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ARLINGTON, Texas – Less than 30 minutes before kickoff, things looked good for the Dallas Cowboys.
The four-time winning New York Jets were 2 yards from finishing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and giving the Cowboys an inside track to No. 2 in the NFC playoffs.
Then quarterback Tom Brady (or maybe Jets) happened, and Tampa Bay won. Three hours and six minutes later, the Cowboys looked at the No. 4 seed after a 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The change was as rapid as the temperature drop on Saturday in Dallas / Fort Worth, which caused it to go from 70 degrees to just above freezing in about four hours.
And yet the Cowboys’ response after the loss was more about the perceived bad officiating than a lost opportunity.
“It’s the type of team we have to play every time in the playoffs,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said of Arizona.
Jones is right, but can the Cowboys beat that kind of team?
The Cowboys have played seven games this season against teams currently with a winning record. They are 3-4 in those matches. The last team they beat, and which currently has a winning record, is the 10-6 New England Patriots, who fell to 2-4 after their overtime loss to Dallas on October 17th.
The last team the Cowboys beat with a winning record at the time they played against them was Week 4 against the 3-0 Carolina Panthers, who now have 5-11.
“I saw nothing about the way, the individual game or team game that would shake your confidence,” Jones said. “I saw what can happen to you when you play against a playoff team and they make some good things happen.”
Said quarterback Dak prescott, “Not discouraged. Absolutely disappointed that we did not come with the victory. But not discouraged. I know the team, we have what we have. We simply did not get it done as a team. Starting with myself. Must be better. All of us. We need to see ourselves in the mirror. And find a way to come out with a victory in such a game. “
The question should be repeated: Can the Cowboys win such a game?
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They have lost the last three games they have played against teams with a winning record: at the Kansas City Chiefs and at home against the Las Vegas Raiders and Cardinals. Next week, the 9-7 Philadelphia Eagles play at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Cowboys came in on Sunday with a winning streak of four games, but the four wins came against teams with an overall record of 18-30: New Orleans Saints, Washington Football Team (twice) and New York Giants.
Now the only way the Cowboys can move up from the No. 4 seed is by beating the Eagles and getting the Buccaneers to lose to the Panthers (doubtful) and the Los Angeles Rams to lose to the San Francisco 49ers (not so doubtful) or the Cardinals losing to the Seattle Seahawks (let’s call it unlikely).
A three-way draw would give the Cowboys the No. 2 seed based on their better conference record.
All of this would have been so much easier if the Cowboys had just won on Sunday.
But the offense was spotty at best, converting only 3 out of 11 third-down chances, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. carry (albeit damaged by some team calls) and an overly inaccurate Prescott, at least until the third quarter. The defense could not get a stop in a good portion of the game (the Cardinals were a combined 9-of-18 on third and fourth down) and could not get a takeaway when it needed one. Jayron Kearses dropped interception in the end zone in the third quarter should have been a sign that it was not Cowboys’ day.
The special teams contributed with a missed 43-yard field goal attempt from Greg laughed and allowed the completion of a 23-yard pass on a false punt as part of a 91-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter
“I was not good enough today,” said coach Mike McCarthy, who burned a timeout after Arizona lured the Cowboys to believe they would go after it in the fourth and 5th from Dallas 8 in the third quarter. “We were not good enough today and that is why the result is as it is.”
Had the Cowboys had a timeout, they could have challenged a potential fumble before the two-minute warning, which was three points behind. Instead, they had to watch the Cardinals burn the final 4:42 of the match for their second win in as many seasons at AT&T Stadium.
In two weeks, the Cardinals may well be back at AT&T Stadium for the wildcard round of the playoffs.
Will the Cowboys see Arizona again?
“Damn right,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “They came out and gave us their best shot tonight, we came out and we competed, and shoot, we’ll just get better from it. If we see them again, they’ll get it all from us.”
Prescott also hopes to see Arizona again.
“I think in order to get to where we are going, we have to play best,” he said. “Obviously this team right here gave us their best shot and we came three points below. If we start this tournament against them, we are excited about it. I mean we are excited about where we are going “The direction this team will go. Whoever it is, line them up. We play here. We play in their place, their backyard, whatever. I have a lot of confidence in this team.”