FRISCO, Texas — The excuses are there, ready to be used. The Dallas Cowboys have their backup quarterback playing games. They have lost perhaps their biggest star in QB Dak Prescott. They have a first-year coach with a first-year staff in a season in which there was no offseason program, a shortened training camp and no preseason games.
As has often been repeated, these are unprecedented times during the 2020 NFL season.
But the New York Giants (5-7) have won four straight games with new coach Joe Judge while running back Saquon Barkley sits out for the season with a knee injury and Colt McCoy wins his first game at quarterback since 2014. The Washington Football Team (5-7) has won three straight games with quarterback Alex Smith, who almost lost his right leg because of infections from a compound fracture in 2018, and first-year coach Ron Rivera, who has undergone treatment for cancer during the season.
The Cleveland Browns are 9-3 for the first time since 1994. Rookie coach Kevin Stefanski is a candidate for coach of the year, and he hasn’t had wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. because of a knee injury for the past five games and the Browns’ best pass-rusher, Myles Garrett, missed two games because of COVID-19.
The Giants won a game few thought they could at the Seattle Seahawks. Washington won a game few thought it could by defeating the previously unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. The Browns throttled the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
So, what about the Cowboys?
They have all of the excuses at the ready, including first-year coach Mike McCarthy did not have an offseason to fully implement his program. The radical change on defense needed time to take hold. And, oh, the injuries. Prescott is out for the season because of a compound fracture of his right ankle. Left tackle Tyron Smith‘s season ended after two games because of neck surgery. Right tackle La’el Collins did not play a snap because of hip surgery.
With Zack Martin out for at least the next three games, the Cowboys have roughly $58 million of their 2020 salary cap on injured reserve.
Add in the coronavirus pandemic and the death of strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul, and this has been a season worth forgetting.
Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton puts the ball in a tight window to Michael Gallup for a 13-yard touchdown.
“As for this organization,” Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said Tuesday night on the Fox broadcast of his former team, “I don’t know where it goes from here. So many areas to be addressed.”
Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas in the morning hours before the 34-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said it would be fair to compare the situations in New York, who fired offensive line coach Marc Colombo (the former Cowboy who got into a heated disagreement with Judge), and Washington to Dallas and wonder why the NFC East rivals are at least seeing the arrow pointed up.
“I don’t know how you could line them up and make a better, fairer comparison,” Jones said.
But the Cowboys’ arrow is pointing down. Straight down.
The run defense allowed 294 yards on the ground against Baltimore, which means Mike Nolan’s defense has given up two of the three highest rushing totals in a game in franchise history. In Week 4, Stefanski’s Browns ran for 307 yards, the most the Cowboys have ever allowed in a game.
The Cowboys’ offense managed 29 first downs and held on to the ball for 32 minutes, 26 seconds against the Ravens, but scored 17 points. The lone explosive play came in the final minute on a 28-yard Andy Dalton-to-Michael Gallup throw when the game was over.
Greg Zuerlein missed as many kicks Tuesday as he had all season — three — and one miss came after a delay of game penalty that pushed a 35-yard try to 40 yards.
Why didn’t McCarthy call a timeout?
“Frankly, I thought we were going to snap the ball and kick the field goal,” he said. “Obviously a breakdown in our operation.”
This came after an ill-advised fake punt call on fourth-and-10 against Washington on Thanksgiving that saw a four-point game balloon into a 25-point loss.
The Cowboys have allowed a league-high 393 points this season. The Detroit Lions have allowed the second most at 358 but won their first game after firing coach Matt Patricia last Sunday.
Patricia had a 13-29-1 record in 43 games with the Lions. McCarthy is now 14-25-1 in his past 40 games as a head coach.
The Cowboys (3-9) can say they are in the NFC East chase as they sit two games behind the Giants and Washington, but Washington owns the tiebreaker on Dallas because it swept the Cowboys. The Cowboys end the season Jan. 3 at the Giants.
Does anybody believe there will be more to play for other than 2021 NFL draft position?
“Frankly, we need to play better. We need to perform better,” McCarthy said. “We got a short week and we need to go beat Cincinnati. The fourth quarter of the season is upon us. Our goal is to finish strong, but it definitely starts with a win in Cincinnati.”