The streak is over. The mojo is gone.
The Dallas Cowboys no longer have that winning feeling after a 10-7 los to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium Sunday.
And while they continue to control their own destiny for the NFC East title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Cowboys face some serious questions about their ability to achieve their ultimate goal.
After falling 20-19 to the Giants in the season opener, the Cowboys reeled off a franchise-record 11 consecutive wins and became a betting favorite to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.
At 11-2, the Cowboys, who have already clinched a playoff berth, still have a two-game lead over the Giants (9-4) in the NFC East and remain two games ahead of the Giants and Detroit Lions (9-4) for home-field advantage.
But the Cowboys have a tough final slate.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) come to town Sunday night before a Monday night showdown against the red-hot Lions on Dec. 26.
They close the season at the Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) on Jan. 1.
Third downs were a big factor in this game, our inability to stay on the field and drive the football.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett
But momentum and confidence are suddenly no longer on the Cowboys’ side after being swept by the Giants and seemingly trending down on offense with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
The formerly dominant Cowboys offense had no answers for an aggressive Giants defense, recording season lows in points (7), yards (260) and first downs (13).
Prescott was 17-of-37 passing for 165 yards with a putrid quarterback rating of 45.4 against the Giants. It was by far his worst and most frustrating performance of the season.
“I’m hard on myself,” Prescott said. “I’m my biggest critic. It was frustrating to me. It starts with me. Knowing how talented our offense and having high expectations for myself and just stalling drive after the drive. It gets frustrating.”
A 61-yard touchdown pass by Eli Manning to receiver Odell Beckham Jr. proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. The catch-and-run strike came two plays after Prescott was intercepted for the second time in the game.
2 Interceptions for Dak Prescott on Sunday night, matching his season total.
Prescott was intercepted twice through the first 12 games, but had two against the Giants.
Receiver Dez Bryant was knocked off his route, playing a part in the final interception. The story was similar in the first half when Bryant slipped on a route, allowing Janoris Jenkins to pick off the pass.
But it was Prescott’s inability to convert on third down and failure to generate offense in the passing game for the second consecutive week that has caused growing concern.
The Cowboys went 1 of 9 on third down against Minnesota last week and 1 of 15 against the Giants.
“Third downs were a big factor in this game, our inability to stay on the field and drive the football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ll go back and evaluate it and hopefully improve in this area. It’s critical going forward.”
Garrett said at no point did he think about replacing Prescott with backup Tony Romo. The former starter and former Pro Bowler lost his job when he suffering a broken bone in his back in the preseason and Prescott came into lead the Cowboys to best record in football.
No, we feel good about Dak playing quarterback for us.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on if he thought about replacing Prescott
“No,” Garrett said, “we feel good about Dak playing quarterback for us.”
When pressed again about why not consider Romo, Garrett bit back.
“We feel good about where Dak is right now with our football team,” Garrett said.
Owner Jerry Jones was even more definitive when asked about bringing Romo off the bench in relief of Prescott.
“No. No. No. No,” Jones said. “Not at all. Let me just say that.”
It was Prescott’s third consecutive game with less than 200 yards passing. He had 195 against the Washington Redskins in a 31-26 victory on Thanksgiving Day, and just 139 in a 17-15 victory against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1.
A perfect example of Prescott’s off night came on the Cowboys’ next-to-last possession. Prescott connected with receiver Dez Bryant for a first down. But Bryant fumbled after being hit by Jenkins, and Landon Collins recovered for the Giants with 2:13 to go.
It was Bryant’s first catch of the game after being held empty for almost the entire contest.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Bryant said. “I can’t believe the ball game out the way it did.”
Bryant defended Prescott as well.
“It wasn’t our best night,” Bryant said. “We all made mistakes. Don’t try to single him out.”
Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed 24 times for 107 yards, but it made no difference.
The loss offset a strong performance by a defense that recorded three sacks and three takeaways against the Giants. It was the first time the Cowboys recorded multiple sacks and turnovers in a game this season.
Linebacker Sean Lett set the tone for the defense with a team-high 18 tackles.
“Our defense did a great job, giving us opportunities throughout the game,” Garrett said.
The defense is also kicking itself because of two dropped interceptions by safety Barry Church — the second of which would have put the Cowboys in scoring position early in the third quarter.
It was a struggle throughout for the Cowboys, who also lament a missed 55-yard field goal from the normally-reliable Dan Bailey at the end of the first half. The ball hit the crossbar as time expired.
The Cowboys led 7-0 at halftime, thanks to a 31-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to receiver Terrance Williams on the second drive of the game.
Coach Jason Garrett sparked the score with a gutsy fourth-and-1 gamble at the Dallas 42.
Elliott got the first down with a 2-yard gain, then ripped off runs of 9, 8 and 3 yards.
That’s when offensive coordinator Scott Linehan caught the Giants napping. Prescott faked a pitch left to Elliott and bootlegged right. He found Williams running wide open behind the defense for the score.
But that would be it for the night for the offense.
What does it mean for the rest of the season and the playoffs?
This was the first time all season Prescott Cowboys have had no answers. But they remain confident.
Jones said the streak had to end some time. Now the Cowboys can learn from and regroup for the stretch run and the postseason.
“We’ve seen Dak have bad series, and we’ve seen him have challenging series and we’ve seen him come back and right the ship,” Jones said. “Certainly we have no expectation that we won’t come back. I’d rather have had a chance to get better with us winning it, but we’re not. But we’re not going to take where we are right now and let this do anything but improve us. That’s our goal.