MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It was a much better effort from the Dallas Cowboys on the road this time around, especially as compared to their showing in the blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills one week prior, but this is the NFL and not a game of horseshoes — so narrowly losing to the Miami Dolphins doesn't carry any moral victories.
They've now fallen to 3-5 on the road this season, versus their perfect record of 7-0 at AT&T Stadium, and their search for answers in the home-away split continue to evade them, or rather it's right in front of them and they need only to grab hold of it and wrangle it into submission.
"It was a juggernaut game, and what we expected — situational football," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "The facemask penalty was a big call [on the final drive]. It's a challenge in these games because you know it's gonna come down to one play, and they probably made a play or two that we didn't."
The initial offensive drive by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys was a masterful one — a 17-play drive that moved the ball down to the Dolphins' one-yard line, including four different conversions, before a handoff to rookie fullback Hunter Luepke devolved into a fumble that was recovered by the Dolphins.
The mistake wiped, at minimum, a field goal off of the board and, at most, a touchdown in a contest that was lost by only two points. There were other familiar issues as well, namely penalties, e.g., a facemask on the final drive by the Dolphins against linebacker Damone Clark that awarded 15 extra yards to help boost the eventual game-winning drive.
If the Cowboys can clean up such errors, they'd see their fortunes on the road flip wildly in their favor.
"It was a hard-fought game," said McCarthy. "It gives you a taste of if we have to go on the road to get this done, and there's a lot that we can draw from this. We're disappointed because we had some miscues. I had a horses-t backed up plan, and we were backed up twice and didn't move the field position, so we didn't help our defense out there.
"We didn't have a takeaway, but we had a giveaway. It's those big mistakes you can't make in these games, but I think the resilience, battle and grit that we're looking for — we clearly have that."
Having clinched their seat in the playoffs, there's still a chance the Cowboys can steal away the NFC East crown and a top seed from the Philadelphia Eagles, but not without help from the New York Giants on Christmas Day; otherwise, they'll be closer to being locked into the fifth seed and, if so, their playoff trek to the Super Bowl would force them away from home.
"We have to play better than we did today," McCarthy said. "We have to play above it on the road. Road warriors we will be."