*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 DallasCowboys.com 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. Today, we look at the Cowboys' losses against the Patriots and the Giants. *
Game 5: Patriots 34, Cowboys 6
When the schedule came out, it appeared the Cowboys would not have to face Tom Brady, who originally had a four-game suspension stemming from the deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game. As it turned out, Brady's suspension was lifted and it was the Cowboys without their starting quarterback. Both of those scenarios played a factor in the game as Brady dusted off a five-sack first half to lead the Pats to a comfortable four-touchdown win.
Encouraging: While it would be easy to say "pass rush" was a positive in this game, it's not exactly an element the Cowboys can hang their hats on for 2016. Of the five sacks the Cowboys registered against Brady in the first two quarters, four of them came from unrestricted free agents (Hardy 2, R. McClain 1, J. Crawford 1). One encouraging aspect came from rookie Byron Jones, who had played well against tight ends leading up to this game, and against the NFL's best in Rob Gronkowski, Jones held up nicely. He did give up a sizable 33-yard gain, but held him to just four catches for 67 yards.
Discouraging: At the time, we didn't exactly think this would be a theme to the season, but the Patriots were the best defense the Cowboys had faced up to that point. And by failing to score a touchdown, the Cowboys were held out of the end zone for the first of what would be four times throughout the season. Even worse than not scoring was the fact the Cowboys held the ball for 33:12 of the clock and still couldn't cross the goal line. By now, we knew the Cowboys weren't the same without Romo. But without Romo and against elite defenses, it was even worse.
Game 6: Giants 27, Cowboys 20
Coming off a bye week, the Cowboys switched quarterbacks to Matt Cassel, whom they thought would be a more polished, experienced vet than Brandon Weeden and put this team over the hump after losing three straight games. The offense was better, but in the end, the result was the same as the Cowboys allowed a defensive touchdown and then a backbreaking special teams score in the fourth quarter after Cassel had just tied the game with a touchdown to Devin Street.
Encouraging: Since Darren McFadden is under contract for 2016, his performance in this game applies as something to build on. McFadden didn't start the game but after Joseph Randle went down with an injury, the veteran tailback took over as the No. 1 runner and never looked back. His 152-yard performance was the first time the Cowboys had seen him take over a game and show the combination of speed and power. Both traits were displayed on a touchdown catch that was called back due to a penalty – a play that proved to be an enormous break for the Giants.
Discouraging: Moving forward, this team doesn't exactly have a solidified special teams unit. Some of leading tacklers in the return game – Jeff Heath and Kyle Wilber – are both free agents. And considering the Cowboys made the decision to let go of Dwayne Harris, it proved to be costly in this game. Harris not only wasn't there to make a tackle, but he just happened to be the return specialist for the Giants. His 100-yard return broke up a 20-20 tie and was the game-winning touchdown.