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The Dallas Cowboys had fans believing again, only to let them down again

Football is pain.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
The effort was weak.
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

“Confirmation bias, a phrase coined by English psychologist Peter Wason, is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms or strengthens their beliefs or values and is difficult to dislodge once affirmed. Confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) has also been termed myside bias.” - Wikipedia

If you were one of the many who believed in the Dallas Cowboys before their mollywhomping at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, well, that definition explains a lot about why you are so shell-shocked. No one saw this coming. We looked at the numbers and thought this was going to be a fairly easy first step on the way to a deep playoff run. We rubbed our hands in glee at the bevy of All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors collected by the team. We praised the coaches and the players for the third consecutive 12-win season. There was all that evidence that this was a very good, possibly a great Cowboys team.

What we ignored was all the negative information. And there was a ton of it. As Dallas fans, we seized all those good looking bits of data and completely ignored the many signposts that this was not going to go well. Our bias set us up for a major shock, and the Packers delivered it.

Hindsight is the order of the day. With no more games to look forward to, we can use that 20/20 vision. If we are wise, we will remember the lessons of 2023 and always be more skeptical and analytical when examining the prospects for the Cowboys.

Or so we have told ourselves after so many failed seasons. Those lessons will fade rapidly for some, and most will find the excitement building again as the offseason unfolds. Still, we should keep trying to figure out the truth about Dallas. Here are some of the things that were flashing red, but we mostly ignored.

History

A postseason collapse has become something of a tradition since the dynasty of the 1990’s. We keep telling ourselves that it is going to be different, but it still happens.

While what happened ten or twenty years ago is not all that relevant, this has also been a feature of the Mike McCarthy era. He has done an excellent job of piling up regular-season wins, but just seems to shrink as a coach and now a play-caller in the playoffs. This is one of the many factors that can be cited in the now rampant speculation about whether Jerry Jones needs to move on from his head coach.

But that also reflects on Jones. The Cowboys have become the glitz and glamour team of the NFL, despite their persistent failures over the past three decades. This is something that, sadly, there seems little chance of changing, because Jones is not going to relinquish his control. And when the inevitable happens, control of the team will pass to his children, most importantly to EVP Stephen Jones. Stephen runs this team day-to-day in many ways, and the blame is on him as well.

Dak Prescott also has a clear tendency to put a terrible performance on the field at times, often in crucial moments like this soul-crushing defeat. We don’t even have to go back years to see this. He did it several times in the regular season. On Sunday, his two interceptions, something that tends to happen when he is pressured to elevate his team, were a big factor in this game getting so badly out of hand.

And we can’t forget the way Green Bay just seems to have their number. The Packers have now won ten of their last eleven games against Dallas. It is hard to say if that got in the heads of the Cowboys, but it is not something that can be dismissed out of hand. One thing is certain, Matt LaFleur coached rings around McCarthy.

We just could not accept that this was a case where the old, bad habits would reassert themselves. We were foolish.

The team is just soft

Green Bay elected to receive the opening kickoff, and proceeded to punch Dallas right in the face. They staggered and never found their footing, and the Packers just kept throwing haymaker after haymaker.

Again, this was the way it went whenever the Cowboys faced a good team this season. The San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills beat them up the same way, the Miami Dolphins got a knockout late in their win, and the Detroit Lions outplayed them up until the strange sequence that handed Dallas that win. The Packers got hot in the latter part of the season, and we paid too much attention to their record and not enough to the way they were trending. Jordan Love played one of the best games, perhaps the most outstanding, against the Cowboys, which is another trend we have seen too often.

In looking back at the regular season, it is glaringly obvious that the 12-5 record and all those gaudy stats were largely the results of a soft schedule. Dallas just could not stay on the field against quality opponents in 2023, and it turned out that is exactly what Green Bay was. The results should have been more expected if we had truly been objective.

This seems to be baked into the culture of the Cowboys. They are stars, just because of that Star they wear on their helmets. Practices tend to be easy. The fear of injuries drives that to a degree, but it also is a way the players are quite frankly pampered. That includes the rather luxurious facilities the Jones family has built to make the franchise look like the class of the league. It turns out that is all surface and flash. The core of this team’s identity is just weak. It needs to be changed, and that appears to be beyond the current staff.

We got sold a bill of goods about the coaches

McCarthy had supposedly done a great job of maximizing his quarterback and the rest of the offense. Dan Quinn had built one of the top defenses in the league. That’s what we were told, but the wild card game revealed just how fraudulent those characterizations were.

McCarthy just could not deal with good defenses. He fell back on cautious ideas when the challenge was significant. Quinn’s performance was also vastly overestimated. That was clearly illustrated not only in the blowout losses, but in the ends of the Dolphins and Lions games as well, when his vaunted defense gave up very easy touchdown drives. Against the Packers, his defense was a portrait of ineptitude. Six of the first seven Green Bay possessions ended in touchdowns. Aaron Jones was again a Cowboys killer with 118 yards rushing and three touchdowns, once again demonstrating the weakness of Quinn’s run defense. The team refused to do anything effective about the thinness of the linebacker corps, and Quinn’s play-calling was at best mystifying.

Even worse was the many plays where Love would get off passes under pressure, only for the receivers to be open by miles. Throughout this latest debacle, the entire defense seemed dazed and confused. Quinn will probably still get hired to be a head coach somewhere. It may not be a bad thing in the long run.

The overall structure of the team is more on McCarthy, and there are huge questions to be addressed there.

The debate over McCarthy is not going to cool off soon. There are reasons.

We didn’t read the right things about the end of the season

The last four games of the regular season were themselves major red flags. The beatdown in Buffalo, the surrender of the winning touchdown drive against Miami, and nearly doing the same thing against Detroit were all signs Dallas was struggling. They were conveniently ignored. Then we read far too much into pushing around the Washington Commanders in the season finale. Washington was one of the worst teams in the league and Ron Rivera was a dead man walking as head coach. We celebrated winning the NFC East, but that was far more about the late season collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles than any accomplishments by the Cowboys.

That is just one more bit of confirmation bias. We saw only what we wanted to see, and ignored the things that conflicted with our high hopes. Fans everywhere fall prey to that. But with Dallas, it has happened in spectacular fashion. We would all be wise to remember this the next time we think the Cowboys are going to be different.

We just probably won’t.

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