The game tonight against the Los Angeles Chargers was already seen as a turning point for the Dallas Cowboys. Getting to 4-2 rather than falling to 3-3 makes a huge difference in the quest to make the playoffs. It was looking like the division rival Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, who beat up on Dallas a week ago, were about to run off with the NFC.
But, as someone once said, there is a reason they play the games. On Sunday, both the Eagles and 49ers unexpectedly lost their first game of the season. Now not only are the Cowboys playing to try and stay in a stronger position in the race for a postseason berth, they could be just one game behind those two and surprising NFC co-leader the Detroit Lions.
It started in the early afternoon time slot with San Francisco coming up short against the Cleveland Browns. The game was a back and forth affair, with both teams holding leads. It came down to a last-second field goal attempt by Jake Moody to keep the 49ers’ winning streak alive, but he pushed it wide right, and the Browns were able to kneel it out for a 19-17 win.
Then the Eagles were up, and they stumbled as well. After taking a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, Philadelphia would never score again, largely due to three Jalen Hurts interceptions. Both games were outstanding defensive efforts by the winners, which was necessary because both the Browns and Jets had to settle for field goals most of the time, each only having a lone touchdown.
While this certainly favors the Cowboys, especially within their own division, it adds more pressure as well. In their two losses this year, they seemed to let the situations get in their heads. Avoiding that is a crucial task for them against the Chargers. We have thoroughly discussed the issues that Dallas needs to overcome to win this game. How they respond to this golden opportunity will tell us a lot about the character of the team.
We certainly don’t want them to think about things this way, but it also means that even if they lose tonight, they are not so deeply buried in the race for playoff positioning. It would be far better for them to look at the coming bye week as a chance to build on success and get healthier. They already had some good news in that regard, with most of the roster ready to go in Los Angeles.
This was a completely unexpected turn of events on Sunday. Neither the 49ers nor the Eagles were expected to lose those games. Fortunately, footballs take funny bounces and, well, on any given Sunday. Just as importantly, the air of invincibility is no longer there for San Francisco and Philadelphia.