Over the last ten years, the Dallas Cowboys have been a good football team. During that span, they have won 60% of their regular-season games, ranking them sixth best in the NFL. Only twice did they finish with a losing record, and both times it happened was when they lost their starting quarterback to a season-ending injury. When Dak Prescott or Tony Romo was healthy, we knew this team was going to make some noise. Six times over the last ten years they have made the postseason, three times in the Jason Garrett era and three times in the Mike McCarthy era.
Garrett’s Cowboys were the epitome of good, but not good enough. We knew his teams would be competitive, but there appeared to be a limit to his goodness as they came up short in the playoffs in three one-score games. Three divisional appearances, three divisional round losses.
McCarthy’s Cowboys were expected to be different. The Cowboys finally gained some defensive strength with the addition of Dan Quinn whose squad has finished top five in DVOA since becoming the defensive coordinator. Finally, they had become a team that can play complementary football and win on both sides. McCarthy’s teams finished 12-5 in each of the last three seasons and some were convinced that he just might be the difference-maker this team had been looking for. Yet in his three playoff appearances, the Cowboys didn’t even make it to the divisional round in two of them. Both those times they were at home facing a lower seed, only to fall into a big hole early and never recover. And this most recent defeat on Sunday is one of the most humiliating performances in Cowboys playoff history.
The pain from Sunday’s loss hits differently for a lot of reasons. One reason is the huge opportunity the Cowboys had in front of them. This was a talent-filled football team. The Cowboys fielded nine all-pro players. NINE. They are represented on offense, defense, and special teams. For some perspective...
Dak Prescott was in the running for the Most Valuable Player award
CeeDee Lamb broke single-season franchise records in catches and receiving yards
Micah Parsons was in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year award
DaRon Bland set an NFL record for five interceptions returned for touchdowns
Brandon Aubrey didn’t miss a field goal until the final game of the regular season
Individually, these are impressive accolades. Collectively, this looks like a special Cowboys team with an opportunity to do great things. They entered the postseason with the two-seed with a chance at two home games. They would be favored to win both their wild card and potential divisional round game, giving them a great chance to play in the NFC Championship game, something they hadn’t done in 28 years. That’s right, the “can’t make it past the divisional round curse” had a great chance to be broken.
But then, what happened?
27-0 in the first half, that’s what happened. And if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it was 48-16 in the fourth quarter. In their home stadium, where they hadn’t lost over the last 16 games, the Cowboys went out and had a complete meltdown. It was one of the most bewildering things we’ve ever seen as we sat there with our jaws on the floor.
McCarthy, this difference-making head coach, presented us with a team that looked about as unprepared as we’ve ever seen a team look. Quinn, this team’s defensive savior, had his unit looking as if they were playing positions drawn out of a hat. Nobody knew what they were doing. And even Prescott, in one of the best seasons of his career, failed to find open receivers and made costly decisions with the football.
The hurtful thing about this playoff exit is the opportunity lost. A great season was wasted. Even if it didn’t end in confetti, they had a great chance to exorcise those divisional round demons.
The crazy thing about this crushing defeat is that there is no rhyme or reason for it. It wasn’t any one person's/unit’s fault, it wasn’t the official's fault, and it wasn’t a few unlucky bounces from this oblong leather ball. It was just an all-around inexplicable performance. Will this get fixed by firing McCarthy? Who knows. Do they need more than nine All-Pro’s to make this engine run? That seems unreasonable. What is even wrong with this football team? Your guess is as good as mine.
As we enter another offseason, the front office will once again try to CSI this thing and fix what they think is broken. We have to accept the real possibility that next year’s team will likely not be as talented as this one. We also are likely to experience some coaching changes that will come with more learning, more adjusting, and more challenges.
This is usually the time where we’d profess to you, don’t fret, there are reasons to be hopeful, but you won’t see that this time around. Fret. Fret, and fret some more. Sure, we can take some comfort in the notion that this team is still talented and should compete once again next year, but that doesn’t mean anything to us until they can prove they can play well in the postseason. What it’s going to take? We haven’t the slightest clue, but we’ll patiently wait, and do this all again next year.