It should’ve never gotten to this point.
Sunday in Philadelphia the Dallas Cowboys faced fourth down and 8, just over a minute to go, down 8 points with their season effectively on the line. They deployed two tight ends, left Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb on the bench, and threw a yolo ball to Michael Gallup in an attempt to score a touchdown.
As it did all night long, the pass fell incomplete. Game over. Division out of their hands. Playoffs likely out of sight.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
Heading into Sunday’s de facto division title game, the Cowboys were road favorites – and for good reason. Philadelphia was heavily banged up, with multiple key contributors missing across their offense. The Cowboys, as they’ve been most of the year, were relatively healthy.
Sure Dak Prescott was on the injury report all week with his shoulder, but he was declared healthy and ready to go on Friday before the game. Dallas should’ve came into Philly and controlled the game from the get-go, but like they have in so many other big road games they were out-coached, out-played, and out-classed.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
The Cowboys came into 2019 as one of the consensus Super Bowl favorites in the NFC East. A star studded cast of characters which had hired an offensive coordinator who was going to infuse new ideas and ignite a revolution in Dallas. A team which won a playoff game last year and was carrying that “momentum” through the offseason and into their most anticipated season in years.
It started off hot for them, of course. Three straight dominant wins had Cowboys Nation looking around the NFC and wondering just how good they could be. They looked like they had an offense which could rival the Chiefs, and a defense which was as talented as any unit across the league.
Reality hit hard the next three weeks. Finally facing top of the line competition – Sean Payton coached circles around Garrett and company, handing the Cowboys their first loss of the season. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers then laid into Dallas at home, bringing up old demons and showing the Cowboys just how far they really had to go before being among the conference’s elite.
And then, Sam Darnold happened.
In what at the time felt like the worst loss of the Jason Garrett era, the once 3-0 Cowboys fell back to .500 at the hands of arguably the worst team in all of football. Losing at New Orleans is one thing. Losing to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers is even somewhat excusable. But the Jets. That’s a fireable offense.
At the time it felt like the Cowboys could recover and save their season, playing up to the level we imagined back in August or saw during the first three weeks of September. But in reality, that loss to the Jets was exactly what the 2019 Cowboys are. An overrated, poorly coached, disappointing team. The most underperforming and confounding Cowboys team in recent memory. One that will cost every coach their job.
Where did it go wrong?
Per usual, it’s fair to say this starts at the top. The Cowboys haven’t been to an NFC championship game in 23 years, and the only common denominator with this team during the current run of mediocrity? Jerry Jones.
The way this team operates from a business sense is one that makes money, but doesn’t win big games.
Rather than easily paying players like Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence, who have earned it on the field over multiple seasons, they decide to take care of guys who aren’t even up for new deals. Guys like Jaylon Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, neither of which produced to the level which was expected of them prior to the season.
The Jones’ have established how they like to do business in recent years: downplaying free agency and stressing the draft. And while this worked when they hit their draft picks out of the park multiple years in a row, their draft failures in recent years have created size-able holes on the roster going forward.
Then there’s the issue of the head coach. Not only did they allow Jason Garrett to go into 2019 without any future deal, effectively creating a lame duck situation, they sat on their hands year after year while this team reached the same ceiling of success.
Garrett’s message is clearly falling on deaf-ears. Jerry is late on moving on from Garrett, and this may come back to haunt him greatly once these new money deals are given out during the offseason.
The time to maximize a championship window is when you have your good quarterback on a rookie contract. Dallas had the best bargain in the league at quarterback, and completely wasted it. Now a new coaching staff will inherit the big money deals, or will have to rebuild this roster from scratch with a new quarterback.
Either way is not ideal.
There’s still an outside chance the Cowboys win the NFC East. If they beat the bad Redskins, and the Giants upset the Eagles, then the Cowboys will somehow host a playoff game. But at this point, what is even the point?
Dallas is completely done. The Jason Garrett era has run its course, and it’s time to look hard in the mirror at this roster. Some tough decisions on “star” players will need to be made this offseason, and this team will look very different come September.
In the end, though, this is all for the best. The Cowboys are desperately in need of some outside influences in their building. Let’s hope they nail the head coaching hire and move on from this mess as quickly as possible.