The Dallas Cowboys choke again

The vaunted Cowboys offence disappeared right when it mattered.

So much for my suggestion that the Dallas Cowboys could win their first Super Bowl in 26 years!

After topping the NFC East and winning the 3rd seed in the NFC over the St Louis Los Angeles Rams in a tie-break, the Cowboys faced their old enemy the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The 49ers had just snuck into the playoffs after coming back from 17 points down and edging the Rams in overtime the previous week.

This was the first time these storied franchises, both 5-time Super Bowl Champions, had met in the playoffs since the 1995 NFC Championship. That day a Steve Young-quarterbacked 49ers prevailed over Troy Aikman and co, and went on the win the Super Bowl against the San Diego Chargers, ultimately preventing the Cowboys from winning four Super Bowls in a row.

With Dak Prescott having thrown 37 touchdown passes during the regular season, and the Cowboys being ranked the number 1 offence in terms of total yards, the Cowboys were favoured to progress to the Divisional Round.

Offence wins games…

Unfortunately, as they say “offence wins games. Defence wins championships”. Like backing a rookie quarterback, backing a high-powered offence playing an above-average or even great defence in the playoffs usually isn’t the best thing to do.

And so it proved, with the 49ers defence – the third best in the regular season in terms of yards per game (310) including being the sixth best against the pass (207 yards per game) and seventh best against the rush (103 yards per game) – prevailing.

The Cowboys offence struggled for most of the game, resulting in Dallas being behind 13 points in the fourth quarter before Dak Prescott rallied his team through a running touchdown.

A late penalty to the 49ers gave the Cowboys one last chance. Getting the ball back on their 20-yard line with 32 seconds left on the clock and down 17-23, the Cowboys marched down the field.

On the 49ers 41-yard line with around 14 seconds and no timeouts left, Prescott ran 17 yards on a quarterback draw before sliding and trying to spike the ball with 1 or 2 seconds left to give his team one last play. Unfortunately, the referee was unable to get out of the way in time and the game ended.

Blame the referees?

The first question to ask is whether the referee was at fault. By rule, he has to touch the ball before another play can begin. In the end, trying to do so then get out of the way meant Prescott didn’t have enough time to spike the ball before time expired.

While this is unfortunate, ultimately the Cowboys should never have cut it so fine and so it isn’t the referee’s fault that time expired before they could make one last play.

The same goes for another play earlier in the game when the very same referee prevented the ‘Boys from getting a play off in time while he allowed the 49ers to substitute, resulting in a delay of game penalty.

Quite simply, the Cowboys should never have put themselves in such a position for these incidents to potentially influence the result.

Laid an egg

As Coach McCarthy and Prescott acknowledged, the last play had been regularly practiced and Dak admitted he should have gone down earlier rather than seeking a few extra yards. Had he done so, that would likely have left the Cowboys enough time to spike the ball and stop the clock before time expired.

Even so, it was a disappointing performance all around by Dallas. A poor running game didn’t help, with Ezekiel Elliott held to 31 yards on his 12 carries, but the Cowboys’ vaunted offence disappeared when it mattered, only generating 17 points and 307 total yards.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough.

Moreover, after being the most penalised team during the regular season, the Cowboys ill-discipline continued, being penalised 14 times for 89 yards.

Next year?

Thus ends another promising Cowboys season.

Certainly a 12-5 regular season record and a playoff appearance is a vast improvement on their 6-10 record last year. But any Cowboys fan would be disappointed they didn’t take advantage of their number 3 seed to at least win a game or two in the playoffs.

It has now been 27 years since the Cowboys even made an NFC Championship game, and 26 years since they last made (and won) the Super Bowl.

There is always next year though!

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