DALLAS — Believe it or not, but the Dallas Cowboys' 46-17 thrashing of Washington Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium was the fourth-largest margin of victory for Dallas in series history. It was also the team's 20th sweep of Washington, making them the second-most swept NFC East opponent in Cowboys history. 

Of course, when all of this takes place in the backdrop of an 8-8 finish and no playoffs, it rings hollow.

There was the defense

Dallas' defense was flying all over the place with safety Jeff Heath, linebacker Jaylon Smith, and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie each collecting two pass breakups. Smith also had an interception and a tackle for loss to go along with his eight tackles, which tied Heath and Washington's Jonathan Allen for the game-high.

With defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence knocked out of the game with a rib injury, defensive ends Kerry Hyder and Robert Quinn each added a sack. Linebacker Malcolm Smith forced a fumble and safety Xavier Woods scooped it up. 

Where was this sort of effort from Rod Marinelli’s crew all season?

This brand of defense showed up at points throughout the year. The 16 points they allowed Sunday were comparable to the 17 they gave up in Week 16 at Philadelphia. 

This defense provided the offense with such great field position that even if they went three-and-out, it was still in Kai Forbath's field goal range to help put points on the board.

Given that the Cowboys offense exploded for 46 points, which would have been good enough to convert any one of their eight losses into a win, fans would have preferred to have had this performance somewhere else on the schedule.

A kicker may have made the difference

Check it again: Kai Forbath went 4-for-4 on field goals. That means he was perfect in his three games for Dallas and kicked at least three field goals per contest. 

Go back to the first quarter when Dallas was having trouble getting going on offense. Even with the good field position, the offense failed to move the ball and produced third-and-longs. But Forbath hit field goals of 28 and 47 yards out to give Dallas a 6-0 lead over Washington.

What if they still had Brett Maher and he was missing those kicks, deflating the team, and giving life to the opposition? 

But more importantly, what if Dallas went to Forbath sooner in the season and dropped Maher? Maybe they'd be hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a wild-card rematch.

Michael Gallup took strides in second year

The third-round receiver from Colorado State entered Week 17 with three touchdown catches on the season, and he left Week 17 with three scores against Washington. With five catches for 98 yards, Gallup was the Cowboys' leading receiver.

Gallup missed two games for Dallas, the Miami game in Week 3 and the New Orleans game in Week 4. While the Cowboys were able to get by without Gallup against the Dolphins, how much of a difference could he have made against the Saints when Marshon Lattimore locked down Amari Cooper?

Gallup has developed into the complementary threat that proves he could be a No. 1 in his own right. If Dallas chooses not to re-sign Cooper, they should feel good about the chemistry that Gallup has developed with quarterback Dak Prescott and how that could grow in year three.

Garrett may need to go

It is one thing to throw out the stat that Jason Garrett has had the most influence on the Cowboys' conference championship game drought. He's had nine seasons as the full-time coach and the club is 25 seasons removed from their Jan. 14, 1996, matchup with the Green Bay Packers at Texas Stadium. 

It is another to compare it to the rest of the NFL. 

Case in point: the San Francisco 49ers. In 2011, Dallas promoted Garrett from interim coach to full-time while the 49ers hired Stanford Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh.

While Dallas finished 8-8 and lost the play-in game for the NFC East title in three straight years, Harbaugh led the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship games, helping San Francisco overtake Dallas as having the most title game appearances (15 to 14).

In 2014, Harbaugh flamed out, the 49ers fell back into the mire of the NFC West, and went through three head coaches. 

Then in 2019, when Garrett finishes 8-8 again, San Francisco has had another revival and achieved a No. 1 seed in the conference.

There is no more damning evidence of how futile and fruitless the Garrett era has been.

Do you think the Cowboys will make the NFC Championship Game in the next 25 years? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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