FRISCO, Texas – Weeks like this are the toughest.
From mid-July on during an NFL season you go 100 mph. Coaches players, front office personnel and folks like us.
Especially hard is when you don't know when the season is going to end. And when the season then comes to an abrupt halt, it's like, well, what do we do now?
And ever since the Cowboys finished 6-10 in 2004, when you knew the season would end Jan. 2, 2005, with the final game of the regular season against the Giants, the Cowboys only thrice over the next 13 seasons have known ahead of time when all would come to an end.
Once in 2010, when they finished 6-10, so you definitely knew come Jan. 2, 2011, the season would be over after playing Game 16 against Philadelphia. Then again in 2015 when the Cowboys went 4-12. Heck, we knew by Nov. 15 after the 2-0 Cowboys lost their seventh straight without Tony Romo this season would be a goner come Jan. 3, 2016. And then again in 2017, but really only had a one-week notice, since the Cowboys still had playoff chances lingering as late as Game 15, when they were eliminated with that loss to Seattle, rendering the final game of the season meaningless.
But for more than a decade, other than those three times, these Cowboys seasons came to a screeching halt without warning:
2005: Losing Game 16 to the Cardinals, combined with a Redskins win that claimed Washington the final wild-card spot.
2006: Losing wild-card playoff game to Seattle.
2007: Losing second-round playoff game to the Giants.
2008: Losing Game 16, win-and-you're-in playoff game to the Eagles.
2009: Losing second-round playoff game at Minnesota.
2011: Losing Game 16, win-East-or-else game to the Giants.
2012: Losing Game 16, win-East-or-else game to Washington.
2013: Losing Game 16, win-East-or-else game to Philly.
2014: Losing second-round playoff game at Green Bay.
2016: Losing second-round playoff game in final second to Green Bay.
And now 2018, seemingly with so much momentum and excitement building with the 10-6 finish to win the NFC East, along with the first-round playoff victory over Seattle, being eliminated 30-22 Saturday evening by the Rams, a fifth time leaving the Cowboys just one step from the NFC Championship Game in this 21st century.
Immediate decompressing is never easy.
But never fear, these shots are here.
· Face Time: This one should still have you mumbling to yourself. Me, too. That on Saturday night, with the Rams facing a third-and-14 from their own 45-yard line in the second quarter, Jared Goff threw an incompletion over to the right side, ostensibly forcing the Rams to finally punt with a 13-7 lead. But there, over on the left side, a feeble hands-to-the-face penalty was called on Byron Jones when Rams receiver Brandin Cooks swiped Jones' arm upward off his chest, the hand barely grazing the side of Cooks' helmet. And from 25 yards down field – and let me repeat that, 25 yards down field – with an official standing right next to the two combatants, comes a flag flying farther than Goff's pass attempt. Five yards, first down. Seriously? Two plays later Todd Gurley goes 35 yards for a touchdown. Now 20-7 Rams when the Cowboys should have been off the field. Changed the entire complexion of the game.
· Hard To Grasp: If that was not bad enough, then on the ensuing Cowboys series, facing third-and-7 from the Rams' 35-yard line, head referee John Parry ruled Dak Prescott "in the grasp" for an 8-yard sack, not only ending a play that really hadn't ended but also pushing the Cowboys out of a potential 53-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute of the half. Or possibly an opportunity for one of Dak' scrambling completions. When asked by NFL Pool Reporter Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times after the game about the phantom call, Parry said Dak's forward motion had ceased, "He was no longer moving forward." And when pressed over if a defensive player had his hands around Dak, Parry said, "Hands around the quarterback from my view." Well John, bad view. Bet he hated to re-watch the play on tape. Those were the hands of Dak's teammate, La'el Collins, pulling Dak away from harm's way. They gave the two-hand touch sack to Dante Fowler Jr.
· Wolf Call: Check out the fancy Cowboys company that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch joined when the Pro Bowl called to inform him that he's replacing Luke Kuechly on the NFC squad, becoming just the 11th Cowboys rookie honored. Since 1991, LVE joined rookies Zack Martin, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and kicker Nick Folk (2007). But over the franchise's first 31 seasons, LVE joined the likes of Don Perkins, Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes, Calvin Hill, Everson Walls and Emmitt Smith. That's three Hall of Famers (Renfro, Hayes, Smith), four Ring of Honor members (those three plus Don Perkins) and one Hall of Fame finalist (Walls). That's worth a howl, wouldn't you say, becoming just the third Cowboys rookie defender selected.
· Moving Forward: The Cowboys have 12 players scheduled for unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year begins at 3 p.m. on March 13. Top priority will be re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal after he was the good soldier in 2018 after being franchised. Remember, "D-Law" has become the first Cowboys player not named DeMarcus Ware to record double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons (14.5 and 10.5) since Charles Haley had 12.5 and 10.5 in 1994-95, respectively. Only other Cowboys player to do so since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982 is Randy White, with 12.5 in both 1983-84, meaning Lawrence is joining two Hall of Famers and one soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
· Here's Jerry: So for 24 minutes Tuesday with Shan and R.J. on the flagship radio station 105.3 The Fan, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave his comprehensive view on the 2018 season. Here are a few excerpts.
Assessing the 2018 season: "From my standpoint, it was a year, from evaluating where we go from here, that was one of the best reads that I've had, this past season. We changed our coaching staff this past year; made eight or nine changes … we added someone with a major impact in Kris Richard … we started off slow and then I think the coaching staff kicked in, and we got better and we got better and we got better, and we made adjustments." Jerry went on to point out the loss of Travis Frederick, bringing in rookie guard Connor Williams, the nice job Joe Looney did, and promoting Marc Colombo (rehired Tuesday) to offensive line coach, and then finished with "so when I look at our coaching staff and how it evolved, I give it a good grade."
Team's Direction: "I'm not a bit irritated, I understand. But I like the direction that we're going in. I like where we're going."
· Final Shots: Funny thing going into these conference championship games. Teams that RAN the ball well this past weekend won: Rams 273 yards rushing, Kansas City 180, Patriots' Sony Michel 129 with three touchdowns, and Saints 137 … Also, every team playing at home in the second round won, maybe a reason why the Cowboys have lost six straight second-round playoff games, five of those on the road … And in the Cowboys' last four NFC title-game losses, all were on the road, at San Francisco (1994), at Washington (1982), at San Francisco (1981) and at Philadelphia (1980). The Cowboys' last road playoff win, period, was the 1992 NFC title game at San Fran … Oh, you know why this past weekend the four winners were playing at home and had first-round byes? Their regular-season records indicate they were the best teams of 2018.
So for the 2018 season, that's all folks. Tis over around here.