LANDOVER, MD – The Dallas Cowboys really didn’t have much to play for. The Philadelphia Eagles were minding business against the New York Giants, and had the NFC East crown — and top seed — poised to grab at the start of the day.
The most disturbing thing for the Cowboys is that it showed. And as for the offensive side of the ball, it’s part of a pattern that has plagued the team down the stretch and left the Cowboys limping into Tampa Bay to take on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in a wild card match.
“You’ve got a great vocabulary,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said when asked to describe the offensive performance in the 26-6 loss to the Washington Chiefs. “Go for it.”
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Here are a few quick thesaurus pulls to help paint a picture of how the unit should run: undesirable, disastrous, demoralizing and miserable.
At the center of the puzzle is quarterback Dak Prescott. His word for summarizing his personal performance is not acceptable for print, unfortunately, but it rhymes with “Smitty.”
Prescott was a dreadful 14-for-37 for 128 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. His longest completion took 15 yards. The offense recorded 10 doubles (with Prescott in the field) thanks to a 4-for-18 (22.2%) showing on third down. Prescott has thrown 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions over the last five games, a stretch in which the Cowboys went 3-2. Prescott finished tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions on the season.
Prescott’s low light came early in the second quarter on two nearly identical throws to the right. On the first attempt, cornerback Kendall Fuller almost made the interception. Prescott wished the outcome of the next play to be the same. This time, Fuller hopped the track again and walked into the end zone for a 28-yard and six score return.
Early in the fourth quarter, Prescott was 10 of 29 for 93 yards. He was inaccurate all day, with the leaders breaking up seven passes. It missed high, low, fore and aft.
Washington’s defense was sitting six starters in a game that made no sense to it. Prescott said he had “no awareness” of the proceedings in Philadelphia, A.J 22-16 victory for the Eagles That smashed the Cowboys’ chances of winning the NFC East. But Dallas didn’t mind its own business, regardless.
“Coming into this game, I feel like we knew we were going to win,” said receiver CeeDee Lamb, who caught the Cowboys’ only touchdown with six seconds left in the first half. “We all have to flip the switch.”
Clearly, the Cowboys did not meet that standard.
“We’re playing professional football, man,” said right-guard Zach Martin on the subject of uncertain motives for entering the match. “If you go out and don’t go, that’s what happens.”
McCarthy added that the Cowboys entered this week on a low note.
“It was definitely not our best week in training,” he said. “We had moving parts trying to (play) players in different (locations).”
“Our players are people,” McCarthy added.
Prescott’s struggles are one piece of the “pie” that owner and general manager Jerry Jones likes to talk about while deciding how to extend contract extensions to Lamb, Prescott, and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed eight times for 10 yards.
The Chiefs’ defensive line bullied the Cowboys up front throughout the game. As a team, Dallas had 27 rushing attempts for 64 yards (2.4 yards per carry). A pending call killed an engine. Simple screens cannot be completed.
Special teams were another factor for the Cowboys to correct course ahead of Tampa Bay. Punter Bryan Anger badly set the tone by mishandling the snap after Dallas’ first possession, giving the leaders the ball at the Cowboys 20-yard line. Returner KaVontae Turpin blocked a punt later in the first quarter to give Washington the ball back in the red zone.
That’s not all to completely excuse the defense. Quarterback Sam Howell, in his first NFL start, threw a first down to Terry McLaurin. Later in the game, he and McLaurin connected on a 52-yard play that set up a field goal.
The Cowboys could look into the regular season as a 12-5 team that was in contention for the most competitive division in football until the last day. This is one post to look at Sunday’s result. But that would ignore the fact that a lot of Cowboys have gone wrong in the nation’s capital.
Corrections should come quickly. Otherwise the offseason will arrive faster.
“There is no other choice,” said Martin. “We’ll do it again, we’ll be home next week.”
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This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY: The Cowboys and Duck Prescott continue the troubling trend while Tom Brady waits