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Back to Future: Dez Back, But Late Plays Doom Dallas In 2 Home Losses

*Editor's Note: The Cowboys suffered their worst season in 25 years, winning just four games. As the team looks to improve in 2016, the writers of will go through each of the 16 games in 2015, picking out both a positive and negative occurrence from each week of the season as the Cowboys try to build for the future. *

Game 7: Seahawks 13, Cowboys 12

Coming off a close loss at the Meadowlands, the Cowboys returned to AT&T Stadium optimistic about the offense under Matt Cassel entering his second start for injured starting quarterback Tony Romo. Seattle's vaunted defense proved up for the challenge, though, holding the Cowboys to four Dan Bailey field goals. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson drove his offense for the winning score with just over a minute remaining to hand the Cowboys their fifth straight loss without Romo. At 2-5, the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown for the second time in seven games.

Encouraging: The Cowboys got some offensive relief with Dez Bryant's return to the lineup following a five-game absence recovering from surgery on a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot. Having returned to practice on a limited basis during the week for the first time since early September, Bryant caught two passes for 12 yards facing Seattle's Richard Sherman much of the game. Although he would look more comfortable a week later against Philadelphia, Bryant's presence alone was a welcome sight for the offense. But the biggest takeaway for next season was Dan Bailey's reliability. He was 4-for-4 in the game, extending his perfect streak to start 2015, and finished the year 30-of-32 for his first Pro Bowl appearance. The Cowboys certainly hope they don't have another four games without touchdowns next season, but Bailey has proven to be among their most reliable offensive contributors.[embeddedad0]

Discouraging: Even with Bryant working his way back into the lineup, the Cowboys just couldn't find a rhythm against a Seattle defense that forced them to drive long fields. The offense posted a season-low 220 yards. Cassel, in his second start since arriving via trade a month earlier, completed only 13 of 25 pass for 97 yards. Only four completions went to wide receivers – two each to Bryant and Terrance Williams – and running back Darren McFadden led the offense with six catches for 49 yards. Looking forward to 2016, with Cassel a free agent, the Cowboys have cited backup quarterback as a key offseason priority – certainly expecting Romo to play a full season but knowing they must be able to make more plays downfield no matter who's in at quarterback.

Game 8: Eagles 33, Cowboys 27 (OT)

For the third time in 2015, and the second time in overtime, the Cowboys lost by a touchdown or less as Philadelphia evened the season series at one apiece with a go-ahead touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Jordan Matthews. The back-and-forth contest on Sunday Night Football featured five ties, including Dan Bailey's 44-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright and in to make the score 27-27 with seven seconds remaining in regulation. Yet, the end result was the Cowboys' fourth straight home defeat and sixth overall in 2015, marking the franchise's longest losing streak since 1989.

Encouraging: The offense operated more smoothly than Cassel's previous two starts. Cassel did throw a pick-six at start of the fourth quarter that temporarily gave the Eagles a 21-14 lead, but his 105.0 passer rating easily topped his 62.3 and 61.6 ratings against the Giants and Seahawks, respectively, and he threw a season-high three touchdown passes. Bryant, clearly benefiting from a second week of practice in his return from foot surgery, looked more like his All-Pro self with five catches for a season-high 104 yards, including a leaping 18-yard touchdown grab in the end zone. On the offense's fourth play from scrimmage, he also had a 51-yard catch and run that set up Cassel's 5-yard touchdown pass to Cole Beasley. This was the best Bryant looked all season, as foot and ankle injuries began to limit him in the coming weeks. With the offseason here, he has plenty of time to get healthy for 2016 – and it's no secret the offense is at its best when he's making dynamic plays.

Discouraging: For the second straight week, the Cowboys' defense made plays throughout the game but the opposing offense made the deciding plays late. The previous game, it was Seattle's Wilson leading a 17-play field goal drive in the final 1:10 of regulation. This time it was Bradford, who threw two interceptions in the Cowboys' Week 2 victory at Philadelphia, throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass to Matthews on the ninth play of the opening overtime drive. Rookie Byron Jones appeared to lose his footing in coverage, and Matthews got past safety J.J. Wilcox in pursuit. For a large portion of the season, the defense was the team's calling card, holding opponents to 20 points or less in 10 games, but late-game breakdowns occurred in several close losses. Going forward the Cowboys hope they can alleviate some of the pressure on the defense with a stronger offensive output, and of course, that starts with getting Romo and Bryant healthy in 2016.

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