LANDOVER, Md. – The bloodline for this Cowboys team coming here on Sunday afternoon with a 12-4 record, a wild-card playoff berth in the back pocket and having averaged 36.3 points a game since Dak Prescott had returned in the past nine games was this:
That had been the driving force for clinging to a last-ditch opportunity to still win the NFC East if they had won and the Eagles had lost.
But what unfolded before a guaranteed shocked 62,814 folks at a chilly FedEx Field and a national TV audience, with Washington limping to the finish, playing a third-string quarterback for the first time in the NFL and without 10 starters, was startling.
Maybe, oh, heck, let Dak Prescott give you the adjective himself.
Why, Washington 26, Cowboys an embarrassing 6.
As bad an offensive performance the Cowboys have put on tape since, well, put it this way: The fewest points they have scored this season since their 19-3 loss in the opener and the second fewest in the past 68 games.
Worse than the points were the yards. A scroungy 182, something certainly the Cowboys have totaled in a quarter let alone all four, for sure the fewest they have gained over the past 34 games and half their per-game average.
And this against the now 8-8-1 Commanders with nothing to play for besides pride and their six decades of distaste for the Cowboys.
"Not very good at all," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy blatantly said. "We played poorly," before stating the obvious, "You want to play your best ball in January."
Well, it's Jan. 8, and this was the absolute worst on offense, the scariest part knowing they now are the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and heading to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers and Tom Brady in the first round. And here seemed to be the reason for this four-quarter power outage:
The patch-work offensive line.
You know that had to be a concern after surviving the Tennessee game when starting center Tyler Biadasz went out with a high ankle sprain. Yeah, all this "next man up" mumbo jumbo sound gallant.
But look here: Sunday against the Commanders, the Cowboys only had one guy – one guy – playing where he had played all season long. That would be Pro Bowler Zack Martin at right guard. After that, it's been musical chairs.
Start with losing one of their best, if not the best run-blocking lineman, Terence Steele, against Houston five games ago. In comes veteran Tyron Smith, playing a side of the ball – right – he has not played since his rookie year and after missing the first 12 games of the season.
Then, while they survived the Tennessee game a week ago Thursday when Biadasz went down, that began the line dance. Left guard Connor McGovern to center. Left tackle Tyler Smith to guard. And 40-year-old backup Jason Peters to left tackle.
While as the song goes, two out of three ain't bad, but four out of five ain't good.
"No one is coming to our rescue," Martin said, knowing while they are hopeful Biadasz returns in time for the first-round playoff game, there certainly is a possibility they are what they are. "But I have a lot of confidence in our guys."
And while running the ball has been somewhat problematic over the past four games, averaging no more than 3.8 yards per carry in any of those games, this one was worse, 64 yards on 24 attempts. That's 2.4 a carry. That's a mere average standing broad jump. And the longest carry was nine yards, that coming on a Prescott scramble when his pocket broke down.
That one-two punch of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard could only account for 35 yards, and 19 of those 64 yards came compliments of rookie Malik Davis in garbage time after McCarthy pulled the plug late in the fourth quarter down 20.
"They were shooting their linebackers," Peters said, and they should have been expecting Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the former Cowboys linebacker, would play aggressive ball since, after all, what did the Commanders have to lose?
"They were lined up close to the line of scrimmage."
And when you can't run the ball, the only option is to throw it. And here was another problem. Prescott's pocket was not clean. Not from the start. And while he was only sacked one time, thanks to his own ability to get out of harm's way, or actually hit just four times, he seemed far too many times to be throwing with a cluster around him, causing bad throws, invariably too high and too hard, ill-timed throws and having seven passes defensed
Why, this is not a line related to Dak for nearly ever: 14 of 37 for 128 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a QB rating of 45.8, his lowest of the season and more than half his 95.8 season rating. Unreal, that's a 37.8 completion percentage for a guy completing 69 percent of his passes this year and an average gain per attempt of an anemic 3.5 yards, less than half his season average of 7.7 yards.
On top of all that, the Cowboys longest play of the game was 15 yards, CeeDee Lamb's first half-ending touchdown grab.
"We just couldn't get going consistently," said McGovern, who suffered badly from the flu on Friday and Saturday, claiming to have lost nine pounds but played through the symptoms. "I just think we've got to get back to our normal selves."
And in a darn hurry.