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Cowboys home-cooking win streak and season ends at hands of Packers in Wild Card

It is going to be a painfully long offseason in Dallas.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The 2023 Dallas Cowboys, the third straight to win 12 regular season games under Mike McCarthy and second to win the NFC East, will not be the first Dallas team to reach the NFC Championship Game since 1996. Instead, the latest team to give fans hope may be the most disappointing in some time, as that hope ran out right from the opening kickoff on Sunday against the Packers. Losing their third straight playoff game to McCarthy’s former team, the Cowboys turned a 27-7 halftime deficit into a more respectable 48-32 loss, but still didn’t come close to the outcome they expected playing at home to begin the playoffs.

By becoming the first ever team to lose to a seven seed, the Cowboys had their 16-game AT&T Stadium win streak snapped in humiliating fashion. Looking unprepared for the moment despite their coaching being a strength all year, the Cowboys drifted hopelessly far from the style of play that got them in this position - particularly at home. The Packers were the aggressor in this game, taking it to Dan Quinn’s defense both on the ground with Aaron Jones scoring three touchdowns and through the air with every answer against zone coverage, man, and blitz looks. The Cowboys offense was forced to throw the ball from behind, not an unfamiliar position for Dak Prescott to be in for a playoff game, but his 60 attempts was still a new career high. Once the context of this loss is washed away, it will be nothing more than his fifth playoff loss in seven attempts, and third of the Mike McCarthy era.

The Cowboys have spent the offseason before blocking out noise and endless chatter about coaches’ job security and personnel changes in the unsuccessful search for a deeper playoff run, but with this offseason arriving so abruptly, and before anyone around Dallas expected, just about everything is fair game right now when discussing the future of America’s Team.

Let’s start with some notes on the stunning loss to the Packers, for the final time this season.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images
  • The Cowboys defense had two chances to get off the field on the opening drive of the game, coming out with respect for Aaron Jones and the Packers’ run game with size on the defensive interior and four down linemen sets. A DaRon Bland illegal contact penalty negated a sack that would have put Green Bay in a third and long, but DeMarcus Lawrence made a run stop on the next play to try and give Dallas life. While Lawrence and the defensive line did their job to keep blockers from getting to the second and third level, it was here the game unraveled for the Cowboys. Jones against Damone Clark in the hole became the mismatch of the entire game, with Clark not ready for Jones’ physicality, getting pushed into the end zone at the end of a 12-play touchdown drive that put the Packers ahead 7-0 and set the tone for the rest of the game.

The Cowboys were heavy favorites in this game not just because of their home field advantage, but because they seemingly had many more paths to victory against the Packers than the Packers did in pulling off the upset. The most realistic path for Green Bay was to get the type of performance they did from Jones on the ground, his second career game against Dallas with at least three touchdowns and fourth over 100 yards. It was Jones that sent the Cowboys into the offseason as his third touchdown came immediately after a scoring drive that cut the lead to 17, but the Packers balance in the pass game and Jordan Love’s ability to throw off platform under pressure is what guaranteed this would be a historic collapse from Dan Quinn’s defense. The 48 points allowed is the most at home by Dallas since McCarthy’s first year with Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator, who did not survive the season. It is the most in the Quinn era for the Cowboys, breaking a previous high set earlier this season against the NFC’s top-seeded 49ers in that 42-10 road loss.

Dallas Cowboys v Buffalo Bills Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Heading into yet another offseason where Quinn is a candidate for head coach vacancies around the league, perhaps most notably with his former team in Seattle, the narrative has quickly shifted from losing Quinn would be a significant loss for the Cowboys. His unique style of defense and needing the game script to play out a certain way to have success may have run its course with this loss.

  • With the Packers jumping ahead 7-0 before the Cowboys offense had even touched the ball, there was still hope that this game could be a vintage Prescott and CeeDee Lamb home performance where the Cowboys light up the scoreboard and put pressure on a QB making his first career playoff start. This opportunity faded quickly after a Prescott-Lamb misconnection on the opening drive forced a punt, and Sam Williams’ fair catch interference penalty gave the Packers better starting field position. This was Williams’ eighth penalty of the season, with five of them coming on special teams. While the Cowboys defense rallied to force the only punt they’d get until the fourth quarter of this blowout loss, it pinned their offense back inside their own ten-yard line, just the first of five drives in this game where Dallas began at their 15-yard line or worse. Sustaining long drives could have been something the Cowboys turned into a positive in this game if the offense was in sync, but it was anything but after Prescott’s interception targeting Brandin Cooks set up another short Jones touchdown and put the Packers ahead 14-0.

This early lead, which ballooned to 27-0 before the Cowboys needed every second of the final 1:50 of the first half to score on the last play, was the catalyst for the Packers looking much more like the Cowboys team fans were used to seeing on home turf this season. The Cowboys fell back into tendencies that typically only traveled with them on the road, playing tight on offense and worrying more about who was getting the ball as the plays were called instead of taking advantage of matchups on the outside. Even with a big lead, the Packers took shots downfield with Love coming into this game averaging 7.2 yards per attempt but hitting 13 YPA against a Cowboys secondary that saw players like Jayron Kearse and Jourdan Lewis get picked on in coverage.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Christian Watson played through injury in this game, but wasn’t nearly the factor he was against the Cowboys the last time he lined up against them, playing just 23 snaps on the afternoon. Without him as a threat, everyone in the building including Quinn knew where the ball would be going for the Packers, but Love was still a perfect 11 for 11 when targeting Romeo Doubs, Luke Musgrave, and Dontayvion Wicks with a touchdown to each of them. Wicks’ score made it a 20-0 game in the second quarter, coming against a six-man rush that got pressure on Love but not enough to bring him down.

The Cowboys defense went without a single sack for the first time all season, and even when coming close with Micah Parsons on the Packers first possession of the second half, it led to the Packers longest play of the game with Romeo Doubs breaking away from Kearse for 46 yards. The Cowboys did score both before halftime and on the opening drive of the second half to get the Packers in this situation up 17 with the slightest inkling of game pressure turned up on their young team, but Doubs setting up Jones final touchdown was an early sign to head to the exits in a 34-10 game.

The Cowboys needed 11 plays or more on all but their last scoring drive of the game in garbage time, coming into this matchup having at least one scoring drive of seven plays or less in every home game this year, with six of these eight games having a drive of five or less plays. Lamb’s 17 targets was the third time this season he’s seen that volume of throws, catching 12 passes for 116 yards against the Seahawks, 13 for 227 against the Lions (both career highs), but just nine for 100 yards and no scores in this Wild Card loss.

Nothing went right for the Cowboys in a game they needed it to for so many reasons, instead seeing the Packers advance to play a 49ers team the Cowboys were hoping to avoid until the NFC Championship round - not holding up even the first part of this plan by getting past the Wild Card round.

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