Back to Future: Young Players Shine in Buffalo; Williams' Springboard to 2016?

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 wrap up the series, looking at the Cowboys' final two losses against the Bills and Redskins.

Game 15: Bills 16, Cowboys 6

The Cowboys avoided the snow and icy weather in this late-December trip to Buffalo, but had to deal with a steady rainfall, something they were used to all season. Another trend resurfaced for the Cowboys, who had a strong defensive performance for about 55 minutes before needing one more stop. Not only did the defense fail to get off the field, but gave up a crucial touchdown to give Buffalo a 10-point win.

Encouraging: Although the Cowboys couldn't find the end zone for a fourth time in the year, there were some individual performances that could be a positive sign moving forward. Cornerback Deji Olatoye made his first start and had an interception in the red zone. Brice Butler had his best game of the season and showed why he might have a place on this team next year. And while Sean Lee is expected to have solid games each week, his 17-tackle performance against the Bills was arguably his best game of the year. Just further proof that when he's healthy, he can be one of the NFLs best linebackers.[embeddedad0]

Discouraging: Most defensive coordinators will take a strong defensive effort for 90 percent of the game. But there was something about this Cowboys' team down the stretch either late in the fourth quarter and/or overtime games that prevented the defense from making plays. When this defense really needed to make stops – such as against Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia at home, Seattle, Tampa Bay, at Washington, at Green Bay and then once more in Buffalo – they couldn't get it done. In this game, the entire defensive line nearly had a sack for a safety but instead couldn't corral Tyrod Taylor, who scrambled for a first down. The Bills would then extend the drive with a game-clinching touchdown. Call it mental breakdowns, lacking a killer instinct or both, but this defense struggled when the team needed it the most.

Game 16: Redskins 34, Cowboys 23

In a game that didn't mean a lot for either team in the standings, Washington came out firing, building a 24-0 lead before Kellen Moore and the Cowboys' offense woke up. Moore had some nice plays and threw for a career-high 435 yards, he also had a costly turnover in the red zone, as did Darren McFadden, which might have prevented the Cowboys from coming all the way back.

Encouraging: On the surface, it's easy to point to the quarterback play and see how many yards Moore produced (435), along with three touchdowns. Moore seemed to do enough to at least get the chance to compete for a backup role next year. But the most encouraging sign might have come from Terrance Williams, who had struggled all season taking over the No. 1 role. But he a career game against the Redskins, who left their defensive starters in the majority of the game. Targeted nine times, Williams caught eight for 173 – a performance that should give him plenty of confidence heading into the offseason.

Discouraging: The Redskins might not be a dominant team in the NFC, but they were the best in the division. They've got a young quarterback in Kirk Cousins who did whatever he wanted to against the Cowboys in the first quarter, building a 21-0 lead with nearly a perfect QB rating in the process. One of his young targets – Jamison Crowder – looks like he'll be an issue for the Cowboys to deal with for a while. So while the game was somewhat meaningless for both sides, it did suggest that guys like Cousins and Crowder could be a formidable duo for the Cowboys for years to come.  

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