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5 stars from the Cowboys’ 40-34 loss vs. the Jaguars

Even in the loss, the Cowboys had some players step up for a decent game.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio / USA TODAY NETWORK

A tough break for the Dallas Cowboys. After leading the Jacksonville Jaguars by 17 in the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys allowed 21 unanswered points before ultimately losing in overtime 40-34. This loss stings for multiple reasons. The Cowboys needed to win to clinch a playoff spot on their terms, and also seem unlikely to catch the Philadelphia Eagles in the chase for the NFC East title now. Nevertheless, let’s look at the players that had a hand in nearly sending the Cowboys back to Dallas with a win.

Seasoned rookie

Lately, the Cowboys’ secondary has been taking a downturn. Injuries are a factor, as they are without Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown, but DaRon Bland has been showing a lot of promise. Despite being a day-three draft pick, the team has been forced to place a lot of responsibility on the rookie defensive back and he’s done a great job thus far. Bland plays with a chip on his shoulder and has a nose for the football.

Bland recorded his fourth interception on the season after hauling in a pass from Trevor Lawrence. Once again, Bland was among the leaders on the team in tackles with six. For much of the day, Bland was all over Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk, deflecting passes and recording his fourth interception of the season. This interception marks his fourth, which is second among NFL rookies. It’s all the more impressive when considering he has four despite not seeing consistent snaps until Week 7.

Unfortunately, the struggles for Bland’s cornerback counterpart, Kelvin Joseph continued, and that places the Cowboys in an interesting situation. Should they give Kelvin Joseph another chance, or play Nahshon Wright who replaced Joseph against Jacksonville, or should they allow Bland to play as the corner opposite of Trevon Diggs? Bland has the size and length to do it. The question is will the team let the ascending rookie prove he’s up to the task?

Pocket protector

Being an NFL offensive lineman is practically a thankless job. You could play an amazing game, yet make one or two mistakes,and all the good will be forgotten instantaneously. That being said, it has to be recognized the game played by Tyron Smith and the selflessness in his decision to play right tackle.

It was Smith’s idea to play right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since his rookie season back in 2009. That was 13 years ago. However, he looked at home in that spot. He drew rave reviews earlier in the week at practice and it was great to see it translate to the game. While he was limited by the coaches, playing in a rotation with other offensive linemen, he was prepared to play more than he did.

Smith kept Dak upright on his side and opened holes in the running game. Going forward, it would behoove the Cowboys to identify their best five linemen and go with that group instead of the rotations. Yet, if they decide to keep the rotation or decide to rotate Smith to either side, the future Hall of Famer is up to the task.

Money man

It’s a shame the Cowboys couldn’t muster a drive to give Brett Maher a chance to win the game in overtime. Maher has had an excellent year that arguably is worthy of a Pro Bowl selection. Maher was perfect in Jacksonville. He made all four of his extra points, and both of his field goals, including a 53-yard field goal. Maher has made eight of his ten field goal attempts from 50 yards or more.

It’s no secret that the Cowboys aren’t playing their most complete brand of football. That said, as the season wears on any possible points are going to be critical for a team trying to be more consistent. Maher, with his precision and distance, can be a great equalizer once the Cowboys cross midfield. If McCarthy chooses to be a little less aggressive in the opponent’s territory, it would make sense because Maher has been money this season.

Tony’s touches

It was tough sledding for the Cowboys in the running game against the Jaguars, but the team was committed to their approach. Pollard led the backfield in carries with 19 carries versus 16 for Ezekiel Elliott. Plus, Pollard was used in the passing game and had four receptions. Overall, he totaled 106 yards from scrimmage. This marks the seventh time Pollard has had one hundred yards or more from scrimmage this season.

Upon further review, Pollard accounted for a large chunk of the offensive game plan. There were 64 offensive touches in the game. (Rushes and completions) Pollard’s 23 touches were 35% of them. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if the usage of Pollard, and Elliott for that matter, stay the same. Together, they accounted for 56% of the qualified touches against the Jaguars.

The Cowboys are facing a crucial stretch to end the regular season as we head into the playoffs, and it may be wise to lighten Pollard’s load as a means to keep him fresh. Help is also on the way in the passing game. Dallas signed T.Y. Hilton last week and they have had ongoing talks with free agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The less attention on Pollard, the better but for now. One of their most explosive threats keeps on producing.

Clark the shark

The team wishes it more so by design versus happenstance, but there’s a youth movement taking place on the defensive side of the ball. Not only DaRon Bland but also Damone Clark. It’s nothing short of amazing that Damone Clark is on the field playing, let alone playing as well as he is. Clark, who had spinal fusion surgery earlier this year, has returned to action ahead of schedule and taken control of the chances afforded to him.

Clark led the team in tackles with nine, five of them being of the solo variety. There were big shoes for Clark to fill after Leighton Vander Esch left Sunday’s game with a neck injury. Clark has the athleticism to run from sideline to sideline and we’ll see how he progresses in the coming weeks. Much like Bland, the hope is Clark is prepared to grow up fast if Vander Esch were to miss extended time.

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