An ugly loss against the Commanders to close out the regular season for the Cowboys featured plenty of miscues from all three phases, including from the most unlikely and uncharacteristic one of them all.
The Cowboys had a chance on Sunday to improve their playoff seeding and potentially win the NFC East on Sunday against the Commanders, who were simply trying to play spoiler.
Dallas accomplished neither of those goals, and Washington did in fact spoil those goals. The Cowboys, who finished the season at 12-5 and will go to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers, fell flat against the Commanders at FedEx Field, 26-6 in a game that was ugly from start to finish in every phase of the game.
That includes the special teams unit, who had perhaps their worst collective performance of the season in the most uncharacteristic of ways in the most inopportune of times.
The unit, which had been a surprising strength of the team all season thanks to the trio of punter Bryan Anger, rookie returner and Pro Bowler KaVontae Turpin, as well as kicker Brett Maher, all had crucial gaffes that in the first half that contributed to the poor showing.
On their opening kickoff return, a holding call pushed the Cowboys back to their own 10-yard line. That was followed up with a fumbled snap on the very same drive by Anger on a punt that put the Commanders on the Cowboys' 20-yard line, leading to a 16-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin from rookie Sam Howell.
It only got worse from there for the Cowboys, just two drives later Turpin muffed a punt return, giving the Commanders great field position again at the Dallas 15-yard line, but couldn't capitalize with a missed field goal.
To add insult to injury, the Cowboys' only touchdown of the game came in the waning moment of the first half with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb. The issue? Maher, who has been as automatic as they came this season, missed the extra point.
Maher, who has earned the moniker "Money Maher" has easily been one of the biggest revelations of the Cowboys' season, bringing concrete clarity to a position that had anything but that in training camp.
"We played poorly and that's on me," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We need to practice better than we did last week. Very disappointing."
But for Turpin, who missed time during the week with illness, and admitted he did not feel 100% during the game, made no excuses for the fumbled punt in the first quarter.
"It got away from me," Turpin said. "It was just me trying to make a play… Just me trying to be aggressive and make a play, that's all it was… "It just hit me high and bounced away from me, I just kind of misjudged it."
Washington's punter, Tress Way, a left-footed punter and one of the best in the league at his position, created an obvious challenge. Left-footed punters typically provide an extra wrinkle for return men, but even still Turpin assumed all of the blame for his error.
"Those are the hardest ones to catch because it's weird," he said. "You never know what it's doing in the air. It's moving this way and moving this way, then it comes back [the opposite] way."
Turpin of course has played football for almost two consecutive calendar years leading up to joining the Cowboys as the reigning USFL MVP back in August. Poor performance or not against the Commanders, the rookie Pro Bowler's sole focus remains on the playoffs.
"I know my body," he said. "I've been playing a lot of football for two years now, I think I just have to take good care of my body and make sure I can perform for the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs."
The question becomes: Will the Cowboys respond? McCarthy seems to think so.
"I have great confidence in our football team that we will respond," he said.
The special teams group, Turpin, and the rest of the Cowboys will get their chance in Tampa to begin the playoffs.