As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And Cowboys Nation can take solace in the fact that the signs definitely point to a bigger and brighter future.
But it still hurts.
After an amazing turnaround that saw the Cowboys climb their way out of a 3-5 hole to win the NFC East and a first-round playoff game, the magical season was brought to a disappointing conclusion, as the Los Angeles Rams ran away with a 30-22 divisional-round victory.
One of the most important factors coming into the game was whether or not the Cowboys could limit the Rams’ rushing attack. Dallas owned a 10-1 record this season when holding opponents to under 100 yards rushing. That included allowing only 73 yards on the ground last weekend in the wild-card round to Seattle, the league’s top rushing team during the regular season.
But thanks to the one-two punch of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, Los Angeles went a perfect 11-0 during the 2018 campaign when earning at least 100 rushing yards.
It was seemingly the proverbial unstoppable force vs. the immovable object.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the force got plenty of movement in this one as the Rams bullied the Dallas defensive front. The Cowboys had allowed only four running backs all season to rush for at least 70 yards, but both Gurley and Anderson topped that century mark in this one, finishing with 115 and 123, respectively.
Behind that effort, the Rams totaled 459 yards to 308 for Dallas, converted 5-of-11 third downs and both of their fourth down tries. They also benefited from a healthy time of possession difference of 36:13 to 23:47.
The case could be made that Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott actually outplayed his counterpart on the Rams, Jared Goff. Prescott passed for 266 yards and posted a 99.2 passer rating with Michael Gallup being his primary target. The rookie hauled in six passes for a game-high 119 yards to lead the team with Amari Cooper adding another six grabs for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Of course, Goff, who had just 186 passing yards and a 74.4 rating, didn’t need to be great with his rushing attack doing the heavy lifting, totaling 273 yards on the ground. Meanwhile the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to just 47 yards on 20 carries. It simply wasn’t enough as Los Angeles controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
And it started right from the opening possession of the game. The Rams got off to a quick start, marching from their own 25-yard line down to the Cowboys’ 7-yard line. But there the Dallas defense, which led the NFL with only 24 points surrendered in the first quarter, held their ground, leaving Los Angeles to settle for a 25-yard field goal.
Unshaken, Prescott and company took the field and immediately responded. The quarterback went 3-for-3 on the drive for 48 yards with 35 of those aerial gains connecting with Cooper. Head coach Jason Garrett chose to go with it on fourth-and-1 at the Los Angeles 49-yard line and Elliott converted with a 5-yard run, another 15 yards then tacked on thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Rams.
On the very next snap, Prescott found Cooper cutting across the middle, the receiver then turning on the afterburners and racing to the end zone for the touchdown and an early 7-3 lead for the Cowboys.
As the clocked ticked into the second quarter, the Rams offense again chewed up yards and time. But despite running 16 plays, moving 70 yards and taking 7:23 off the clock, Los Angeles again had to settle for a chip-shot field goal, this one from 23 yards.
What the Rams were doing, however, was wearing down the Dallas defense, which after the Cowboys then punted had to take the field just over two minutes of game clock later.
It showed. Again Los Angeles worked its way down the field, picking up big chunks with back-to-back pass plays of 20 and 16 yards. That was followed by Anderson earning 14 yards up the middle and then capping things off with a stretch over the goal line from the 1, the Rams retaking the lead, 13-7.
With the Cowboys offense now unable to make any progress, though, limited to a three-and-out, the defense didn’t get the rest it desperately needed. That, in turn, led to Los Angeles putting points on the board for its fourth straight possession.
This time Dallas hurt itself as the unit appeared to have a stop on third-and-10 at the Rams’ own 45-yard line. But an illegal use of hands penalty on Byron Jones granted the home team a new set of downs. Two plays later, Gurley was in the end zone, breaking loose for a 35-yard run, the Rams going into halftime with 20-7 advantage.
Not only was Los Angeles comfortably ahead in points at the break, they were simply dominating on the stat sheet. Los Angeles had 291 total yards to just 119 for Dallas, 20 first downs to eight with a time of possession difference of 20:12 to 9:48.
Only after the Rams added another field goal on their first series of the third quarter, this time from 44 yards, did the Cowboys offense finally gain some traction. Starting at his own 25-yard line, Prescott connected with Gallup four times on the nine-play drive, the first for 27 yards and the last a beautiful 44-yard pass down to the Rams’ 1-yard line.
Two plays later, Elliott was in the end zone, powering his way up the middle for the score. With a successful two-point conversion, a Prescott to Cooper pass, the Cowboys had the score narrowed to 23-15.
And then what was beginning to look impossible actually happened … the Dallas defense forced a punt. Now gaining a little momentum, the Cowboys took the ball and started driving again. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Dallas went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Rams’ 35-yard line, only to have Elliott stuffed for no gain.
The failure was costly, as with a mix of passes and runs, the Rams made it look relatively easy as they came right back down the field. Anderson did most of the dirty work on this series, carrying the ball six times, the last a run off left tackle on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. That gave Los Angeles what would turn out to be an insurmountable 30-15 lead.
Dallas made it interesting, though. Prescott led his troops on a 12-play, 75-yard drive, connecting on 5-of-7 pass attempts. Helped by a pass interference call in the end zone that gave the Cowboys the ball on the 1-yard line, Prescott then kept it himself, charging behind the right tackle for the touchdown. With the extra point, the Cowboys had it down to a one-possession game with 2:11 left in the game.
But they would never see the ball again, as the Rams were able to pick up two first downs and run out the clock. With that, the Cowboys season came to an end, one of the NFL’s youngest teams now looking to 2019 for their next shot at a sixth Lombardi Trophy.