FRISCO, Texas – It's fitting that the word "finish" is getting thrown around here in the home stretch of this 2020 season.
After all, if the Cowboys are going to find any kind of positives at the finish of this disappointing season, they're going to have to display some better finish in the crucial moments of their games. Asked to assess that in Tuesday's 34-17 loss to Baltimore, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy addresses it specifically.
"We didn't finish very well, that's for sure," he said.
That quote came during Wednesday night's conference call with reporters. But McCarthy addressed the issue with his players, as well. As the Cowboys start preparing for Cincinnati on an incredibly tight schedule, the issue has been brought to everyone's attention.
"Yeah, that's something he definitely told us he wasn't happy about, as he should," said Ezekiel Elliott. "And then me as a leader and others on the team, we've got to address that and make sure it doesn't show up any more."
The obvious rebuttal to Elliott is that it's December. Ideally, there shouldn't be any issues with effort or finishing, at all. But even if there are, it stands to reason that they should be addressed by the fourth month of the season – especially since the Cowboys dealt with these problems earlier in the year.
Asked about that on Thursday, Jaylon Smith was blunt. It's not a conversation that should be happening 12 games into a season, or preferably at all.
"Your effort has to be there, it's non-negotiable," he said. "If the head man says something, he's bringing it to men's attention. So it's up to us to respond. You go back and evaluate each individual, including myself. You go back, evaluate each play. If there's a play where you could have gave more effort, you've got to hold yourself accountable to that."
There's plenty of blame to go around for a 17-point loss, not to mention a 3-9 season. But there's no shying away from it: many of these problems center around the Dallas defense, and they have for much of the season.
Baltimore ripped through the Cowboys for 294 rushing yards on Tuesday night. Gus Edwards ran for 101 yards on just seven carries, while Lamar Jackson threw for touchdowns of 38 and 20 yards – in addition to rushing for 94 yards and a touchdown of his own.
After a string of encouraging performances against the likes of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, it was a flash back to the dismal efforts the Cowboys put on tape in the early going of the year.
Back then, Smith and his teammates acknowledged a need to hold themselves to a higher standard. Now heading into the final four games of the season, it seems to be gut check time once again.
"It really presents an opportunity for each individual -- including myself, just all of us – to look in the mirror," Smith said. "Look in the mirror. Understand what you're putting out on tape, what we're putting out on tape and hold ourselves accountable."
It's easy to understand this team's frustration, given the circumstances – a global pandemic, an unprecedented rash of injuries, nine losses in 12 games. Elliott went as far as to say it'd be a problem if someone wasn't frustrated.
"You have to be frustrated. I think if you aren't frustrated, then you don't give a f*," he said. "So I mean I know, everyone in this locker room, in this building is frustrated."
On the bright side, the Cowboys have already fixed this issue once. It's fairly troubling that the same issues are lingering into mid-December, but there is still time to address them before this season comes to a close.
"It's been a rough season, but there's no quit in me," Smith said. "We're going to keep fighting, we're going to keep grinding and see if we can come out on top."