Jan 8, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) passes the ball against the Washington Commanders during the third quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Road loss doesn’t offer much hope for Cowboys’ playoff success

The Cowboys just slogged through their worst effort of the season on Sunday afternoon just outside Washington, D.C., and that should be more than just a little concerning as they hit the playoffs on a real slide.

With a lack of focus from the opening kickoff, the Cowboys were in for a long day of penalties, punts, and the fewest points in a game since Week 1.

Dak Prescott was not accurate or timely with his throws, and his 38.7% completion rate is the worst of his career.

Of the eight Cowboys that were targeted in the passing game, only one – tight end Jake Ferguson – caught all passes that came his way. He had one catch for four yards. Prescott missed CeeDee Lamb on two of seven targets, Dalton Schultz on five of nine passes, T.Y. Hilton on two of four passes, as well as Noah Brown and Michael Gallup on five of six passes each.

All three of Prescott’s throws to the running backs were incomplete.

The Cowboys running game was nonexistent. Ezekiel Elliott had just 10 yards on eight carries, good for the fourth-best runner in the game for Dallas behind Tony Pollard (19 yards), Malik Davis (19 yards), and Prescott (16 yards).

The offense could muster just 10 first downs in a 60-minute game. They had six on their one scoring drive, just before halftime, that lasted just two minutes and 31 seconds. The Cowboys mustered up just four first downs in the other 57-plus minutes of football.

Over 15 drives, the Cowboys scored one touchdown, punted 10 times, fumbled a punt attempt, had an interception returned for a touchdown, and ended the game with the ball.

With the Cowboys’ offense clearly struggling, the special teams chimed in early with their own mistakes.

Bryan Anger fumbled a perfectly good snap, and by the time he picked it up, he was swarmed under by the Washington defense deep in Dallas territory.

Punt returner KaVontae Turpin backed that up with a muffed punt that the Commanders were able to fall on, also deep in Dallas territory.

Defensively, the Cowboys did have three sacks in the first half, but they allowed rookie Sam Howell, making his first-ever NFL start, to pick them apart. Howell had 11 completions for 169 yards and one touchdown, which came on his very first NFL pass, while also carving through the Cowboys’ run defense for 35 yards on five carries.

Giving up 309 yards of total offense to a team starting its third-string quarterback while also sitting its top running back is not the effort you want to see from a team that will stay on the road for the playoffs and faces off against the very best to ever do it – Tom Brady.

With four of their five losses coming on the road, the Cowboys head into Wild Card weekend with a real concern about their play away from the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium.

And it will be tested right away with a road playoff game at Tampa Bay.

The Buccaneers already beat Dallas once this season. The Cowboys’ only loss at home came in the season opener to Brady, in what could be his final season.

So, if the Cowboys at 12-5, think they are going to waltz into Raymond James Stadium next weekend and beat Brady and the 8-9 Bucs, they will need to play better than they have on the road since demolishing Minnesota back in November.

But after watching the Cowboys stumble in the final week before the postseason, the fear is real that Brady, in what could be his NFL swan song, will defeat the Cowboys and Father Time in one last postseason go-round.

An outcome that Cowboys fans have grown accustomed to over the last 25-plus seasons.

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