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Philadelphia 27, Dallas 13: Meaningless, We Hope

The Dallas Cowboys had wrapped up the top seed in the NFC playoffs before taking the field on Sunday against the Eagles. The game turned into something resembling a preseason game, with the team sitting several key starters.

Dak Prescott played for about a quarter. Mark Sanchez played most of the rest of the game.

This might be the final pass of Tony Romo’s career in Dallas. It was a three-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams.

In between came the first appearance of 2015 by Tony Romo. He completed three of four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. Most highlights of the game have focused on Romo’s short appearance.

Other coverage of the game has focused on the fact that Dallas did not win its final game, while the Falcons, Packers, Seahawks, and Giants did. A win would have given the Cowboys a franchise record 14 wins, but the team seemed more concerned with protecting its players from injury.

Winning the Final Game Is Critical?

It has only been nine years since the Cowboys started a season with a 13-2 record. Dallas traveled to Washington but did next to nothing in a 27-6 loss. Two weeks later, the Cowboys lost to the Giants. Many (including me) believe that Dallas lost momentum thanks to a late-season slide.

During each of the five times that the Cowboys have won a Super Bowl, the Cowboys have won their season finale.  Moreover, the three teams that lost the Super Bowl also won their regular season finales.

Winning the season finale has not been critical to all recent Super Bowl champions, however. Of the last ten Super Bowl champions, four lost their last regular season games. These teams included the 2014 Patriots, the 2012 Ravens, the 2009 Saints, and the 2007 Giants. In fact, New Orleans lost its final three games of the 2009 season after a 13-0 start, but the Saints were able to win Super Bowl XLIV anyway.

Witten Does Not Break Irvin’s Record

Jason Witten entered Sunday’s game needing only 27 yards to surpass Michael Irvin as the team’s all-time leader in receiving yards.

Witten only managed 10 yards, though, so Irvin will remain the franchise leader until at least the early part of 2017. Witten still needs 17 yards to take over the top spot.

Elliott’s 1631 Yards Ranks Fifth

For the sixth time, a Dallas running back led the league in rushing.

Ezekiel Elliott gained 1631 yards, even after sitting out the season finale on Sunday. His total ranks fifth in team history.

The top ten are now as follows:

Dallas 42, Detroit 21: Looking Elite

Several versions of the Cowboys during the 2000s had a habit of falling apart during the month of December.

Anyone with a memory of that decade will remember the 8-4 start in 2006 that disintegrated into a 9-7 finish.

The 8-4 start in 2008? Yep, another 9-7 finish.

A good way to end the 2016 regular season, even if it’s row 22 of section 416.

In between those seasons was 2007, when the Cowboys raced to 12-1 start. However, the Cowboys struggled against the Detroit Lions and wound up losing two of the final three to end the season with a 13-3 record and little momentum. Despite having the best record in the NFC, Dallas lost to the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.

So when this year’s version of the Cowboys lost to the Giants on December 11, many of us started to worry. The Cowboys’ performance against Tampa Bay did not resolve our concerns, given that the Cowboys blew a 17-6 halftime lead.

Thankfully, the Cowboys did not need to do more than that to win the NFC East, because Philadelphia’s 24-19 win over the Giants ensured that Dallas would have the #1 seed in the NFC.

Dallas could have rested its starters or not taken Monday’s game against the Lions seriously. Of the two teams, Detroit actually had more to play for, given that a win over the Cowboys would have guaranteed a playoff spot for the Lions.

Instead, Dallas looked like the best team in the NFC. Despite giving up 21 first-half points, along with too many big plays by a running back named Zack Zenner, the Cowboys looked sharp on offense and turned up the intensity in what turned out to be a 42-21 romp of the Lions.

Dak Prescott was nearly flawless all night. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 148.3 (along with a QBR rating of 94.4). Prescott will not beat Tony Romo’s 113.2 passer rating from 2014, but the rookie QB’s rating of 105.6 is better than any other rating in team history, including Roger Staubach’s 104.8 rating during the team’s first Super Bowl season in 1971.

Ezekiel Elliott only managed 80 yards, but he still managed two touchdowns, including a 55-yarder in the first quarter.

The receiver named Dez Bryant? He caught two touchdown passes and threw for a third.

The Dallas defense? Despite giving up some longer runs to Zenner in the first half, the defense forced two turnovers and sacked Matthew Stafford four times.

The result? The Cowboys played like the best team in the NFC. They close their season at Philadelphia on Sunday before hosting the division round two weeks later.

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It’s my blog. Here we are (way up there).

 

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In 1971, the starting defensive line consisted of Bob Lilly, Jethro Pugh, George Andrie, and Larry Cole. I didn’t have to look that up.

In 1977, the starting defensive line consisted of Pugh, Randy White, Harvey Martin, and Too Tall Jones. Nope, didn’t have to look that up either.

In 1992, the starting defensive line consisted of Charles Haley, Russell Maryland, Tony Casillas, and Tony Tolbert. Didn’t have to…you get the picture.

Against the Lions on Monday night, the starting defensive line consisted of Benson Mayowa, Terrell McClain, Maliek Collins, and Jack Crawford, with David Irving and Randy Gregory seeing quite a bit of action.

I was at the game but still had to look that up.

Consecutive 1,000-Yard Seasons by Three Different Running Backs

Sort of lost in all the other stories this season is the fact that the Cowboys have had three different running backs rush for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

(Hat tip to Robert Stiltner, who asked me on Facebook why nobody has mentioned this. I did the research based on his comment.)

The Cowboys are the third team in NFL history to accomplish the feat. The other two instances each happened since 2003.

Denver Broncos (2003-2006)

The Broncos under Mike Shanahan became famous for finding a seemingly endless number of running backs. Between 2003 and 2006, a different Denver running back rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

2003 – Clinton Portis: 290 attempts, 1,591 yards

2004 – Reuben Droughns: 275 attempts, 1,240 yards

2005 – Mike Anderson: 239 attempts, 1,014 yards

2006 – Tatum Bell: 233 attempts, 1,025 yards

New York Giants (2006-2008)

The Giants kept trying to develop its “thunder and lightning” attack with various running backs during the mid-2000s. They became the second franchise to have three different backs with at least 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Moreover, during the third of those three seasons, the Giants had two 1,000-yard backs.

2006 – Tiki Barber: 327 attempts, 1,662 yards

2007 – Brandon Jacobs: 202 attempts, 1,009 yards

2008 – Derrick Ward: 182 attempts, 1,025 yards; Brandon Jacobs: 219 attempts, 1,089 yards

Dallas Cowboys (2014-2016)

The Cowboys have featured what is probably the best offensive line in football during the past few years, so it is no coincidence that the team has had three 1,000-yard backs.

2014 – DeMarco Murray: 392 attempts, 1,845 yards

2015 – Darren McFadden: 239 attempts, 1,089 yards

2016 – Ezekiel Elliott: 310 attempts, 1,551 yards (through 14 games)

Other Teams

Some other teams have come close to appearing on this list. Quite a number have had different backs rush for more than 1,000 yards in (for example) three of four or five seasons.

Atlanta nearly made this list thanks to quarterback Michael Vick. Warrick Dunn rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and Vick added 1,039 rushing yards of his own in 2006. The Falcons did not have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2006, but Michael Turner gained 1,699 yards in 2008.

The Colts were another team that barely missed this list. Below are the Indianapolis rushing leaders from 1998 to 2001:

1998 – Marshall Faulk: 324 attempts, 1,319 yards

1999 – Edgerrin James: 369 attempts, 1,553 yards

2000 – Edgerrin James: 387 attempts, 1,709 yards

2001 – Dominic Rhodes: 233 attempts, 1,104 yards

The Colts did not have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2003, but a back rushed for at least 1,000 yards every year from 2003 to 2007 (James from 2003-2005; Joseph Addai in 2006-2007).

 

Dallas 26, Tampa Bay 20: More Drama Than Necessary

The Dallas Cowboys are not going to bench Dak Prescott for Tony Romo. We’re talking about replacing a QB who has won 12 games this season with a QB who has not completed a pass in a regular-season game since throwing three interceptions on Thanksgiving Day in 2015.

We’re also talking about a potential franchise quarterback vs. the previous franchise quarterback who won a grand total of two playoff games in more than nine years as a starter.

Ekekiel Elliott scored his 13th rushing TD against Tampa Bay and broke the Cowboys team record for rushing TDs by a rookie.

So with the Cowboys holding an NFL-best 11-2 record and the team closing in on a division title, the drama has centered on whether the team should insert Tony Romo into the lineup.

You are not welcome here, Mr. or Ms. Unnecessary Drama.

Against Tampa Bay on Sunday night, rookie Dak Prescott nearly set an NFL mark in completion percentage in a single game by hitting 32 of 36 pass attempts. Only Rich Gannon in 2002 completed a higher percentage of passes on 36 or more attempts.

Parts of Sunday’s game were indeed frustrating, but not because of Prescott. Dallas should have had a chance for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, but a holding call on Vince Mayle effectively derailed the drive, and Dan Bailey missed a 56-yard attempt.

Most of the rest of the first half went the Cowboys’ way, and the team held a 17-3 in the second quarter thanks to touchdowns by Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.

But just as the Cowboys had trouble putting the Giants away last week, Dallas nearly self-destructed against Tampa Bay.

That 17-3 lead? It evaporated into a 20-17 deficit. The defense had chances but could not contain the Buccaneer offense. And the automatic one, Bailey, missed another attempt from beyond 50 yards.

The rest of the game was a nail-biter, as Dallas could only manage to kick three field goals. The defense followed one of those field goals with an interception by Jeff Heath, setting up yet another field goal.

The magic really appeared to wear off when Jason Witten fumbled with 8:45 remaining in the 4th quarter. But Tampa Bay could do nothing on the ensuing drive, resulting in another punt.

Following another punt by Tampa Bay, Dallas drove 81 yards in 8 plays, with the Cowboys relying heavily on Elliott. Although the Cowboys could not score a touchdown, the team kicked another field goal to take a 26-20 lead with just over three minutes remaining.

Tampa Bay had two more drives but could not move the ball. On the Buccaneers’ final drive, Orlando Scandrick picked off Jameis Winston to end the game.

At 12-2, Dallas will clinch the NFC East and home-field advantage with a win in either of the final two regular season games against the Lions and Eagles.

 

 

N.Y. Giants 10, Dallas 7: Opportunities, but No Magic

In 12 previous games in 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had forced two or more turnovers only twice—two against the Chicago Bears and four against the Green Bay Packers.

So if we knew that the Cowboys would force three against the New York Giants, we would probably have some confidence that the Cowboys would win pretty easily at New York on Sunday night.

Dez Bryant’s fumble with less than three minutes remaining hurt the Cowboys’ chances for a comeback.

Instead, the Dallas offense could not take advantage of many opportunities, while the Giants did just enough to eek out a 10-7 win.

In the first half, the game looked promising. Dallas capped off a 10-play, 67-yard drive with a great 31-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Terrance Williams after a great play fake.

Eight plays later, Dallas recovered an Eli Manning fumble, and the Dallas offense moved to near midfield.

But the offense did what did for most of the evening and self-destructed. Dez Bryant slipped on a pass play, and Janoris Jenkins  stepped up to intercept the pass.

Dallas managed to recover yet another fumble by Manning in the second quarter, but the offense could do nothing with it.

Dallas moved into field goal position late in the first half, but Dan Bailey’s attempt hit the crossbar.

After the Giants kicked a field goal in the third quarter, Prescott tried to go deep to Bryant, but Leon Hall picked off the pass and returned it to the Giant 39.

Two plays later, Odell Beckham Jr. caught a slant and raced 61 yards for a touchdown.

Sadly, the game was all but over after that because the Cowboys offense looked a bit like the 2015 version.

The next three Dallas drives ended in punts. Even an interception by Anthony Brown failed to spark anything.

When Dallas had a chance to drive with less than three minutes left, Prescott went back to Bryant, who had not caught a pass all game. Bryant caught a slant on third down and promptly fumbled it.

The last chance for the Cowboys came with just over a minute left. Needing to go the length of the field, Dallas failed to make a single yard. The final offensive play was a pass attempt to Bryant. Although officials first ruled that he caught the pass for a first down, replays showed that he dropped the ball.

At 11-2, Dallas still has a two-game lead in the NFC East and a two-game lead for home-field advantage. But the team certainly cannot afford any more games like this one.

When Dave Edwards Scored His TD

Sad news that former Dallas linebacker Dave Edwards died earlier this week.

Edwards started ten games during his first two years in Dallas before taking over the strongside linebacker position in 1965. He remained the starter through the 1975 season, missing only one game between 1965 and 1975.

Dave Edwards scored his only career touchdown on an interception return in 1967.

Dave Edwards scored his only career touchdown on an interception return in 1967.

He became known as a playmaker in 1967 when he picked off three passes and made several other key plays. Against the Saints on October 15, 1967, Dallas was holding on to a 14-10 lead, but New Orleans was driving with 1:01 remaining.

Edwards made the play of the game by stealing a fumble. He raced 94 yards for an apparent touchdown only to have the play called back. Dallas went on to win the game, and the Dallas Morning News ran a column entitled “Wanted: TD for Edwards.”

“I’ve never scored a touchdown,” he told the paper. “Sure, it’s becoming a big thing with me.”

Less than two months later, Dallas faced the Baltimore Colts in Baltimore. The Colts led 10-7 in the second quarter when Edwards picked off a Johnny Unitas pass and scored from 26 yards away. It turned out to be Edwards’ only career touchdown.

His final game was Super Bowl X against the Steelers. During the following offseason, the Cowboys considered placing Edwards in the expansion draft held for the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Edwards instead decided to retire.

He finished his career with 13 interceptions. Although he was never named to the Pro Bowl, he was a critical part of the teams that went to three Super Bowls and won Super Bowl VI.

Quiz: Dallas Cowboys Quarterbacks

The following quiz asks ten questions about Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks.

Dallas 31, Washington 26: Not Even the Redskins Can Derail the Streak

Sweeps are not exactly uncommon in the series between the Cowboys and Redskins. Dallas managed to sweep Washington in both 2011 and 2013, so it has not been that long.

Terrance Williams managed to get both feet down in the corner of the end zone to give Dallas its second touchdown of the day.

Terrance Williams managed to get both feet down in the corner of the end zone to give Dallas its second touchdown of the day.

It just seems, however, that when one team is having an especially great season, the other will come along and wreak havoc.

Washington lost one game in a strike-shortened 1982 season and eventually won Super Bowl XVII. The team to beat the Redskins? Dallas.

The Redskins won another Super Bowl after the 1991 season, going 14-2 in the process. One of the two losses was to the….Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys, of course, had their own dynasty, winning Super Bowl titles in 1992, 1993, and 1995. During those three seasons, the Cowboys lost a total of 14 games. Four of those losses came against the Redskins.

(Of course, I did not mention the 1977 season or the strike-shortened 1987 season when one of the teams swept the other. What I am addressing doesn’t always happen.)

This isn’t to say the Cowboys are necessarily on their way to a Super Bowl appearance or Super Bowl title, but if there was one team that could derail a Dallas streak, it would be Washington.

Didn’t happen.

The Cowboys took a lead on the opening drive of the game and never trailed. Washington managed to make it a game in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys did what they have done throughout most of the season—take control of the ball at the end.

Ezekiel Elliott scored on a four-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and the Dallas defense held the Redskins to field goals. The Cowboys scored a second touchdown on a ten-yard pass from Dak Prescott to Terrance Williams, and Dallas led 17-6 at the half.

Washington twice closed the gap to five points in the fourth quarter, only to watch the Cowboys respond with touchdowns. Washington scored with less than two minutes to narrow the gap to five points for a third time, but an onside kick attempt failed, and Dallas ran out the clock.

Elliott rushed for 97 yards with two touchdowns. Prescott only threw 24 passes on the day, completing 17 for 195 yards with the one touchdown.

The defense was not bad until the fourth quarter. Kirk Cousins completed 41 of 53 passes for 449 yards and three touchdowns. The Dallas secondary completely broke down on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to DeSean Jackson.

Thankfully, the Dallas offense responded once again, driving 53 yards on the ensuing drive.

The Cowboys play again in one week when they travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings.

Dallas 27, Baltimore 17: Just More Magic

The first 20 minutes of Sunday’s game between Dallas and Baltimore gave Cowboys fans reason to think the magic of 2016 wouldn’t carry the team to a ninth straight win.

Dak Prescott looked off. Zeke Elliott couldn’t get anything going on the ground. The Dallas defense was giving up chunks of yards.

But with the Cowboys trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the magic reemerged. The team faced a 1st-and-30 from its own 28 thanks to two holding penalties, but the team gained it all back in chunks.

A 12-yard run by Prescott.

A 12-yard pass to Dez Bryant.

A 41-yard pass to Brice Butler.

Cole Beasley just keeps coming up huge in 2016.

Cole Beasley just keeps coming up huge in 2016.

And three plays later, a touchdown pass to Cole Beasley.

The teams exchanged field goals to end the first half tied 10-10, but the momentum had swung in the Cowboys favor.

Dallas had three drives in the second half of 92 yards on 10 plays, 88 yards on 13 plays, and 72 yards on 13 plays. Time of possession on those three drives?

Time of possession on those three drives? 20:09 out of 30 minutes.

During those long drives, the Cowboys faced only five first downs. They converted four of them. Dallas nearly converted the fifth, but the Ravens stopped Elliott a yard short.

Dallas kicked a field goal on the next play to ice the game.

This is the first nine-game winning streak in franchise history. Elliott set the team mark with for rushing yards by a rookie with 1102 yards. Prescott currently has a passer rating of 108.2, which is better than all but one of Tony Romo’s season.

The Cowboys have a two-game lead over the New York Giants and face the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day.

Dallas 35, Pittsburgh 30: Far Out

The Dallas Cowboys faced a so-called trap game right in the face when they traveled to Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Steelers seem to have a knack for winning at home, and the Cowboys have had trouble winning big games on the road such as this one.

Recall the last time Dallas played at Heinz Field in 2008.  The team was 8-4 and riding a three-game winning streak. Dallas managed a 13-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Steelers quickly erased the lead in the fourth quarter, followed by play where Deshea Townsend intercepted a Tony Romo pass and returned it for a touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 20-13 win.

Dallas managed only one more win that year and missed the playoffs.

That was, of course, then. Townsend has not played in the NFL since 2010, and Tony Romo was not going to be throwing the passes against Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in the first quarter to take a lead but inexplicably went for two after both touchdowns. The Steelers led 12-3 late in the first.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott executed a screen pass on 2nd-and-18 with just seconds left in the first quarter. Fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott grabbed the screen, followed his blockers, and raced 83 yards for a touchdown.

Elliott...off...to...the...races....

Elliott…off…to…the…races….

That’s just what these rookies do—make the plays they need to make.

The teams exchanged field goals in the second and third quarters. Dallas finally took a 23-18 lead late in the third when Prescott found Dez Bryant open on a deep touchdown pass down the left sideline.

The teams relied on field goals no more. Pittsburgh scored a touchdown to take a one-point lead with 7:51 left, giving Dallas plenty of time to drive for a go-ahead field goal.

It appeared that the Cowboys were in a position to run down the clock to kick the game-winning field goal. Dallas managed a first down at the Pittsburgh 14 just before the two-minute warning. It looked as if the Steelers might have just allowed Elliott to run for a 14-yard touchdown, and the strategy actually could have worked. When Dallas missed the two-point conversion, the Cowboys had a 29-24 lead.

The Dallas defense had no answers. Pittsburgh moved the ball 75 yards on 5 plays, ending when Ben Roethlisberger faked a spike and hit Antonio Bryant on a 15-yard touchdown pass.

(Somewhere in the United States, a middle-aged blogger was yelling about Jason Garrett’s inability to manage the clock. The rant did not last long.)

Dallas had 42 seconds. The team had a rookie quarterback who needed to lead the team into field-goal range.

He did just that. Prescott hit three of four passes to move the ball into Pittsburgh territory. Although referees missed a facemask call on Cole Beasley, the refs did catch a facemask on Jason Witten. The penalty moved the ball to the Steeler 32.

Win the game on a Dan Bailey field goal? That would have been fine, but an even better result would have involved Elliott racing up the middle for 32 yards and a touchdown.

Bingo. Far out.

Dallas is now 8-1 and has tied the longest winning streak (eight games) in franchise history.

The Cowboys will attempt to win their first game in franchise history next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Elliott’s touchdown reception in the first quarter was the fourth longest TD reception by a running back in team history. Here are the top five:

91 yards, Tony Dorsett, vs. Baltimore Colts (1978)

85 yards, Amos Marsh, vs. L.A. Rams (1962)

84 yards, Herschel Walker, vs. Philadelphia (1986)

83 yards, Ezekiel Elliott, vs. Pittsburgh (2016)

80 yards, Ron Springs, vs. Tampa Bay (1983)