Yea, that was a tough one to stomach. It's not simply that the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Washington Commanders to finish their regular season, but the fashion in which it happened and the context of the matchup. The Commanders had nothing to play for and ruled out several starters, also naming rookie Sam Howell as QB1 for the contest.
The Cowboys, however, fielded all of their starters in the hopes of, at minimum, building momentum for the playoffs. What they did instead was put the most disjointed product on film since the Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and as they get ready for a rematch with those very same Tom Brady-ites, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the regular season finale.
Priceless ones, even.
The Verdikt (Patrik) — That was like watching someone bathe in their own septic tank for three hours. It was no secret the Cowboys entered their Week 18 matchup against the Commanders with nothing to lose, having already clinched nothing worse than the No. 5 seed in the NFC, but they did have something to play for: a chance to move up in the seeding. Granted, in the end, the victories by the Eagles and 49ers ultimately deleted those chances, but the Cowboys didn't know that until after the game so, at worst, they needed to put on a good showing to help sharpen themselves for the playoffs.
Instead, they did the polar opposite, continuously stabbing themselves in the foot from the word go and, other than the majority of the defense standing tall time and again before eventually (and justifiably) becoming gassed from time of possession, it was a collective team loss; and an embarrassing one, at that. Dak Prescott played poorly. The run game couldn't get going. Special teams was a Greek tragedy.
So forth and so on.
The good news is they've responded well each time they've been punched in the mouth this season, having not suffered a two-game losing streak, and if the events in Washington don't piss them off enough to go bounce back and exorcise their demon in Tom Brady, nothing will.
Ability? They have it (in spades and with starters returning from injury this week).Coaching? They have it. Scheme? They have it.
The will to get it done when there's no tomorrow? TBD.
Unsung Hero (Patrik) – In a loss of that nature, it's difficult to identify who did well, but the science is clear in that not everyone played bad football at FedEx Field. This brings me to both Chauncey Golston and Osa Odighizuwa, two defensive linemen who were present and accounted for against Sam Howell — combining for 18 total tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. They did all they could to help push the Cowboys in the right direction, and they deserve a salute for it.
Milestone Moment (Nick) — While the Cowboys didn't have many highlights at all from this game, another interception by Malik Hooker assured them of leading the NFL in takeaways (33) for the second straight season. The Cowboys became the first team in nearly 50 years to lead the league in takeaways. Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" defense led the league three straight seasons from 1972-74.
Stat of the Game (Nick) — A 17-yard difference doesn't seem like a lot, but when it's the average for an entire game, it's quite a discrepancy. The Commanders' average starting field position was their own 40-yard line, thanks to two drives when they got the ball at the Dallas 20 and Dallas 15 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' average starting spot was their own 23.
Kustodian's Kloset (Patrik) — Stop playing down to your level of competition. If that wasn't an issue this season, the Cowboys would have the No. 1 seed (likely clinched before Week 18), a bye week and home field advantage to show for it. Their near-losses were a result of the same issue, and though they've mostly overcome it en route to a 12-5 season, the fact remains they've played with their food far too often this season. The only true silver lining there is, guess what, there are no "bad" teams in the playoffs to turn down mentally for.
It's turn up, every game from now on, or turn in your helmets and pads until next season.