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Cowboys kill momentum, resurrect questions in ugly loss to Bills

Which version of the Dallas Cowboys is going to finish this season?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Same old Cowboys, huh? After a week of giving Mike McCarthy, Dak Prescott, and the rest of Dallas their flowers, they got thrown back in our faces in Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Buffalo Bills. The identity crisis for America’s Team continues with the playoffs looming ever closer.

Yes, Dallas clinched a playoff spot on Sunday. Whoopty doo! Getting into the postseason is nice for some teams but the Cowboys have preached higher aspirations for years now. What happened in Buffalo was a deflating sign that this team is still prone to the same old issues that have led to disappointing seasons in the past, rekindling the fears that Dallas will just get whooped again in another humiliating playoff exit.

Remember getting run over by C.J. Anderson and the Rams in the 2018 postseason? Bills RB James Cook just put on a one-man show with 179 rushing yards, another 42 receiving, and two touchdowns. Johnathan Hankins wouldn’t have mattered in this one; Dan Quinn’s defense got punked.

Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer’s offense was no better. They could barely rub two sticks together throughout the game, then players negated the few good plays they had with penalties. Dak Prescott went from looking like an MVP favorite to one of the many backups having to play throughout the league right now.

The crazy thing is it wasn’t a game where the Cowboys were killing themselves with turnovers. The one interception came late when the score was already 31-3 and the game was long since over. This was just a flat, uninspired performance on both sides of the field; nary a big play to be found.

After last week’s huge win over the Eagles and many days of fawning over the Cowboys’ newfound legitimacy, we shouldn’t be shocked that there was a letdown. On the road, in the weather, against an AFC opponent fighting for their own playoff lives on the same day you clinched your own spot; the intangible factors were there. As much as we wanted to see Dallas keep its foot on the pedal all the way into the tournament, many of us had that little sense of foreboding that this might not go well.

But aye, there’s the rub. The letdown was predictable because that’s who these Cowboys are and have proven to be year after year. They eat the cheese after success and don’t stay hungry, then get embarrassed. The Bills aren’t the Cardinals, but they aren’t the 49ers either. When Dallas decides not to show up for a game, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is.

Thankfully, this no-show came in a December game. It was hardly meaningless; Dallas is probably done as a potential number-one seed and also hurt themselves in the NFC East race. But they’ll get a chance to erase all bad memories from the regular season with a now-guaranteed playoff appearance.

Unfortunately, while what happened on Sunday didn’t affect their qualifying for the playoffs, it robbed many of any confidence they’d started to feel about the Cowboys’ postseason. Being there isn’t enough. If they don’t wake up from what happened in Buffalo and figure out how to keep playing like champions, they won’t even sniff it.

We’re back where we started, questioning who these Cowboys really are. At least there’s still a chance for them to finish the right way.

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