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It has become easy to forget that the Dallas Cowboys were supposed to have turned a corner in 2009 when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles in back-to-back games. The first win clinched the NFC East title for Dallas. The second gave the Cowboys their only playoff win since 1996.
Here are the video highlights. Some faces are the same, but you will see quite a bit of Marion Barber and Patrick Crayton, along with big plays by Felix Jones, Doug Free (on Jones’ touchdown run), and Jay Ratliff.
With their season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys found a way to turn a 14-6 halftime lead over the Washington Redskins into a 23-14 deficit.
How? A fumble by fullback Tyler Clutts, who had not touched the ball in a regular season game since 2011, set up a touchdown. A Tony Romo interception on a play where Dez Bryant fell down set up a second touchdown. A completely stupid personal foul penalty on J.J. Wilcox allowed Washington to continue a drive and kick a field goal.
So when the Cowboys took control of the ball with 14:46 left in the game and trailing 23-14, it was easy to make a couple of assumptions.
First, it was easy to assume the Cowboys would not run the ball again for the rest of the game. And second, it was easy to assume this team was just about ready to quit.
Both assumptions were quite false.
On the Cowboys’ first drive of the fourth quarter, DeMarco Murray carried the ball 8 times for 26 yards, helping Dallas to move the ball 71 yards to set up a field goal.
When the defense needed to make one stop, the defense came through, stopping the Redskins after one first down.
The Cowboys’ offense took the ball at the Dallas 13 and had to move the ball 87 yards in 3:39 to win the game. It was that simple.
Two passes, including a 51-yarder, to Terrance Williams gave the Cowboys a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown. The Cowboys moved the ball to the Washington 1 at the two-minute warning.
It appeared that the biggest concern was not whether the Cowboys would score but whether the Redskins would have too much time to drive for the game-winning field goal.
However, Washington stuffed Murray on a 2nd-and-goal from the 1. Then disaster struck, as Murray tried to reverse his field on an outside run, and he somehow lost 9 yards. Dallas faced a 4th-and-goal from the 10.
Romo had one more chance. He bought some time on the play before looking to his right and finding Murray. Romo threw to the back, who dove into the end zone. The extra point gave Dallas the lead.
The Redskins still had 1:08 remaining but had no timeouts. A penalty moved the ball back to the Washington 13. The maligned Dallas defense needed to make plays.
And it did. Yes, the plays stopped a 3-11 team playing with its backup quarterback, but the Dallas defense forced a turnover on downs, giving the Cowboys a chance to play for the NFC East title against Philadelphia next Sunday.
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The final couple of games for Dallas are similar to the final games in 2009. That year, the Cowboys had a 9-5 mark when they visited Washington in week 16. The Cowboys qualified for the playoffs with a win over the Redskins, setting up a season finale with the NFC East title on the line.
Dallas thumped the visiting Eagles in week 17 and then beat the Eagles again for the franchise’s only playoff win since 1996.
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A few notes about stats:
- Murray now has 1,073 rushing yards, making him the first Cowboy since 2006 to rush for at least 1,000 yards.
- Bryant caught his 12th touchdown reception, matching his number from 2012.
- The Cowboys allowed 297 yards, bringing the team’s average yards per game down to 418.6. This still ranks dead last in the NFL.
The 2013 marks just the fourth time in franchise history that the Cowboys have begun a season at 7-7. The three previous seasons were 1965, 1986, and 1999.
None of those seasons was memorable. However, each was noteworthy in the context of franchise history, as may the 2013 season. Below are some comparisons.
What happened in 1965? Dallas had suffered through five straight losing seasons and began the 1965 season with a 4-7 record. The worst loss was a 34-31 defeat to the Washington Redskins in a game where the Cowboys led 24-6 in the third quarter and 31-20 in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas did not lose another game during the regular season and finished with a non-losing record for the first time in franchise history.
What happened in the seasons that followed? The Cowboys became contenders one year later, going 10-3-1 and facing the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship Game. Dallas would not suffer through a losing season for another 20 years.
Why could the 2013 Cowboys be like the 1965 Cowboys? The 1965 squad featured a strong core of younger players reaching their prime. This group included Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Hayes, Cornell Green, and so forth. The 2013 squad has young talent as well in the form of Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray, Bruce Carter, and so forth. The team suffered through bad losses similar to the defeat to the Redskins in 1965, but the current Cowboys usually display resiliency.
Why might the Cowboys have a different future than the 1965 Cowboys? By 1965, Gil Brandt had begun to set himself apart among other head scouts. The 1964 draft for the Cowboys was one of the very best in franchise history, and the direct result was the team’s immediate improvement. In contrast, the Cowboys have had some mediocre-to-poor drafts during the past several seasons. Lee and Bruce Carter are frequently injured, and Bryant has not shown much leadership. Moreover, Jason Garrett has not proven he can manage a game effectively as a head coach, which is something Tom Landry started to prove after 1965. Hard to believe this current team would have 20 straight winning seasons.
The Cowboys technically made their first playoff appearance after the 1965 season, facing the Baltimore Colts in the Playoff Bowl. This game featured the second-place teams from each conference and was known as the Loser Bowl. Dallas lost 35-3.
What happened in 1986? The Cowboys began the 1986 season with a 6-2 record and looked like a playoff team. Then Danny White broke his wrist in a game against the Giants, and the Cowboys could only manage one win over their last eight games. The 7-9 record marked the first losing season for the franchise since 1964.
What happened in the seasons that followed? Two years later, the Cowboys were the worst team in the NFL. Tom Landry was fired in 1989 after the team posted a 3-13 record and Jerry Jones bought the team from Bum Bright.
Why could the 2013 Cowboys be like the 1986 Cowboys? The 1986 Cowboys had star power in the form of Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Randy White, Danny White, and some other recognizable names. However, the team had drafted poorly for most of the 1980s, and the team simply had no depth at most positions. The current team has likewise suffered from poor drafting. Though the Cowboys have star players, they also lack depth in most key positions. The Cowboys do not have enough talent across the board to suffer losses at key positions. The injuries this year have contributed heavily to the team having the worst defense in franchise history.
Why might the Cowboys have a different future than the 1986 Cowboys? The Cowboys have more young talent than the 1986 team had. The Cowboys lost receiver Mike Sherrard to serious injuries in 1987 and 1988, and the team had to start over again at the receiver spot. The lone star by 1988 was Walker. The current team has Bryant and Murray along with some other talented skills players. Moreover, the current team operates during the free-agent era, whereas the league did not have Plan B free agency until 1989. The Cowboys could find free agent talent to replace aging or injured stars faster than the team of the late 1980s could.
My opinion: the best thing to happen to Jerry Jones would be the worst thing to happen to Cowboys’ fans, and that would be a disastrous season (like the 3-13 season of 1988). Why? Because Jerry would have little choice but to accept that the way he has operated the franchise is not going to lead to another Super Bowl appearance in the foreseeable future.
What happened in 1999? The Cowboys jumped out of the gate with a 3-0 start. However, once the Cowboys lost Michael Irvin to a career-ending neck injury, the team struggled. Dallas led in every game of the season but could only manage an 8-8 finish. The team luckily made it into the playoffs but lost to Minnesota in a forgettable game.
What happened in the seasons that followed? The Cowboys suffered through salary-cap hell along with some bad personnel decisions. Head coach Dave Campo saw his team record three consecutive 5-11 seasons between 2000 and 2002.
Why could the 2013 Cowboys be like the 1999 Cowboys? The current team has suffered from being in salary-cap hell and bad personnel decisions. Even dedicated fans would have a difficult time naming the guys playing defense in 2013, and the Cowboys will have limited ability to address weaknesses on defense because of more cap problems in 2014. Falling from 8-8 to 5-11 is not hard to imagine.
Why might the Cowboys have a different future than the 1999 Cowboys? In 1999, Jerry was still hanging on to the idea that the franchise could return to glory with just a few missing pieces, such as a good second receiver or a good defensive end. The cornerstones of the dynasty, though, had little left in the tank, and once they were gone, the team had to start over again. The current squad is not in such a dire position. Tony Romo is playing better now than Troy Aikman was in 1999 and 2000. The team might lose DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, along with some others, over the next couple of years, but it does not appear the team will face such a precipitous drop in talent that the team experienced in 2000 and 2001.
Based on a search I ran on Pro-Football-Reference, the Cowboys have a combined record of 223-11 in games where they led by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. Here is my Facebook post about this search:
Between 2005 and 2010, the Cowboys could and often would turn to running back Marion Barber, who had a knack for making key first downs and allowing the Cowboys to run out the clock.
The Cowboys lost two games during that span in which the team led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter—a 14-13 loss to the Redskins in 2005 and a 20-13 loss to the Steelers in 2008. Barber did not play in either game, as he was not yet part of the offense in 2005 and was injured in the 2008 game.
The Cowboys struggles against the Steelers in 2008 were similar to those in recent years. Dallas had a 13-3 fourth-quarter lead and attempted to kill the clock. However, the team could only turn to Tashard Choice, who struggled to run the ball. Once the Steelers tied the game at 13, the Cowboys had to rely on Tony Romo to move the team into field goal range.
Romo instead threw an interception returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys did not recover.
Without Barber since 2011, the Cowboys seldom rely on their running game to close out games. DeMarco Murray is not the same type of runner that Barber was, and the Cowboys apparently do not trust him to run the ball unless the defense lines up without their safeties in the box. That apparently explains why Dallas was throwing so much in their loss to the Packers.
The defensive alignment never seemed to matter when the Cowboys had Barber, who found ways to make first downs even when everyone in the stadium knew he would get the ball.
In an old post, I wrote a summary of Barber’s best games as of the end of 2009. Here is that list:
Oct. 30, 2005: Dallas 34, Arizona 13
Filling in for an injured Julius Jones, Barber carried the ball 27 times for 127 yards in a 34-13 win over Arizona. With the Cowboys leading by at least two touchdowns, Barber touched the ball 14 times in the fourth quarter.
Oct. 29, 2006: Dallas 35, Carolina 14
The Cowboys had a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter when safety Roy Williams picked off a pass in Carolina territory. The Cowboys alternated between Barber and Julius Jones, but it was Barber who found the end zone twice in the final three minutes to put the game away for Dallas.
Nov. 12, 2006: Dallas 38, Arizona 10
Dallas dominated the Cardinals in Arizona, taking a 20-3 lead late in the third quarter. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Barber touched the ball 10 times and scored a short run to increase the lead to 27-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Nov. 23, 2006: Dallas 38, Tampa Bay 10
In another blowout, Dallas held a 35-10 lead in the third quarter. In the final 18:36, Barber ran the ball 11 times and helped to set up the final field goal.
Dec. 16, 2006: Dallas 38, Atlanta 28
The Cowboys had a narrow 31-28 lead at Atlanta when the Falcons punted with 8:58 remaining. Barber took over from there, catching one pass early in the drive and then running six consecutive times. The sixth rush was a three-yard touchdown, securing the Dallas win.
Sept. 9, 2007: Dallas 45, N.Y. Giants 35
In a wild season opener, Dallas took a 45-35 lead late in the game when Tony Romo hit Sam Hurd on a 51-yard touchdown. The Giants punted the ball back to the Cowboys with 2:08 remaining. From there, Barber ran the ball five straight times, helping Dallas to run out the clock.
Sept. 16, 2007: Dallas 37, Miami 20
The Dolphins would not give up in the second week of the 2007 season. After cutting the lead to 30-20 with 3:26 remaining, the Dolphins tried an onside kick. Dallas recovered, and on the next play, Barber raced 40 yards for the final score of the game.
Sept. 23, 2007: Dallas 34, Chicago 10
In another surprising blowout in 2007, Dallas held a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter and took the ball over with 8:53 remaining. Barber touched the ball eight consecutive times on a 78-yard drive, which Barber capped off with a one-yard touchdown run.
Oct. 21, 2007: Dallas 24, Minnesota 14
The Cowboys took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. In the final eight minutes of the game, Barber carried the ball 11 times, putting the game away.
Nov. 11, 2007: Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 20
With Dallas leading 31-20 in the fourth quarter, Barber touched the ball eight times, helping the Cowboys to a key win at the Meadowlands.
Nov. 22, 2007: Dallas 34, N.Y. Jets 3
In a blowout win, Barber touched the ball 11 times in the final 10:47 to help the Cowboys run out the clock in a Thanksgiving Day win.
Nov. 29, 2007: Dallas 37, Green Bay 27
With the Cowboys holding on to a one-touchdown lead with 5:03 left, the Cowboys turned to Barber. He carried the ball seven times for 26 yards to help set up a field goal that iced the game for Dallas.
Dec. 22, 2007: Dallas 20, Carolina 13
The Cowboys’ held a one-touchdown lead with about three minutes remaining. Needing at least a first down, Barber came through with runs of 9 and 11 yards to help secure the win for Dallas.
Sept. 15, 2008: Dallas 41, Philadelphia 37
Barber did not put the game away against the Eagles in the second week of the 2008 season, but his one-yard touchdown run was the game winner in an early season victory.
Oct. 5, 2008: Dallas 31, Cincinnati 22
With the Cowboys barely holding on to a 24-22 lead with 7:39 remaining, the Cowboys turned to Barber, who gained 20 yards on the team’s final scoring drive that put the Bengals away.
Nov. 16, 2008: Dallas 14, Washington 10
The Cowboys were holding on to a 14-10 lead over the Redskins when the Cowboys stopped a Washington drive in Dallas territory. In his greatest effort as a closer so far, Barber touched the ball 11 straight times. His last run on a fourth-and-one play put the game away for the Cowboys.
Nov. 23, 2008: Dallas 35, San Francisco 22
With the Cowboys having trouble putting the 49ers away, Dallas turned to Barber on two fourth quarter drives. He touched the ball eight times, helping the secure the win.
Sept. 13, 2009: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21
The Cowboys had trouble putting the Buccaneers away in the opening game of the 2009 season. On a late scoring drive, highlighted by a 44-yard pass play from Romo to Patrick Crayton, Barber ran the ball four times and scored from six yards out, helping the Cowboys to a win.
Nov. 8, 2009: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16
The Eagles cut the Dallas led to 20-16 with 4:27 remaining in a key NFC East game on Sunday night. With the Cowboys needing first downs, Dallas gave ball to Barber, who gained 23 yards on three consecutive carries. Since the Eagles were out of timeouts, a third down conversion on a pass from Romo to Jason Witten put the game away.
The Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny and will make the playoffs by winning their final two games.
Few teams in league history have be less deserving if the Cowboys do this. We can go through all the four-letter words and longer words and phrases while describing this team, but we’ve said all these words and phrases before.
The short story: the Cowboys sprinted to a 26-3 first-half lead. The Cowboys were running the ball well. The Packers showed no ability to stop the run. So the Cowboys decided to throw.
And throw. And throw. And throw.
The 26-3 lead disappeared. Tony Romo threw two critical interceptions late in the game, and the Packers surged ahead and won the game.
This is the same basic team as the one that took a 27-3 lead over the Detroit Lions on October 2, 2011, only to allow the Lions back into the game by throwing and throwing and throwing.
That’s throwing picks, as in two interceptions of Tony Romo that were returned for touchdowns to allowed the Lions back into the game.
There have been other absolutely pathetic losses during the Garrett tenure, with the loss to the Lions in 2011 being the worst.
The Cowboys’ defense in 2013 is much worse than then defense of 2011. The Cowboys needed to hold on to the ball at all costs, because this defense cannot stop anyone. Whether the Green Bay quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, a 79-year-old Bart Starr, a deceased Curly Lambeau, or any two- or four-legged animal, the Cowboys defense cannot stop anyone.
So when Flynn started hitting anyone he wanted, it came as no surprise. When the Cowboys could not stop Eddie Lacy, it came as no surprise. Any positives from the first-half were a distant memory by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
There are so many reasons for this debacle—injuries on defense, general incompetence on defense, play-calling on offense, Romo’s decision-making, Gene Jones’ selection of “Blue Field Explosions” inside AT&T Stadium (some sort of giant wall drawing; I just looked it up)—that nothing can really explain this debacle.
I won’t try.
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The Cowboys could have wrapped up the NFC East by beating the Packers and Redskins and hoping for an Eagles’ loss to Bears. The Bears-Eagles game will matter only if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins. If the Cowboys win, the season finale against the Eagles is for all the marbles.
I’ll watch, even if I am quite sure I don’t want to watch any of this.
The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers in the 1966 NFL Championship Game by a final score of 34-27. The Cowboys were in position to tie the game at 34 near the end of regulation.
Facing a 4th-and-goal from the Green Bay 2, Don Meredith tried to complete a touchdown pass on a rollout play, but the Packers’ Dave Robinson got to Meredith before the Dallas QB could find an open man. Meredith was able to get a pass off in Bob Hayes’ general direction, but Tom Brown intercepted the pass to secure the Green Bay win.
The Cowboys originally had the ball at the 2 on their final drive because of a pass interference call. The team lost 5 yards because of a false-start penalty, setting up a 3rd-and-goal from the 6. The Cowboys moved back to the 2 on the third-down play.
Trivia question, answered in the puzzle below: who caught the pass on third down to set up the 4th-and-goal play from the 2?
The Cowboys might still set NFL records for futility on defense, given the team’s inability to stop anyone on defense. This did not stop Jerry Jones from giving Monte Kiffin a firm vote of confidence after the Cowboys could not force a single punt against the Bears on Monday.
This led to a host of comments, including:
As an Eagle fan, I hope that Jerry lives forever.
A bit of a debate has now begun about whether the root cause is the lack of talent on defense or the scheme. A short summary of the arguments:
It’s the Players: The no-names on the defensive line do not provide enough pressure to make the Tampa 2 work. The team just is not getting enough pressure from the front four.
It’s the Scheme: The Cover 2/Tampa 2 has been going out of favor for several years because of how offenses have responded to it, and the Cowboys’ use of the scheme just proves how ineffective it’s become.
I don’t have an answer to why the defense is so bad, but this reminded me of coordinator hires in 2000 and 2002 that had similar results.
In 1999, the Cowboys finished 16th in the league in total offense while running Chan Gailey’s offense. Jerry decided to make a change in schemes and hired Jack Reilly to run the timing-based system that the Rams had used to win the Super Bowl in ’99.
With the team’s talent level taking a severe hit thanks to salary-cap problems, the Cowboys’ yards-per-game average sank from 302.5 in 1999 to 279.7 in 2000 and 275.1 in 2001.
The Cowboys still did not upgrade the offense in 2002 in any significant way, but Jerry decided the answer to the problem was to install the West Coast Offense. The team hired Bruce Coslet, who at one time was considered one of the leading minds regarding the West Coast system. However, the team did not have the talent in place to run that system, and teams at that point were already starting to move away from the way they had run the West Coast during the 1990s.
The result—the Cowboys averaged just 273.4 yards per game, continuing the trend of the offense averaging fewer yards than the year before. The team ranked 30th in the league in total yards and 31st in points. Only the ’60 and ’89 squads were close to as bad on offense. The Cowboys followed two 5-11 seasons with yet another 5-11 season.
Fast forward to the last few years on the defensive side of the ball. In Wade Phillips’ last full season in Dallas in 2009, the Cowboys allowed an average of 315.9 yards per game, which ranked 9th in the league.
The team fell apart in 2010, allowing 351.8 yards per game. Jerry hired Rob Ryan for the 2011 season, and the defense improved slightly by allowing 343.2 yards per game. However, in 2012, the team allowed 355.4 yards per game, and the problems on defense led Jerry to fire Ryan and turn to Monte Kiffin.
Without upgrading the defense in any significant way thanks to salary-cap problems, Jerry expected Kiffin to install the Tampa 2 to achieve better results. The result has been that the team has allowed 426.8 yards per game, including four games where the defense has allowed more than 500 yards.
Does Jerry learn from mistakes? Of course not. This team that has been no better than mediocre for most of the past 18 years is once again mediocre and could be headed for yet another 8-8 season.
The Dallas Cowboys somehow still control their playoff destiny. If they win their remaining three games, they will win the NFC East.
If the Cowboys look anything like they did against the Chicago Bears, the team will not win another game.
The team brought the worst defense in franchise history—and one of the worst in NFL history—to Soldier Field to let the Bears do whatever they wanted.
Josh McCown threw for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns with a passer rating of 141.9. The Cowboys could not stop Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffrey. Matt Forte ran at will in the second half.
What was a 14-14 game with less than two minutes left in the first half quickly turned into a 24-14 Chicago lead at halftime. Although the Chicago touchdown was the result of a great individual play by Jeffrey in the corner of the end zone, the Cowboys had allowed the Bears to get into position to throw the touchdown late in the first half.
The Dallas defense had no clue how to stop the Bears in the second half, and eventually the Cowboys stopped trying.
The Cowboys gave up 498 total yards of offense and did not force a single punt. In fact, the only time the Bears left the field without scoring was because Chicago chose to kneel down to end the game.
Friends, this graphic shows just how bad this defense is:
Four teams had gained more than 500 yards against Dallas, and Chicago nearly became the fifth. The Bears became the third team to score at least 40 against Dallas this year.
Tony Romo threw for three touchdowns, including two in the first half. However, he was largely ineffective. The leading pass receiver for most of the game was tight end Gavin Escobar and his one reception for 25 yards (until he made another one late in the game).
DeMarco Murray ran well, but many of his yards also came during the first half and were rendered meaningless by the third quarter.
Dallas is now 7-6, while Philadelphia is 8-5. Unless the Eagles lose to either the Bears or Vikings, the Cowboys will have to beat the Packers and Redskins, setting up a season finale for all the marbles.
Sounds good, except the Cowboys will enter that game with this disgraceful unit called a defense. Not much room for optimism tonight.
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The last time the Cowboys allowed three opponents to score 40 or more points in a single season was 1960. That was, of course, an 0-11-1 season and the first in franchise history.
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Kyle Orton attempted his first pass of the season. The last time he played was in 2012 against Chicago in another loss.
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Joseph Randle and Cole Beasley both scored against the Bears. It was the second touchdown for both players, as Beasley had scored against the Broncos while Randle had scored against the Redskins.
For more than half of Sunday’s game between Philadelphia and Detroit, it appeared that the Lions and the weather were working in the Cowboys’ favor. With the Cowboys and Eagles tied in the standings at 7-5, a Detroit win would have given Dallas a big boost. With Detroit leading, I stupidly wrote this:
That did not last long. The Eagles erased a 14-0 second-half deficit and ran away with the game, beating the Lions 34-20. Philadelphia has games against the Vikings and Bears. Dallas needs to remain within at least a game of the Eagles to set up a season-ending matchup at AT&T Stadium for the NFC East crown. The Cowboys play the Packers and Redskins in the next two weeks following the game Monday night against the Bears. The Cowboys could also benefit from their division record. Dallas has a 4-0 record in the division, compared with Philadelphia’s 3-2 mark.
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It’s looking as if Mike Shanahan may not be the Redskins’ coach when Dallas travels to Washington on December 22. According to some reports indicate that Dan Snyder may fire Shanahan before the of the season. Dallas may still be a must-win situation on December 22. Not sure whether the firing would be good or bad for the Cowboys. I know, however, that the Cowboys did not make a mistake by not pursuing Shanahan in 2010.
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The Cowboys have played 78 games on Mondays. Most of those were on Monday Night Football. The team’s overall record on Mondays is 44-34. Dallas has faced Chicago twice on Mondays. Both were losses (34-18 in 2012 and 22-6 in 1996).