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Back/Future: Takeaways From The Stretch Run


(Editor's Note: The 2018 Cowboys were able to overcome a slow start to the season and not only make the playoffs, but win a game in the postseason. As the team looks to improve on that success, the writers of will look back at last year, picking a positive and a negative from all 18 games that might be something to either build on or correct as we head into the 2019 season.)

Game 13: Cowboys 29, Eagles 23 (OT)

Encouraging: Amari Cooper, Amari Cooper, Amari Cooper. He caught 10 passes for a career-high 217 yards, the most by any NFL receiver in 2018 to date. He caught a career-high three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter and overtime as Dallas answered three straight game-tying drives by the Eagles. The Dak Prescott-Cooper connection was never stronger than this game. It's one they can look back and build on for 2019.

Alarming: Prescott's final stat line looked gaudy – 42-of-54, 455 yards, three touchdowns – but he also committed three turnovers (two interceptions and a lost fumble) that led to seven points. The fumble, which occurred as he tried to escape pressure, bothered him the most. Prescott fumbled a career-high 12 times this season, losing six. Yet his ability to make plays with his feet is something the Cowboys must continue to utilize moving forward.

Game 14: Colts 23, Cowboys 0

Encouraging: Um, a little help here? Dallas got dominated from the start to finish and its five-game win streak ended with a thud. The silver lining, as players said afterward, was the cold reminder that nothing's handed to them week to week. The team did respond the next two games with a division-clinching win over Tampa Bay and a gritty comeback against the Giants despite having nothing at stake from a playoff seeding standpoint.

Alarming: The run defense, for starters. The defense gave a season-high 178 rushing yards. Marlon Mack (139 yards, two touchdowns) became only the second opposing running back to top 100 yards in 2018. The Cowboys had allowed only 66.0 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry during the five-game win streak. Troubles against the run resurfaced at the worst possible time: the divisional round against the Rams a few weeks later.

Game 15: Cowboys 27, Bucs 20

Encouraging: If there were any remaining questions about Jaylon Smith's return to form after a devastating 2016 knee injury, the young linebacker answered them against Tampa Bay. Smith racked up 10 tackles and returned a fumble 69 yards for a touchdown – the first by a Cowboy since 2014. The Cowboys' defense bent but ultimately busted the Bucs' rally, forcing two total turnovers and limiting Tampa to 4-of-13 on third down. The Cowboys tied for 16th in takeaways (20) in 2018 and will look to create more next season.

Alarming: The Cowboys' offense slowed down after an early first-quarter drive, punting twice and settling for a field goal despite starting a drive inside Bucs territory. Faster starts will be critical next season when facing elite teams like New Orleans and L.A. again.

Game 16: Cowboys 36, Giants 35

Encouraging: Two of Prescott's best quarterback traits, leadership and clutch play, were on display in the regular-season finale. Prescott wanted every snap against the Giants despite the Cowboys' secured fourth playoff seed. He played the entire game and finished with a 120.2 passer rating: 27-of-44 for 387 yards, no interceptions and four touchdowns, including a perfect 32-yard pass to Cole Beasley and ensuing two-point conversion to Michael Gallup that brought Dallas from behind in the final seconds. Prescott is eligible for a contract extension this offseason, and while the timing of such a negotiation remains to be seen, a performance like this one further cemented the organization's belief that he's a young starter on the rise.

Alarming: This one comes with a caveat. The Cowboys allowed 30 points in a game for the first time in 2018, though it must be noted that some defensive starters were subbed out as the game went along. Still, Eli Manning and the Giants were able to pile up 441 yards and convert 7 of 15 on third down.