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Back To The Future: Where The Passing Game Showed Dominant Flashes In 2017

(Editor's Note: The 2017 Cowboys finished with a winning record, but they fell out of the playoffs in a disappointing follow-up to a 13-3 season. As the team seeks to find a way back to the postseason, the writers of will look back at last year, picking a positive and a negative from all 16 games that might be something to either build on or correct as we head into the 2018 season.)

Views of the Dallas Cowboys Week 14 game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

Game 13: Cowboys 30, Giants 10

With newfound momentum after snapping their three-game losing streak, the Cowboys reached the 30-point mark in consecutive games for the first time since those disappointing consecutive home losses to the Rams and Packers. This time, though, Dallas would build on their Nov. 30 38-14 victory over Washington by starting December with a dominant win over the Giants. Down 10-3 at halftime, the offense ripped off 27 unanswered points over the final two quarters.

Encouraging: The downfield passing game is one of the biggest improvement areas for Prescott and the offense in 2018. In this particular game, though, the Cowboys hit some perfectly-timed throws that busted the Giants' blitzes. Prescott threw touchdown passes to Dez Bryant (50 yards), Rod Smith (81 yards) and Jason Witten from 20 yards out after Cole Beasley's 54-yard catch and run. Those four pass plays of at least 20 yards matched the offense's total from the previous four games combined with running back Ezekiel Elliott serving a six-game suspension.

Discouraging: Veteran kicker Dan Bailey had never missed an extra point in his seven-year career. In the swirling winds of the Meadowlands, that streak ended – and he missed two field goals from 50-plus yards. No question conditions were a factor, but Bailey's struggles would continue later in the season as he tried to regain his normal rhythm coming off a four-week groin injury. The second-most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history has the offseason to find that rhythm again.

Views of the Dallas Cowboys Week 15 game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, CA.

Game 14: Cowboys 20, Raiders 17

The foundation of Jason Garrett's program is "Fight." With the season on the line in primetime at Oakland, Garrett got contributions from every phase of his football team – including a game-sealing forced fumble from Jeff Heath that resulted in a touchback and a turnover by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. The Cowboys pushed their win streak to three with star running back Ezekiel Elliott returning Christmas Eve at home against Seattle.

Encouraging: The team's across-the-board resiliency in a difficult road environment, with the wild-card race faintly in the picture. Chris Jones perfectly executed a 24-yard fake punt that kept an eventual touchdown drive alive in the third quarter. Prescott rebounded from an early interception to pick up a critical first down in the fourth quarter – by the width of an index card – and set up Bailey's deciding 19-yard field. And Heath made back-to-back plays around the goal line to preserve the Cowboys' three-point victory.

Discouraging: Tyron Smith had already battled back, hip and groin injuries through the first 14 games. Late in the win over Oakland, Smith sprained his knee and did not finish the game. He would play only one offensive series in the Cowboys' final two games. Moving into 2018, the Cowboys need their Pro Bowl left tackle healthy.

Games 1 & 2  |  Games 3 &4  |  Games 5 & 6 |  Games 7 & 8

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