal range. The pass rush also failed, only sacking Rodgers twice and getting a paltry two hits on him.
It was an almost across the board failure. The unit that had carried the team in so many games before the bye came up woefully short.
Aaron Rodgers, owner of the Cowboys
They might as well adopt him into the Jones family. Just as he has in playoff games, he crushed the spirit of the team with another come from behind win, with some absolutely pinpoint throws along the way. No one in the NFL has the Cowboys’ number the way he does.
Rodgers just seems to get up for Dallas more than for any other team. It didn’t help that so much talk was circulating about him finally being washed, something he pointedly referred to before the game. He knows the massive audience a nationwide broadcast of a Cowboys-Packers game draws. His ego is not exactly small, and he draws huge motivation from that kind of exposure.
Not only did Green Bay put a serious damper on hopes for the season in Dallas, now there is a very real possibility that Rodgers will get hot and help get his team into the playoffs. And if the Cowboys don’t collapse, that raises the specter of a postseason meeting.
It is not something to hope for.