DALLAS — It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, one where they have dominated games with a balanced offense and an opportunistic defense. That’s been the case for eight games on the year, most of which were played in the first half of the season.
The other part of the season, mostly after the initial eight contests, has seen the Cowboys struggle to match the focus or intensity with their opponents while the vaunted offense has floundered.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the latter team showed up in a disappointing 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17.
The Cowboys were not prepared to match the fearlessness of a team coming off three straight losses and fighting to get their groove back. After Dallas went through something similar a few weeks ago, they should’ve recognized what was coming.
They didn’t and the Cardinals brought it to the Cowboys, scoring on five of their first six drives and getting out to a 22-7 lead.
Late in the game, the Cowboys pushed the tempo and threw down the field to find success. It’s puzzling why they didn’t throw on the suspect Arizona secondary earlier in the game, but add it to the list of things that the Cowboys didn’t get right in this one. Pick a player or coach, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Sunday wasn’t the Cowboys’ day, and it began when the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both had late rallies to win their games to keep the pressure on for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. What came next was hard to watch.
With that in mind, it’s time to play the blame game:
Blame offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s game plan
The Cowboys didn’t take many shots down the field with their top-flight receivers Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Both players had just one catch apiece going into the fourth quarter and Moore’s strategy didn’t allow the passing game to attack. There were too many short passes and not enough opening up of the offense.
Late in the game, when Moore got more aggressive and creative, they moved the ball.
The offensive play calling can’t be so vanilla all game. There needs to be more variety from Moore.
Blame Dak Prescott’s shaky start
Prescott again didn’t have a strong game over the first three quarters. There wasn’t enough consistency with Prescott as he missed open receivers to kill drives early. There was an unusual number of batted passes (four) and Prescott also fumbled on a critical drive.
Prescott heated up late in the contest to give Dallas hope but he needed to be on for much more than just the last 15 minutes of play.
Blame Dan Quinn’s defense collapses late
With the Cowboys within a score late in the final quarter, the Cardinals ran out the clock at the end of the game by getting the ball wide and Dallas couldn’t stop it. Arizona either utilized quarterback Kyler Murray’s legs or pitched to a running back. The Cardinals continuously outflanked the Dallas defense running towards the sideline.
The Cardinals ran the ball four times in total in the final drive, including three times in a row and got two first downs. Inexplicably, the Cowboys never adjusted and never got the ball back to the offense.
Blame McCarthy for being out coached
The first timeout taken in the second half turned out to be a killer late in the fourth quarter. Early in the second half, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury ran his field goal kicker onto the field on 4th & goal. Kingsbury also kept Murray on the field prompting McCarthy to waste a timeout from the confusion.
Later in the game, it appeared as though the Cardinals had fumbled on a play that McCarthy could not challenge because his team didn’t have a timeout. McCarthy also wasn’t ready to match the intensity of the moment with Kingsbury and the Cardinals.
Blame kicker Greg Zuerlein
Zuerlein pushed a 43-yard field goal to the left in the first quarter with Dallas trailing 3-0. The miss proved pivotal in what ended up a three-point game. After the miss, the Cowboys gave up a touchdown, went down double-digits, and were chasing points for the rest of the contest.
Zuerlein has been inconsistent all season and the miss on Sunday changed the course of the game.
Blame the officials
Sunday was another rough day for the undisciplined Cowboys as they were flagged 10 times for 88 yards. There were a few questionable calls that went against Dallas, including three offensive holding calls that halted drives as the Cardinals were building their lead in the first half.
Maybe the biggest blunder from the officiating crew was failing to see the fumble from Cardinals running back Chase Edmunds late in the game. That was a huge miss from a crew who didn’t have a strong day. If the Cowboys had rightfully gotten the ball back with over two minutes on the clock, the outcome could’ve been different.
Bad day from the refs or not, it was a poor showing by the Cowboys in a game they needed to prove that they belong among the best in a top-heavy NFC. Last week’s good vibes from crushing a bad team are long gone, and winning four straight in December was undone by another bad performance from the Cowboys in a statement game.
Do you think the Cowboys are in danger of being one-and-done in the playoffs? Vent your frustrations after the loss to Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.