LANDOVER, Md. — In reality, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t have much to play for. The Philadelphia Eagles were taking care of business against the New York Giants, securing the NFC East crown – and the No. 1 seed – which was up for grabs at the start of the day.
The most disturbing thing for the Cowboys is that it was seen. And for the offensive side of the ball, it’s part of a pattern that has plagued the team all the way down the stretch and left the Cowboys limping to Tampa Bay to face Tom Brady and the Buccaneers for a wildcard game.
“You’ve got a big vocabulary,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said when asked to describe the offensive performance in a 26-6 loss to the Washington Commanders. “Dark.”
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Here are some quick snippets from the thesaurus to help you paint a picture of how the unit performed: inauspicious, cataclysmic, demoralizing, execrable.
At the center of the conundrum is quarterback Dak Prescott. His word to sum up his own performance isn’t acceptable for print, unfortunately, but it rhymes with “smitty.”
Prescott was an abysmal 14 for 37 for 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Its longest completion was 15 meters. The offense recorded 10 three-outs (with Prescott on the field) thanks to a 4-for-18 (22.2%) performance on third down. Prescott has thrown for 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions over his last five games, a streak in which the Cowboys went 3-2. Prescott tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions this season.
Prescott’s weak spot came early in the second quarter after two nearly identical shots to the right. On the first attempt, Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller nearly made an interception. Prescott wanted the result of the next play to be the same. This time, Fuller jumped the road again and entered the end zone for a 28-yard, six-point return.
Entering the fourth quarter, Prescott was 10 of 29 for 93 yards. He was inaccurate all day, with commanders breaking seven passes. He missed up, down, front and back.
Washington’s defense sat six starters in a meaningless game for them. Prescott said he had “no awareness” of the proceedings in Philadelphia, a 22-16 Eagles victory that shattered the Cowboys’ chances of winning the NFC East. But Dallas didn’t mind its own business, regardless.
“Going into this game, I feel like we knew we were going to win,” said receiver CeeDee Lamb, who caught the Cowboys’ lone touchdown six seconds before halftime. “We all need to flip the switch.”
Clearly, the Cowboys haven’t reached that standard.
“We play professional football, man,” right guard Zack Martin said of the uncertain motivations going into the game. “If you go out and you don’t go, that’s what happens.”
McCarthy added that the Cowboys entered this week with little pace.
“It wasn’t our best week of training, no doubt,” he said. “We had moving parts trying to (play) guys at different (positions).”
“Our players are human,” added McCarthy.
Prescott’s struggles are part of the “cake” that owner and general manager Jerry Jones likes to talk about while deciding how to give contract extensions to Lamb, Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed eight times over 10 meters.
The Commanders defensive line intimidated the Cowboys upfront the entire game. As a team, Dallas had 27 rushing attempts for 64 yards (2.4 yards per carry). A call waiting killed a reader. Simple screens could not be filled.
Special teams were another factor the Cowboys needed to correct before Tampa Bay. Punter Bryan Anger set the tone badly by mishandling a snap after Dallas’ first possession, handing the ball to the commanders on the Cowboys 20-yard line. Returner KaVontae Turpin missed a punt later in the first quarter to give Washington the ball again in the red zone.
This is not all to completely absolve the defense. Commanders quarterback Sam Howell, in his first NFL start, threw a touchdown on his first backhand to Terry McLaurin. Later in the game, he and McLaurin connected for a 52-yard play that set up a field goal.
The Cowboys can look back on the regular season as a 12-5 club that was in contention for the most competitive division in football until the last day. It’s a prism to look at Sunday’s result. But that would ignore the fact that too much has gone wrong for the Cowboys in the nation’s capital.
Corrections must come quickly. Or else the off-season will arrive more quickly.
“There is no other choice,” Martin said. “We’re still doing it, we’ll be sitting at home next week.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys, Dak Prescott continues troubling trend as Tom Brady waits