Another NFL season ends in disappointment for the Dallas Cowboys after losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 19-12, in the divisional round. After big losses, we always want to know who is most to blame. You certainly can’t fault Dallas’ defense, as they held the hot Niners offense under 20 points. This game was there for the Cowboys to take control, but it came down to Dak Prescott and offense inability to pass through the clutch.
This game was close until the end, but Dallas eventually hit that ceiling they kept hitting. The Cowboys have once again failed to live up to the hype, whether it’s the quarterback, the coaching staff or the owner. There was so much excitement last week after Dallas demolished a struggling Tampa Bay team in Wand Card round. On Sunday against the Niners, the Cowboys offense looked like a completely different team.
Hits and mostly misses
The loss of running back Tony Pollard in the second quarter to a fractured fibula certainly hampered Dallas in the second half, making it much more predictable. Without Pollard in the backfield, the Cowboys lack that big playmaker who gives the offense the explosiveness that Ezekiel Elliott has been unable to provide for years. In the days leading up to this playoff game, sports radio on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas wished that injury would befall Christian McCaffrey. It probably won’t work in the future.
After Pollard was shut down for the rest of the game, the 49ers and everyone else knew it was all on the shoulders of one Rayne Dakota Prescott. Even when Dak was in the game, he couldn’t consistently hit targets. Dallas was No. 4 in scoring in the regular season, averaging 27.5 points per game. Against San Francisco, they scored six points in each half. The Niners gave up 16 points this year, and Prescott and the offense couldn’t get there. Yet for some reason, many continue to buy into the hype about Dallas every year. Prescott is good, not great, and far from the NFL’s elite. It is past time to face that fact.
San Francisco’s offense wasn’t much to write home about either, but that’s because Dallas’ defense played their ass off but got very little on the other side of the ball. Talk about no help at all; this Cowboys defense, led by Micah Parsons, had given up just 19 points to a 30-ppg Niners forward during an 11-game winning streak entering this matchup. Dallas blocked Christian McCaffrey for most of the game, holding him to 57 total yards, though he did score a touchdown.
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If you’re the Cowboys, your offense has to find a way to win a game like this. Your $160 million QB needs to do a better job of converting on third down. The Cowboys were 5 of 15 on third down in the game, and there were too many third and long situations. People got upset when Jerry Jones claimed that “overpaid” for Prescott in the press conference following Dak’s huge contract extension a few years ago. Jones downplayed his words and turned them into a half-hearted compliment, but with every playoff failure since that deal, those words will indeed go through his mind. And when Jones learns that Prescott is the first Cowboys QB to throw more interceptions in a playoff game since Troy Aikman in 1998, he’ll probably lose his lunch. But at least Dak is in good company. Tony Romo can’t even say that.
Another great example of art imitating life. We pay so much attention to what is flashy but has no substance, like the Cowboys for almost 30 yearsand overlook a team like Cincinnati Bengali women, who will be playing in their second consecutive AFC Championship game. Joe Burrow was even overshadowed by Josh Allen, who he outplayed in their divisional round game on Sunday. We keep hearing more about Dallas in one day than we hear about Cincy in two weeks. Burrow accomplished more in three years in the NFL than Prescott did in seven. Two AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance for Burrow. Prescott has none of the above.
It’s long past time for Cowboys fans to realize that’s who they are. Everything this team does is tease and make you think they’re finally ready to make a run at the Super Bowl. In the same way that fans had to face the facts about Romo and his ability to win big games, it’s time for Dak to face that reality. This is not likely to happen anytime soon.
Now the Cowboys head into another offseason wondering what happened. Besides being stuck with Prescott, Mike McCarthy probably overstayed his welcome. Sean Payton will not enter that locker room. Changing the head coach might be the best way to improve this team after that mental hurdle. But knowing Jones, that probably won’t happen after back-to-back 12-win seasons. Dallas is stuck in the mud with no way out.