For a team that just won its 11th game of the year, the Cowboys just can’t seem to win. All year long, they’ve been accused of being frauds because they were blowing out bad teams. It was said they’d never beat a good team and for that reason they’d wilt in the playoffs.
Then, when the Cowboys blew out the Eagles in their rematch against them, the narrative shifted to the Cowboys’ struggles on the road. It was convenient, since the Cowboys had a two-game road trip against two of the best teams in the AFC. They dropped both of them, but the second game was a very narrow loss to the Dolphins.
Then they returned home to host a Lions team that just won their division for the first time since 1993. Detroit has been transformed from a perennial doormat to a tough, physically imposing team that consistently wins on the margins. In many ways, they’re everything the Cowboys have worked towards becoming since Mike McCarthy became the head coach.
To no one’s surprise, the game was a close one. It felt like the Cowboys were controlling things in the first half, but a fumble out of the endzone prevented Dallas from opening up a big lead. That let the Lions hang around, which is when they become most dangerous. And it all culminated in a gutsy two-point conversion attempt (tried three times) that ultimately determined the outcome of the game.
The Cowboys emerged victorious, winning 20-19. They got into a knife fight with a playoff team and managed to make just a few extra plays to win. A week ago, they were in the same situation but found themselves on the other side, having needed a few extra plays.
It was the second straight game that perfectly simulated the type of struggle the Cowboys will likely find themselves in during the playoffs. And both times, they were ready for the fight. Both times, the offense did its thing and scored a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Both times, the defense got walked all over on the final drive of the game, but they made one extra stop this second time around. That has to be encouraging.
Of course, the naysayers can still point to the struggles on the road, but that criticism carries a little less weight now. Why? Because the Cardinals upset the Eagles on Sunday, which now means this team is a win over the terrible Commanders away from locking up the NFC East and the second seed in the NFC.
That also means they get to host a playoff game and, should they win, host another one the following week. For a team that can apparently only beat good teams when they’re at home, that’s huge. There is also a sharp irony in the fact that the Cowboys have to go on the road and win a game in order to secure homefield advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Something tells me McCarthy wouldn’t want it any other way. The Cowboys were a different team coming out of their bye, specifically on offense. The head coach, now in his first season since 2018 calling plays, spent the week off trying to perfect the offense and get into a better rhythm with Dak Prescott. Since then, the Cowboys are second in both EPA/play and offensive success rate, while Prescott has become a legitimate MVP candidate.
They’re also 7-3 since then, with all of their wins coming at home. Three of those wins came against playoff teams, and it could become four if the Seahawks manage to make the postseason too. Now it’ll take just one more win to guarantee at least one more game in AT&T Stadium, something the Cowboys have wanted all year. They know exactly what they’re capable of in that stadium, and now they’re battle tested too.
The Cowboys have to be feeling really confident as they prepare for the playoffs, and rightfully so.