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Cowboys Hash Marks: Dallas will have to take scenic route in playoffs

After stumbling in Week 17, the Dallas Cowboys will have to travel to hostile territory if they want to traverse the NFC playoffs and make it to the Super Bowl.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, left, talks with defensive line coach Aden Durde, right, during warmups before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov, 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys weren't able to defend their home turf against Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The former Allen Eagle improved his overall record inside AT&T Stadium to 8-0, secured a playoff spot for the Cardinals, and knocked the Cowboys out of their shot at the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

With the Cowboys relegated to 11-5 and forced to take the long way to Inglewood, California, for Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium, here are four takeaways from Week 17:

1. Mike McCarthy's in-game management cost the Cowboys — The remark was made in Week 3's "Hash Marks" following the Cowboys' decision to sit on a 13-point lead and poor clock management going into halftime that it could cost them down the road. "It was the type of coaching that, if it ever crops up again, could cost Dallas a bye, the opportunity to host a home playoff game, or just bounce them out of the postseason altogether.”

Eventually, it caught up with them.

Dallas had to burn a timeout with 4:10 to go in the third quarter just before a 26-yard field goal by Arizona kicker Matt Prater. Burning the timeout meant that the Cowboys didn't have their full complement to try to get the ball back on Arizona's final drive that began with 4:42 to go.

McCarthy’s blunder also meant that they didn't have a timeout as collateral to throw the challenge flag when Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds fumbled with 2:51 to go. Dallas even had a clear recovery of the fumble, albeit referee Scott Novak's crew ruled Edmonds down by contact. If Dallas had a timeout, they could have challenged.

2. Don't blame the refs — There is inconsistency when it comes to the way NFL games are officiated, but it isn't like teams are ambushed every week by calls and no-calls alike. Every crew has a flavor they bring to the game.

The Cowboys had Novak's crew in the Week 8 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. They had enough games and enough material on Novak's crew to know what type of game might be called.

Like the elements, the officials aren't a factor that can be controlled. However, if a team does its job, they don't have to worry about the officials, kind of like the sun glare coming through the windows at AT&T Stadium.

3. Is the offense back to slumping? — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters after the game that he didn't think the offense was back to being in a slump. "I think Arizona had everything to do with it," Jones said. "We were playing Washington last week, Arizona is a different cup of tea. I mean, really, I think give Arizona credit, they played well and were very physical with their defense."

By the same logic, the Cardinals offense was going against a team that was leading the NFL in takeaways, yet the NFL's leader in interceptions — Trevon Diggs — wasn't able to come up with a pick. Furthermore, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons wasn't able to get a sack.

The Cardinals offense generated 399 yards against one of the league's best defenses. The defenses that Dallas will face from here on out will be as good or better than the Cardinals, and if Dallas can't meet the challenge, the perception of a slump will continue until the bitter end.

4. What to do with Philadelphia? — Both NFC East rivals have already clinched a playoff spot, yet the league helped each squad with what could amount to an extra day of rest before Wild Card Weekend as they play on Saturday night.

Since 2002, the year of realignment in the NFL, the Cowboys have lost their first playoff game every time they also lost their season finale (2003, 2006, 2007, 2016). Conversely, the Cowboys have won their first playoff game when they have won their season finale (2009, 2014, 2018).

Would Dallas have really lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2018 NFC wild-card had Cole Beasley not caught that two-point conversion against the New York Giants to give Dallas the 36-35 win?

Almost certainly not, but the concept of capturing momentum and going into the playoffs strong is vital. If Dallas comes out flat against the Eagles, it will be a harbinger for the wild-card, where they may have a rematch against the Cardinals, who will be even healthier by then.

How are you feeling about Dallas’ chances to end the championship game drought? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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