The regular season finale was supposed to be a game where the team fought for the right to possibly earn the top seed in the conference. If anything was shown in the embarrassing loss, it was that these Cowboys weren’t ready to be the division’s best team, let alone the NFC’s top dog.
Ron Rivera’s Commanders were a team starting a first-snaps rookie quarterback and losers of three straight Yet they dominated Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys. It was a mistake-prone game by the Cowboys from the coin toss to the final whistle, and the worst performance by Dallas in the McCarthy era.
This wasn’t a game that can’t be explained as the Cowboys looked nothing like the 12-win team from this season, instead playing like a team that was ready for the next seven months off. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from a disappointing Week 18 performance.
The Good: Milestones
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There wasn’t much to be proud in this one for the Cowboys, but a few players did manage to hit some milestones they should be proud of accomplishing.
Running back Tony Pollard had already set his career high in rushing yards for a season, but he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with his 19 yards on the ground. It was a disappointing game overall, but Pollard ended his exceptional season with 1,007 rushing yards to lead the team.
Pass rusher Micah Parsons also hit a new career best in sacks when he got a half sack in the first quarter. The takedown gave Parsons 13.5 sacks on the season, besting his rookie year by a half sack. Parsons slowed down considerably late in the year but remains one of the elite defensive players in the league.
Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb became the first Cowboys WR since 2012 to top the 1,350-yard mark. Dez Bryant was the last Dallas pass catcher to best the 1,350 marker and Lamb wound up with 1,359 yards on the year. It was a heck of a season from Lamb, who became the true No. 1 WR in Dallas.
Safety Malik Hooker intercepted a Sam Howell pass in the second quarter, tying his career high in a season with three.
The Bad: Dak Prescott
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There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, but there can’t be too many defenders of his play in the loss to the Commanders. Prescott had his worst game of the season, and perhaps ever against an NFC East foe, with his performance in Week 18.
It had been an efficient string of games from Prescott in the few weeks, who had a 70% completion percentage in three straight games. That ended in the loss as Prescott completed a measly 37.8% of his passes, a career worst, and threw for a season-low 128 yards.
Prescott’s worst throws came on back-to-back plays in the second quarter where he almost threw a pick-six interception on one play, only to throw the exact pass on the next. However, the second attempt wasn’t as fortunate as Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller picked it off and returned it 29 yards for the touchdown.
Prescott knew it wasn’t a good performance and understands it can’t continue.
It was Prescott’s 15th interception on the 2022 campaign, tied for the worst in the league. Prescott is not responsible for all of those turnovers, but he’s got to make sure the bad decisions don’t show up next week in the playoffs.
The Ugly: The offense and it's play calling
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It wasn’t a banner day for the offense, who had been playing at a high level since Prescott returned from injury. The poor showing was a combination of woeful play calling, poor execution and the offensive line having trouble blocking to guys in front of them.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s game plan was curious throughout; there was very little pre-snap motion, no play action fakes, and the first-down runs were obnoxiously inept. The Cowboys played their starters like they had something on the line in the game, but the offense had a vanilla, preseason feel.
The Cowboys ran the ball on too many of their first downs, which would have been fine if they had worked, but the running game wasn’t going anywhere. The Cowboys averaged just 2.4 yards a carry and a stagnant run game put the offense behind the chains all game. With a QB who was struggling and wide receivers who were having trouble separating on third-and-long situations, running the ball on early downs was a death knell.
An offense that was thriving on third downs coming into the game was shut down on the money play against the Commanders.
The Cowboys were 4-for-18 on third down in the loss, a paltry 22%. That won’t win many games and it didn’t come close to getting the job done against the Commanders.