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3 & Out: Making Sense Of The Season


FRISCO, Texas – Wishing Cowboys Nation a very Happy Holidays despite disappointment at the Linc and now an uncertain playoff future. On to our weekly three quick topics:

I Know… Ezekiel Elliott essentially summed up the state of the season moments after the loss to Philly.

The Pro Bowl running back was asked about the emotions of losing to a team, on paper, they should beat.

"How can you say we're a better team if we didn't go out there and beat them?" Elliott replied. "When it was time to do it in the crunch time, we needed one win to solidify the division and we couldn't do it.

"You can't just say that we're a better team because we may have better players on the roster. I do believe we're a better team, but the team that goes out there and plays the best is the one that's going to win. And that's what happened (Sunday)."

You can count on Elliott to give candid, level-headed assessments of where the team is after wins or losses. Bottom line, the Cowboys have talent but not the wins to show for it. They haven't won the close games they won last year: 1-6 in games decided by one score or less, including the eight-point loss to the Eagles. Last year they were 9-3 in those games.

And, with the exception of two or three games (including Week 15 against the Rams, the polar opposite of Week 16 against the Eagles) they haven't played consistent complementary football. Haven't picked each other up often enough when one or two units struggled.

That has been the difference. And, as Elliott said, the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

That's why they need a win, plus help, to keep their season going.

I Think… if you need a little holiday pick-me-up, take a look at Michael Gallup's second season.

Yes, the 17-9 loss to Philly is the overarching, and disappointing, takeaway from last Sunday. But the 23-year-old Gallup did top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his young career, joining Amari Cooper as only the seventh 1,000-yard receiving duo in team history and the first since 2012.

Gallup leads the offense with 16 catches of at least 20 yards, one more than Cooper's 15. He has an explosive catch in eight of his 13 starts this season, having missed two games in September following a knee scope. He provided one of just two explosive plays against the Eagles, a 41-yard catch that led to a field goal.

And he was inches away from another one – a potential game-tying touchdown against Philly in the final two minutes.

Drops have been an issue at times for the Cowboys' receivers. But, in a challenging season that technically still has playoff possibilities, Gallup has been a bright spot. He's a stronger, more explosive, more consistent player now than a year ago.

I Have No Idea … how to explain the difference between Amari Cooper's numbers, home and road.

As David Helman wrote last week, Cooper has basically doubled his catch total at AT&T Stadium compared to the road (now 48 to 27). Cooper has perused the numbers, too, noting a couple weeks ago that his targets have been lower in road games.

(Not a complaint from Cooper, just an observation. He added that he's not one to demand a certain number of throws his way because he believes in the offense's overall talent.)

Cooper has battled through a variety of nagging lower body injuries since August. But it's not affecting his ability to practice or play. He wasn't on the injury report last week and said after the game that his health is fine. He said he simply played "terrible" against the Eagles, catching only 4 passes on 12 targets with the longest gain 6 yards.

There's no question in my mind that Cooper, who is in the final year of his current deal, remains a major part of the Cowboys' long-term plans. But restoring his connection with quarterback Dak Prescott – a major reason the Cowboys have been ranked first offensively for much of the year – is critical to the offense's future, this year and beyond.