The Dallas Cowboys are the most predictable team in the NFL. They’ll do things that make fans believe one week, only to make them want to pull their hair out the next. Nothing ever changes with the Cowboys.
Another year, another disappointing playoff loss for the Cowboys, and for the second year in a row, it comes at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. It’s another season that ends where the Cowboys had the opportunity to win and finally end their embarrassing streak of not appearing in the NFC title game.
Players and coaches may change, but the results in the playoffs for the past 27 years haven’t. Most Cowboys fans have grown numb to the experience of losing before NFC Championship contest, they’re just waiting on how the team will blow. In the latest loss, it was a combination of things that doomed Dallas, including the quarterback coming up short in his chance to silence the critics.
Here are four takeaways from the Cowboys in their latest failure of the divisional round of the playoffs.
Dak Prescott wasn't good enough
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The Cowboys have a good quarterback in Prescott, one good enough to win regular season games and get them into the playoffs. Prescott has always had to fight for the answer as to why he belongs in the conversation as one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the league.
In the wild-card win, Prescott appeared to turn the corner. In the loss to the 49ers, Prescott returned to the same mistake-prone quarterback who threw too many interceptions, and at the worst times.
There’s no other way to spin it, Prescott was a major factor in defeat. When the Cowboys needed their veteran QB to rise to the occasion, Prescott shrunk at every turn, throwing two interceptions, both with direct impact on the score.
Prescott’s first pick was another in a long line of communication issues with wide receiver Michael Gallup. The interception gave the 49ers possession deep in Dallas territory and accounted for three points early on.
The biggest mistake from Prescott came late in the second quarter, where many of his worst interceptions have come this season. On a 2nd-and-2, with under 1:30 left in the half and the game tied at 6-6, Prescott threw into a tight window towards wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. The ball was knocked away and intercepted by linebacker Fred Warner, costing the Cowboys likely points. Instead, it led to three more points for the 49ers to take the lead at the end of the first half.
It was a horrendous decision by Prescott to make that throw. A veteran quarterback must know not to force throws when your offense is in position to score points and it was the costliest mistake Prescott made.
While Cowboys fans were waiting on a rookie quarterback to make a mistake, Prescott make too many rookie-type plays.
Dallas needed Prescott to step up in this game, instead he shrunk and was a major factor in the loss. Prescott wasn’t good enough to get the Cowboys over the hump, and it’s time to question if he ever will be.
Defense came to play
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The Cowboys’ defense had their work cut out for them if they were going to pull off the upset, and they nearly got it done. A 49ers’ offense that was piling up the points and running away from opponents during their 11-game winning streak had a tough time moving the ball against Dan Quinn’s unit.
Dallas held the vaunted 49ers rushing attack to just 113 yards on the ground, while averaging 3.5 yards a carry. Star running back Christian McCaffrey had just 35 yards rushing and the longest rush the defense allowed was just a 13-yard gain.
Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was rattled most of the game, was held without a passing score and the Cowboys managed to get two sacks. Purdy looked uncomfortable in the pocket and the defense held the 49ers to just 312 total yards. Dallas’ defense was put in some tough defensive spots, but only surrendered 19 points.
One of the keys to winning this game for the Cowboys was to tackle well, and their defense came to play. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t hold up their end of their bargain the defense wilted late in the game. Playing on two less days of rest appeared to have caught up with the defense, who gave a valiant effort.
CeeDee Lamb was the only offensive threat
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
It isn’t a deep roster of offensive weapons at Prescott’s disposal, especially with their lack of speed. When running back Tony Pollard went down, the situation became worse, it left wide receiver CeeDee Lamb as the only game breaker. Lamb obliged with another monster performance.
Lamb caught 10 balls for 117 yards, accounting for over half of the receiving yards for the Cowboys. The biggest catch from Lamb came in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a 46-yard pass from Prescott, despite being interfered with on the play.
The Cowboys just didn’t have another threat to give the 49ers trouble. Lamb was bracketed on Prescott’s interception late in the second quarter and no other receiving option had more than 27 yards. With Pollard out, Lamb became the biggest target on offense, and he came through with a huge effort.
Dallas could have used another offensive weapon to help move the chains, but no one else stepped up. The Cowboys need to find some more outside speed this offseason.
Cowboys don't make winning plays
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Playoff games are often tight matchups where the result comes down to a few plays. Once again, the Cowboys were not able to make those plays.
Dallas played the game they wanted to play, except for a few key mistakes. The Prescott interception was a big momentum shift, but there were other plays that brought on the loss.
The penalty on safety Donovan Wilson when the Cowboys got a sack on third down late in the third quarter proved to be a big mistake. As was the Trevon Diggs dropped interception on the same drive. A cornerback with the best hands at the position in the NFL, couldn’t bring in a pass that hit him right in the chest.
Even more perplexing was a play that was ready to be made but was inexplicably bungled. After the 49ers opened up the fourth quarter with a touchdown, the Cowboys had a chance to answer when kick returner KaVontae Turpin had a chance to house the kickoff. On the return, Turpin broke right and had the whole side of the field to run towards. The rookie was in the clear had he kept going outside and likely would’ve tied the game with a touchdown.
Instead, Turpin made a wild decision to run right into the kicker, Robbie Gould, and be tackled.
What should have been a huge play to tie the game became a great kick return that led to a field goal. That was a massive four point swing and could have given the Cowboys the momentum to finish strong.
These are just a few plays that needed to be made to give the Cowboys a chance at advancing. Make one or two of them and Dallas is preparing for their first NFC title game in 27 years. Instead, the team blew their chances by failing to make any of the plays that could’ve won them the game.
It’s been the same story for the Dallas Cowboys for the last 27 years, they don’t make the winning plays.