The Dallas Cowboys have their quarterback, but if their defense doesn’t get any better they’re doomed for a repeat.
While they’re at it, the head coach has some accountability in the latest Dallas Cowboys’ playoff failure, and DFW’s most recent sports gag.
The local teams tease us worse than campaigning politicians — the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys and FC Dallas were the best regular-season teams in their respective conferences last season, and not a single one advanced to the title round.
And, I’m sorry, but I don’t care when pitchers and catchers report; the Cowboys were supposed to go to their first NFC Championship since the ’95 season.
Alas, the ’16 Cowboys added themselves to the DFW Den of Disappointment with a pathetic first half that cost them in an entertaining 34-31 playoff loss to Aaron Rodgers and a bunch of spares who play with him on the Green Bay Packers.
The Cowboys last advanced to an NFC title game on Jan. 7, 1996.
The one area that was thought to be a problem from the beginning of the season — the Cowboys’ defense —eventually got ’em, and their head coach did not help them out, either.
The Cowboys started the game as if they were waking up from a bye-week vacation to Cabo. Rodgers did whatever he wanted in leading his team to a 21-3 spread in the first half.
It didn’t help that wide receiver Brice Butler was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter because he didn’t participate after entering the huddle ... whatever in God’s name that means.
“I’ve never seen that called before,” coach Jason Garrett said.
Neither has anyone else, and nor should they, because it’s yet another dumb rule created by someone who needs to get a job.
The penalty erased a long completion to Terrance Williams that would have put the ball down to the Packers’ 15-yard line. Instead, the ball was moved back to the 48-yard line, and the drive stalled without any points in a game where they were desperately needed.
“Early on they exposed us,” safety Barry Church said.
The Cowboys dropped to 0-5 in divisional round games since the ’95 season.
The Cowboys were never going to be a great defensive team, and Rodgers exposed that most glaring flaw this offense consistently masked. The Cowboys were an average team on the front seven, and it showed on Sunday, especially in the first half.
“We couldn’t keep pace early as far as the defense is concerned,” Church said.
The deficit changed how the Cowboys called the game; offensive coordinator Scott Linehan should have found a way for running back Ezekial Elliott to touch the ball more than just 10 times in the first half.
Receiver Dez Bryant had a good day — nine receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns — but Zeke is this team’s most powerful threat with the ball.
It is a credit to the Cowboys they were able to sack Rodgers at all, but all three came from defensive backs on surprise blitzes. It is a credit to the Cowboys defense it forced the Packers to punt three times, and actually intercepted a pass.
It’s frustrating as hell. I’ve been here for seven years and lost in the playoffs twice.
Cowboys safety Barry Church
This was always a limited team defensively, and Rodgers simply turned that reality into a loss.
But Garrett did his team precisely no favors on the Cowboys’ final drive, with the offense going for the potential game-winning touchdown. After Dak completed an 11-yard pass to the Packers’ 40-yard line, the call was to spike the ball and stop the clock with 49 seconds remaining.
I asked, why?
Garrett’s explanation was to keep the one remaining timeout available for the field goal try in a drive where the intent was to go for the touchdown, which it should have been.
I buy the explanation, but I don’t love the call for that spot. And I hate it because the other quarterback is Aaron Rodgers.
The Cowboys tied the game because kicker Dan Bailey is such a baaaaaaad man, but the 35 seconds remaining for Rodgers was too much.
And as far as the last pass he completed — the 36-yarder to Jared Cook where he managed to catch the ball inbounds by an inconceivable fraction of a millimeter to set up the game-winning field goal — is simply a great play. No defense can stop that.
The Cowboys might have been a better team and were the favorites before Sunday’s game for a reason, but Rodgers is indeed just too great right now.
At this point of an NFL season, the differences between the two teams is infinitesimal, and these games come down to a handful of plays, and mistakes.
When the Cowboys review their season, they will see almost nothing but positives, primarily because they found their quarterback.
When they review this game, they will only see the plays they did not make and mistakes they did.
They will see a team that was fast asleep to start, and a defense that must improve or these types of results will be the norm.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.