DREADFUL DEFEAT: 5 observations from the Cowboys loss on Sunday against Washington

Jan 8, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) runs with the ball for a touchdown as Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damone Clark (33) chases during the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

DREADFUL DEFEAT: 5 observations from the Cowboys loss on Sunday against Washington

With a chance at a second-straight NFC East title with a win, the Cowboys (12-5) came out disinterested and uninspired, and it showed in their 26-6 loss to the Washington Commanders (8-8-1) in the regular season finale for both teams on Sunday afternoon at FedExField in Landover, MD.

Sluggish effort

The Cowboys’ effort on Sunday can only be described as concerning.

With plenty to play for, the Cowboys came out flat in all three phases and struggled through a 20-point road loss.

The Cowboys finished with 182 total yards, with 118 coming through the air on a day when Dak Prescott completed just under 38 percent of his passes.

The combination of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard gained the Cowboys 29 yards rushing on 15 attempts.

Defensively, the Cowboys allowed rookie quarterback Sam Howell to lead Washington to five scores and 309 total yards.

It was rough from the start, as the Cowboys fumbled on the first possession that allowed the Commanders to take an early lead they would never relinquish.

The first half left little to be desired for the Cowboys, who amassed just 131 yards – 51 yards on the ground, of total offense on 35 snaps. Without the final drive of the second quarter, which went 77 yards and ended with a touchdown, the Cowboys did very little against the Commanders’ defense besides gifting them a second-quarterback touchdown.

Offensive line struggles

With a new offensive line configuration this week, the Cowboys got beat by the speed of the Washington defensive line on several occasions that ended in one sack and a ground attack that gained just 51 yards on 22 called running plays.

The Cowboys started Jason Peters at left tackle, Tyler Smith at left guard, Connor McGovern at center, Zack Martin at right guard, and Tyron Smith and right tackle, the first game started by this group this season.

The group struggled in the first half, as the running game could only muster 30 yards on 12 called running plays. They also allowed the one sack and several quarterback pressures in the opening 30 minutes.

The group was called for a late holding penalty, when Tyler Smith was flagged in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys already trailing 23-6.

Rough day for Cowboys QB

The Cowboys needed to see something good from their quarterback before taking him out and saving him for the playoffs.

In a game that should have seen Cooper Rush start the second half, it was still Prescott in the game after an opening 30 minutes that produced very little for the NFL’s second-leading scoring offense.

Prescott finally exited with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter, but not because he escaped the funk he was in during the first 54 minutes of the game. He finished the game completing 14-of-37 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown.

It was rough from the opening kickoff for the Dallas quarterback.

Down 7-0, Prescott was picked off by Commanders corner Kendall Fuller, who returned it 29 yards for the touchdown. It was the second straight play Fuller had his hands on a Prescott throw after missing a sure pick-six on the previous down with the Cowboys running the very same seven-yard out route to the right boundary.

It was the crowning moment of a first half that saw Prescott complete just 9-of-21 passes for 80 yards and one late touchdown. Seven of those completions came during the final drive of the half, which ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb.

Porous defensive front

The Cowboys’ defensive front was again bit by an opponent’s running game; this time, it was Washington having their way with the Dallas front seven.

The Commanders finished with 151 yards rushing on 41 carries. Running back Jaret Patterson led the way for Washington with 78 yards on 17 carries, while quarterback Sam Howell added 35 yards on five carries and running back Jonathan Williams with 32 yards on 14 totes.

The Commanders’ running game was alive in the first half, grinding out 74 yards on 20 carries in the first 30 minutes.

The Cowboys did record three sacks of Howell, all coming in the first half.

Special teams errors

Sunday afternoon was the worst game of the season for the Dallas special teams.

In the first half, the Cowboys’ special teams unit fumbled a snap, fumbled a punt return, and missed an extra point.

After the opening series went nowhere, Cowboys punter Bryan Anger just dropped the snap, and by the time he picked it up, he was swarmed down at the Dallas 20. The Commanders scored just two plays later for a 7-0 lead.

On the Cowboys’ first punt return, KaVontae Turpin muffed the fair catch at the Cowboys’ 15. But it only led to a missed Joey Slye field goal.

Then late in the first half, the Cowboys finally got on the scoreboard with a touchdown, but Brett Maher missed just his third extra point of the season. It was Maher’s only attempted kick of the game.

Anger finished with 10 punts for a 47.8-yard average on the day.

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