Spagnola: Of All Things, Cowboys Offense Steals Playoff Hopes In the End

ARLINGTON, Texas – This is not how this was supposed to go down. Not on Christmas Eve. Not when so much had gone right for the Cowboys in the early games. Detroit, losing. Atlanta, losing.

         All the Cowboys had to do was win, beat the floundering Seattle Seahawks, losers for their past two games. Beat a team they were playing here at AT&T Stadium, before 92,150 people, especially loud on this Sunday when a victory would push the Cowboys' playoff hopes to the final game of the season next Sunday at Philadelphia, needing to only win and then have Carolina beat Atlanta and the Cowboys would be in, qualifying for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07; winning at least 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1995-96. Yep, that long ago.

         But no, when the Cowboys needed a holiday flip, they flopped, Seahawks 21, Cowboys 12.

         Baaaa-humbug.

         "Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong," the young one, Ezekiel Elliott said. "We beat ourselves.

         True that, it was the Cowboys who stole their own Christmas.

         And that was the shame of this loss, same as the earlier back-to-back losses to the Rams and Packers when scoring 30 and 31 points, yet managing to lose because of giving up 35 points in each of those games. You just figured if the Cowboys lost this game they were favored to win over the equally 8-6 Seahawks the defense would be the culprit, that those guys would be unable to contain Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson. That Seattle's leading passer and leading rusher, along with tight end Jimmy Graham, would be the Cowboys' ultimate downfall.

         That Wilson, who had a hand – and feet – in 33 of Seattle's 37 touchdowns this season, would have razzle-and-dazzled them into submission. That somehow Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin would have broken their backs with at least one deep catch against this young, inexperienced secondary.

         But darn it, no, didn't happen. The Seahawks offense scored just two touchdowns, both set up by Cowboys turnovers. They totaled just a measly 136 yards, the fewest yards they had given up since the 140 Miami totaled in 2015 and the fewest Seattle had totaled all season.

         They held Seattle to just 60 net yards passing. Sixty now – and just two, seriously, not kidding, two at halftime – the first time they've held an opponent to fewer than 100 net yards passing since Washington (87) in 2012. They sacked Wilson three times. Hit him another eight. Held him to just 29 yards rushing.

         In fact, the only two touchdowns Seattle scored offensively, both were set up by Cowboys turnovers and both TDs occurred after interference penalties on the Cowboys in the end zone.

         "We needed to do something more on defense and we didn't,
 said veteran defensive end Tyrone Crawford.

         That's mighty compassionate of him. No one on the defense would throw the Cowboys offense under the sleigh.

         Well, the facts sure as heck will, especially if we consider just a week ago the Rams put 42 points on the Seahawks and the week before that Jacksonville 30.

         But the Cowboys, my gosh, just 12. Not a single darn touchdown, the third time that's happened this season, and you would have to go back to 2015 for the last time that happened, and did so in games Tony Romo did not play. Why, you would have to go back to 2002 to find the next to last time the Cowboys were held without a touchdown in three games, and remember, that was the quarterback-less, 5-11 Cowboys team. And for more, then in 2001 this happened four times, when the Cowboys were starting four quarterbacks that 5-11 season.

         All the Cowboys did was kick four field goals, though Dan Bailey missed two others, from 34 and 48. Seriously, two in one game.

         Then they turned the ball over three times, Dak intercepted twice, one thrown behind Dez Bryant and bouncing off his hands. How many times has that happened this season? The other high over Zeke's head, picked by Justin Coleman and returned for a touchdown, the fourth time that has happened this season.

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         Dak also was sacked four times, hit another eight times, harassed out of the pocket countless times, having to run around out of the pocket probably to save another half-dozen more sacks. Now it didn't help that Tyron Smith, who made a gallant effort to play in this game after suffering that sprained LCL in the Raiders game, and basically didn't go all that much in practice during the week. He gave it a shot, with a heavily taped knee, along with a knee brace.

         But after the first possession, just three plays, he knew better, getting pushed back to the ground on that third play, saying he knew then, "I just couldn't hold up." So, in came Byron Bell, who over the course of the game, struggled so.

         Now don't those folks over the past couple of weeks selling that B.S. that Dak finally figured out how play without Zeke, how it took time, feel foolish. Why, he had Zeke, and the Cowboys' protection against the blitz broke down gain, just as it had been during that three-game losing streak to Atlanta, Philly and the Chargers.

         Oh, Zeke was able to run for 97 yards. The Cowboys did total 283. But when you turn the ball over three times – Dez fumbled away a possession – and fail to score touchdown on two trips inside the red zone, those yards prove pretty hollow. Especially when you are set up first-and-goal at the 3, trailing 21-12 with 7:54 still to play and Zeke in the backfield.

         Three runs, right?

         Uh, no, no, no. Read option left. Dak keeps. One yard. Dak rolls right, nothing, incomplete, but worse, Jason Witten is called for holding when he didn't hold a thing. Now second-and-goal from the 12, Dak has nothing, and Seattle defensive end Frank Clark smokes Bell to sack him for an 11-yard loss.

         You make the call on third-and-goal from the 23?

         Dump underneath to Witten to at least set up a field goal. But I'll be, Bailey misses from 34, only the second time he's missed a field goal under 40 yards (had one blocked) in his career, that occurring from 35 yards out the third game of the 2013 season. And, get this:

The shortest field goal he's missed since the second game of his career in 2011 from 21 yards.

         Yep, it was that kind of day for this Cowboys offense.

         And as it turns out, that kind of season for the Cowboys, even without Zeke for six games, even without Tyron Smith for three games, even without Sean Lee for six games and Anthony Hitchens for the first four games of the season, they had prolonged their on-thin-ice playoff hopes all the way to the 15th game of the season.

         But no longer. That's it. The ice broke. They caved in feet first.

         "Opportunities in this league are fleeting," said Witten, knowing that in his 15th season there would not be a playoff game for the second time in three seasons and the ninth time of his career. "You have to take advantage of them when you can. We just weren't able to do that well enough tonight."

         And the worst part of the season ending the way it has – OK, they've got to play a meaningless game in Philly on New Year's Eve, and just the fifth time since heading to the playoffs in 2003 the Cowboys actually know this coming Sunday's game definitely will be the last of the season, with the other nine times they were either eliminated in the playoffs (five times) or kept hope alive until the final game of the regular season (four times) – they have only themselves to blame.

         "It sucks, because we had it right there," Crawford said.

         The Cowboys sure did. Even received the Christmas Eve help they needed. But in the end, gosh darn it, they couldn't help themselves.

         Yeah, ba-humbug. The Cowboys stole their own Christmas. 

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