By most measures, the Dallas Cowboys are having a successful season. They are 8-4, have the league’s leading rusher and the defense hasn’t been as historically inept as expected.
But the season is teetering on the brink of disappointment after the Eagles’ 33-10 thrashing of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
Not only did the loss knock the Cowboys out of the NFC East lead, but also completely out of the playoffs. Yes, the 8-4 Cowboys would miss the postseason if it started today.
Dallas is in a three-way tie with Seattle and Detroit for the two wild cards and, based on the NFL tiebreaking scenarios, Dallas would be the odd team out.
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The Cowboys’ head-to-head win over the Seahawks wouldn’t factor in, as the Seahawks would clinch the five-seed by having a better win percentage in common games over the Lions. And the Lions would be the six-seed over the Cowboys based on a better conference record.
But it’s too early, coach Jason Garrett said, to worry about the playoff picture.
“This is what I know,” he said. “If we do what we are suppose to, plan to do and want to do, then good things are going to happen for our football team. The way you do that is you focus on today. You focus on your preparation for one game.
“The most important thing for us to do is to clean up this [Philadelphia] game and go back to work and have a great week of practice and do everything we can to have a great win in Chicago next Thursday. That’s where our focus is.”
That’s been the mindset Garrett has installed from Day One, and it’s something that must continue going forward. After all, if the Cowboys play as they did against the Eagles, there’s no reason to even worry about a postseason run.
The Cowboys were exposed thoroughly.
Tony Romo showed he simply isn’t the same quarterback on short rest, missing a variety of throws; the offensive line didn’t give Romo much time or create the usual running lanes for DeMarco Murray; and the offense converted just 4 of 12 times on third down.
The defense was better than the offense, but that’s not saying much. The Cowboys made Mark Sanchez look like a franchise quarterback instead of a bust, and once again struggled to contain the dynamic LeSean McCoy out of the backfield.
As owner Jerry Jones said on his weekly KRLD-FM radio show Friday, “We really stunk it up all the way around.
“There’s a lot of specific reasons for having that bad day. We didn’t execute. We may not have played with the passion you would expect in a game like that. Don’t ask me why. And I guess if you can’t ask me, who can you ask?”
Garrett disagreed with the notion the team wasn’t playing with passion or competitive fire. Instead, he said, it came down to poor execution.
Some might point to the Cowboys’ third-down struggles the past five games, both offensively and defensively. The Cowboys have converted only 34 percent of third downs, while opponents have converted 51 percent over that stretch.
Others might point to the nine turnovers as the reason, or the Cowboys’ penchant for allowing TDs on opening drives. At the end of the day, though, it’s probably a combination of things that have led the Cowboys to lose three of their last five.
“We have to just somehow, some way be poised enough and composed enough to do what we need to do to execute and do our job every play,” Garrett said. “It’s a great learning opportunity. We’re going to use it as such when we get with our players.”
Naughty or nice?
As December’s home stretch arrives, there are reasons for hope as well as concern when evaluating the Cowboys’ playoff aspirations.
1. Road work. The Cowboys play three of their last four games on the road where they are 5-0, best in the NFL.
2. Days of rest. After playing the Eagles on just 88 hours rest, the Cowboys will have a full 10 days to prepare for the crucial rematch Dec. 14.
3. Weakened opposition. Two upcoming foes, Bears (5-7) and Redskins (3-8), are out of the playoff hunt.
1. Slow fade. Since their 6-1 start, the Cowboys are just 2-3 with wins against the 1-10 Jaguars and 3-8 Giants.
2. Bad defense. The Cowboys’ defense is looking hauntingly similar to last season’s historically bad unit.
3. Tiebreakers. Of the six other NFC teams with at least seven wins, the Cowboys have lost to three of them and have the worst conference record (5-4) of the bunch.