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5 Takes

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5 Takes: The defense answered the call; the offense did not


MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Dallas Cowboys took a Christmas Eve expedition into Hard Rock Stadium to take on the Miami Dolphins and fell 22-20 on a game-winning field goal from Jason Sanders – his fifth of the night – to drop the Cowboys to 10-5 and to a two-game losing streak for the first time since 2020.

Offensively, Dak Prescott and his weapons started out hot with 148 yards on the first two drives, but Miami's pass rush flustered the offense from that point on as they accounted for only 94 yards from that point on.

Defensively, the Cowboys did a great job containing Miami's speed weapons, and while they did bend at times, they didn't break until the very final possession when the Dolphins drove down the field to win it.

There was a lot to take away from Dallas' Week 16 defeat. Here are the 5 Takes, presented by Take 5 Oil Change.

  1. *The defense answered the call. The offense did not. *Coming off last week's rout by Buffalo, there was accountability taken by both sides of the ball, and for good reason. Both sides did not perform well. This week, the defense bounced back against one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL, and the offense just couldn't help them out. Despite opening the game with back-to-back big drives, there wasn't any momentum generated afterward, and its fourth quarter crawl back into the game suffered as a result. On the other side, the defense kept the team in the game until the final play. But there's only so much bending you can experience before you break.
  1. *The running game was the worst it has been all season. *The offense didn't answer the call on Sunday in Miami, and it began with absolutely zero momentum in the run game. Even on the first possession where Tony Pollard and Hunter Luepke were fed with a few carries, the big yardage plays only came in the pass game, and it wasn't like those plays were set up by the run. We've been expecting a breakout game from Tony Pollard, and it just doesn't feel like it'll come, as his final line of 38 yards on 12 carries offers more pessimism in the Cowboys running game than optimism.
  1. *All five losses can be attributed to avoidable mistakes at critical points. *In all five losses, you can point to critical mistakes that threw Dallas out of the game or were big determining factors in the final result. In the loss against Arizona, it was a second-half interception in the end zone. In San Francisco, it was four turnovers that resulted in a rout. Against Philadelphia, it was 10 penalties for 83 yards. Against Buffalo last week, three personal foul calls allowed for three touchdown drives. And on Sunday against Miami, a first possession fumble on the goal line resulted in a ten-point swing that proved to be ever so critical in a two-point loss. When avoidable mistakes are a direct contributor to losses, you would think things would be easy to clean up. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, that hasn't happened yet as we enter the final two weeks of the regular season. Can they escape their own demons before the playoffs?
  1. *The run defense success started by containing the edges. *In a note of positivity for the Cowboys, allowing Miami's rushing attack to only account for 91 yards one week after allowing one of the biggest totals in franchise history is a huge step in the right direction moving forward. Despite the fourth-best rushing offense hitting the field against the defensive unit, the Cowboys were able to limit the attack by sealing off the edges – which can be attributed to one of DeMarcus Lawrence's best days defending the run on the year and Micah Parsons stepping up as a run defender himself. That forced Mike McDaniel and the rushing offense to force things between the tackles – even bringing in their more powerful back in Jeff Wilson Jr. for a handful of touches – and it didn't result in big success. What could it allow? Maybe more confidence in the team letting Johnathan Hankins sit one more week to rest his injured ankle before a playoff run.
  1. *Even with a fifth playoff seed being likely, there is still a lot to play for in the final two weeks. *Going into this one, the Cowboys could afford to lose to Miami and still bounce back with two wins needing just one Philadelphia loss to give Dallas the division. But it feels like a fifth seed is just teetering between certainty and up-in-the-air. Not only are playoff implications still in front of this team, there is an opportunity to beat a quality opponent in Week 17 and to vanquish a road demon that tripped them up in Week 18 last season. Two commanding wins could send Dallas into the playoffs with the confidence needed after back-to-back losses.

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