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Notes: No Tanking, Updating Dez's Status, Another CB Steps Up; More

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.– It's a question the Cowboys probably expect to hear at this point – but that's not going to change their answer.

Sunday's loss to Buffalo dropped them to 4-11 on the year, making them one of just five clubs with four or fewer wins. On top of that, the Washington Redskins clinched the NFC East on Saturday night, removing any type of postseason stakes from next week's season finale.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has long maintained focus on the challenge at hand, rather than draft positioning, and the front office echoed that sentiment Sunday evening.

"There will be plenty of time to evaluate what this team did this season at the end of the season," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "There's a game left with the Redskins, that's what we're focused on."

There's no denying that the Cowboys boast one of the worst records in the NFL with one week to play, but it's hard to fault them for their effort. Six of their 11 losses have come by seven points or less, and several other losses – such as the Dec. 13 loss to Green Bay and Sunday's loss to Buffalo – were in reach in the final minutes.

"I think we were doing a good job most of the game, and it's been something that's been an issue for us all year – is finishing games," said Sean Lee. "We have to find a way, in the future, to answer that if we want to be a great defense."

With one game left this season, a lot of the talk around this team is going to turn to the future. But even asked about the proposition of draft status, Lee was direct about what lies ahead.

"There's great players throughout the entire draft," he said. "I understand that we haven't won, and they want a winning team – they want to draft a higher position. I understand that to an extent, but we're going to play as hard as we can to get wins, no matter what. That's our focus."

Checking In On Dez

Along that same line of thinking, it's not surprising that Jones was asked about Dez Bryant's health following the game.

The All-Pro receiver didn't practice all week, and he didn't make the trip to Buffalo. Bryant had been a full participant in practice the previous three weeks, and he didn't appear to injure himself in the loss to the New York Jets on Dec. 19.

His absence during the course of week prompted plenty of questions about whether the Cowboys are shutting him down for the season, but Jones said that isn't the case.

"No, I think they're obviously monitoring his injury," Jones said. "We just have to monitor him tomorrow and make a decision on what we need to do with him."

Bryant has faced no shortage of health problems all season long. He broke his foot in the season opener and was out for six weeks while he recovered from surgery. Soon after returning to the lineup, he suffered knee and ankle injuries in the Nov. 8 loss to Philadelphia – injuries he's been coping with in the weeks since.

The next few days should be a telling indicator of whether Bryant will appear in the season finale or not.

Deji Vu

The Cowboys went a full calendar year without a cornerback intercepting a pass – so it's only fitting that they managed it in two-straight weeks at the tail end of the year. Even more fitting than that? It was once again a role player who got to a ball.

Tyrod Taylor faced a 3rd-and-1 on the Dallas 4-yard line with just seconds remaining until halftime. He dropped back to pass, and Deji Olatoye knew exactly what was coming.

"They're on the goal line, and they really didn't have too many slants on film – so I really played for the fade," Olatoye said. "I tried to push off in the end zone, the ball came my way and I just made the play."

Taylor underthrew receiver Chris Hogan on the route, and Olatoye was in perfect positioning to nab the interception. The takeaway preserved a 6-6 tie heading into the halftime break.

"Anytime you get a takeaway, it's a big thing," he said. "It's really an honor, but I just made the play when it came towards me."

That makes back-to-back weeks that a Dallas cornerback has picked off a pass, as Terrance Mitchell intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick in last week's loss to the Jets. More impressive than that is Olatoye's level of experience – or lack thereof.

With Morris Claiborne ruled out for the game, the Cowboys coaching staff opted to start Olatoye at right cornerback, allowing Byron Jones to move back to his free safety spot.

"I knew pretty early that Mo was still working through his hamstring, so I just prepared all week as if I was going to be going," he said. "They gave me all the confidence I needed. They knew I was ready, they made me feel as if I was ready, and when I got the opportunity I performed."

It was a big development for Olatoye, who is one of many younger players going through an audition of sorts. Even with the Cowboys mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Olatoye said he has plenty to prove as the team heads into 2016.

"It's really important. A lot of people put this season to rest already, but for me it's just really starting," he said. "I'm just getting my first opportunity to start, and I can only build on it going forward."


The afternoon had gone pretty well for Lucky Whitehead, all things considered.

The rookie receiver ripped off one of his best punt returns of the season in the second quarter, scampering 28 yards to the far side of the field and setting Dallas up in good field position.

"It was actually supposed to go the other way, but their whole team was on that side so I just tried to find a hole in the crease and hit it," Whitehead said.

The nifty return set the Cowboys up on Buffalo's 44-yard line, and the ensuing drive resulted in a field goal – their final points of the day.

Whitehead's day ended on a down note, though, as his preseason problem with ball security reared its head again.[embeddedad0]

The Cowboys were already in trouble, given that they trailed by 10 points with 2:18 to play in the game. But they'd never have a chance to cut the lead closer, as Whitehead fumbled on a kickoff return and surrendered the ball to the Bills for good.

"Honestly, I think I may have knocked it out. It was just slick. As I was going down, it kind of just got away from me," he said.

It was a cruel end to what had been a solid day from the Dallas special teams, and the wet, windy weather certainly didn't help. Whitehead said he needs to chalk it all up as another learning experience.

"My alignment was kind of bad. It was a short kick, and I knew they had the wind against them," he said. "I've just got to learn from it."

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