FRISCO, Texas – We've put some distance between ourselves and the end of the Cowboys' season, so it's easier to look back with some perspective.
Of course, it was a year that ended in disappointing fashion. But ending the ending, there's plenty that can be learned from a journey that started all the way back in May.
This week, the staff of DallasCowboys.com is looking back at their picks for the biggest moments and contributions from the 2021 season – for better and for worse.
Today, we'll conclude the series with our overall takeaway from the 2021 season.
Rob Phillips: A good season ended on a very disappointing note, and now what? The Cowboys' core is certainly good enough to win the NFC East again next year, and Quinn's return is huge for the defense. Expectations are much higher than a first-round home game, though, and there's a lot of roster questions moving forward. Over 20 players are impending free agents. Many play key roles. That's an extra challenge to an already tight salary cap. The biggest counter to all those questions would be a huge season from Dak Prescott. When the team loses, he always says it starts with him. OK, but the offense's inconsistencies down the stretch aren't solely on Dak. In the first eight games Prescott got pressured 91 times and sacked 11 times, according to PFF. In the last 10 games: 131 pressures and 24 sacks, including a season-high 25 pressures and five sacks by San Francisco. A full, healthy offseason should help Prescott compared to last year when he was working back from the ankle injury. But whatever the Cowboys can do to improve things around him -- from a personnel and schematic standpoint -- might be the key to 2022.
*David Helman: *The most frustrating thing about watching the rest of these playoffs unfold is that I really don't think the Cowboys were that far off. Sure, that Bills-Chiefs game was one of the most jaw-dropping displays of quarterback play we've ever seen. But the rest of the playoffs looked like teams playing clean football, using their pass rushers to make the opposition uncomfortable and scheming up ways to get the ball to their playmakers. The Cowboys have a similar amount of talent to the teams that played longer than them in January, and they have a quarterback who is capable of making those types of plays. This was a team that refused to learn from its mistakes all season long. With a bit more adaptability, it's easy to imagine them putting a more impressive run together. Instead, we're sitting here wondering what it'll take to get back to that point.
Nick Eatman: My biggest takeaway is just the obvious one. For as great as they played throughout the year and racked up a dozen wins, the Dallas Cowboys just simply weren't good enough in 2021. We thought they might be. I was fooled into thinking they might give us a different ending this year. But they weren't ready for it. They can beat and even dominate the below average teams and even handle the decent ones. But the good teams were just too good for the Cowboys. They're close. Close to beating all of those teams this, but close isn't good enough. And especially not good enough for this fan base who has waited too long for great success.