"America's Team" had practically all they wanted, hosting a home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks so vaunted to avenge a (partially) self-inflicted loss that helped leave the Cowboys so early-season haunted.
That being said, the Dallas Cowboys (long after losing their regular-season battle in Seattle and since week 10) had been on a 7-8 winning tear that has propelled them well beyond 3-5 dead. While Cowboys Nation was busy balancing anxiety over Dallas’ first potential postseason victory since 2014 against fears that a quality win will allow Jason Garrett (and Scott Linehan?) comfortably settle back in . . . “Garrett’s Gang” – with the exception of looking lazy against Indy – seemed determined to stop outside agendas from being fed.
This time around, the Seahawks were visiting AT&T Stadium (practically covered in playoff palladium) and against the Cowboys, Seattle’s league-leading (team) rushing attack was looking to ground and pound. The dynamic decibels of Seattle’s “12th Man,” however, was nowhere to be found, and it was Cowboys Nation who were pumping out something (almost) as loud as that Puget Sound.
The Cowboys and Seahawks (through the first two quarters) would engage in a relatively (but not mutually) conservative 10-6 slugfest before “Linehan’s Clan” and “Marinelli’s Men” were able to pull away for all but the final few-and-furious fourth-quarter minutes, when Dallas was able to survive Russell Wilson’s very best. The Cowboys would sufficiently outlast Seattle 24-22 while no longer being outclassed.
Short Shots And Hot Spots
Dallas would best Seattle in every key TEAM category (34:50 to 25:10 time of possession, 380 to 299 total yards, 23 to 11 first downs, third down efficiency, and 164 to 73 rushing yards), while losing in THE one (1 to 0 turnovers) that makes even the most dominant of team’s worry.
Dak Prescott suffered a whacky fourth-quarter interception when his red zone target Noah Brown could not reel in – drum roll please – “an underthrown pass that needed a bit more touch.” Brown (without being able to box out Seattle’s K.J. Wright) kept the ball alive but into Wright’s hands, it chose to take an end zone dive.
While the Dak-to-Amari Cooper connection returned to form with another 100+ yard day with one after another reliable play, Dak's touchdown pass to Michael Gallup was a rare display of touch of which Prescott has not traditionally displayed much. Cowboys Nation, of course, will (greedily) take as much as Dak can deliver, as long as he remains clutch.
Dak wonderfully took but ONE sack (late in the second quarter) due to quality pocket time he did lack, but he will continue to be reminded (by those from whom he draws encouragement and those who only offer discouragement) that he can more often than not "throw it away to avoid the minus play." While the "Big Tuna" is long gone from the sidelines, this fan will always think of Bill Parcells when ringing the common-sense bells.
Ezekiel Elliott had been itching to redeem his regular season mistakes against a Seattle team he knew (for the second time in the same season) would volunteer no breaks. He ended up telling it like it IS and (with 137 rushing yards on 26 carries with a long of 44 and four catches for 32 more yards) he was just going about his biz.
Special teams were one of the more active game day themes. The Cowboys' special teams had often been hanging on by a thread during the regular season, but their postseason performance against Seattle was none too pleasin'. Arm tackles against Seattle's shifty, speedy Tyler Lockett made him look (even more) like a rocket. With inside 30 seconds remaining in the first half, the Cowboys nearly suffered a huge return game gaffe. Lockett received the kickoff and would have run it all the way back if not for Brett Maher's best impersonation of “The PUNTisher. Speaking of whom, the Cowboys’ continue to be forever thankful for Chris Jones. Lockett would have returned a different punt for a touchdown if not for the one (other) special teams player who continues to show some over-sized stones.
Tavon Austin had his own golden return opportunity that was slowed by Seattle’s punter. While some thought that obstacle alone caused Austin to rather awkwardly alter his trajectory, it was the mild aggravation of his gone-but-not-forgotten groin injury that triggered the appearance of an unnatural performance blunder.
Brett Maher – the model of kicking (in)consistency – missed a 58-yard attempt and made a shorter one for a continuation of his unpredictable efficiency. The importance of quality kicking in a close game cannot be overlooked, nor can the efforts of the rest of the team that can equally leave achievable opportunities overcooked.
While Cowboys Nation – including “The Tortured Cowboys Fan” – would roll their eyes at the ease with which “DangeRuss” Russell Wilson and his wide receivers would pile up (but a handful of) chunk plays, the “Hot Boyz” continued to apply enough pocket pressure (and crush Seattle’s Chris Carson by any measure) to ensure “Kris’s Kids” were able to avoid an untimely blaze. Cornerback Byron Jones (in particular) was chasing most of the evening, putting a (hopefully temporary) dent in fans’ Pro Bowl believing.
Marinelli's Men would spend all of the first quarter keeping DangeRuss in order. As the first 15 minutes of the game were almost completely unwound, Maelik Collins (for the Cowboys' only sack on the day) sniffed out Wilson like a hound. Jeff Heath (on a third-quarter delayed safety blitz) might also have sacked DangeRuss at the Seattle one, but he came up with an arm tackle none. While Russell Wilson deserves credit for a well-rehearsed sidestep, Heath gave some (temporary?) new life to his on-again, off-again arm-tackling rep.
While Marinelli's Men held the little-used Ed Dickson to limited production, he still managed a timely 26-yard catch on par with his sneaky-good predecessor, the departed-for-Detroit Luke Willson. The Dallas defense must be ready for their future opponent to (attempt to) multiply that tight end mission.
Will They Or Won’t They?
America’s Team made the most of their cherished chance to be a playoff host, but they cannot stick around for their next game in the divisional round. “One down, THREE to go, another town and (at least) one more show.”
If the Bears had beaten the Eagles, Dallas would have had a rematch with the Saints, but it was not to be. The possibility of a rematch with New Orleans – for at least one more week – Cowboys Nation will not see. The Cowboys instead packed their bags for sunny SoCal and a rendezvous with the Los Angeles Rams at 7:15 PM, CST in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, tonight. They will, once again, have to muster their best to continue their postseason fight.
Speaking of the Bears, their referee-ruined “catch, fumble, somebody, ANYBODY come get it” play should remind every NFL player that at the forefront of your mind should always be situational awareness, or at the worst possible time, you may look incredibly careless.
Will the Cowboys nonetheless be able to smother the Rams’ potent offense like they did (weeks ago) against the all-powerful Saints . . . or will Marinelli’s Men simply allow Sean “Van Gogh” McVay to break out the paints? Will the Hot Boyz reliably “get home” fast enough to prevent Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff from showing his aerial stuff? Will Jaylon “Smooth” Smith, Leighton “Wolf Hunter” Vander Esch, and Sean “The General” Lee do their swarming part and reasonably stop the multifaceted Todd Gurley? If Byron Jones is (once again) made to more-often chase, will the rest of Kris’s Kids be able to pick up the pace?
Will Dak, Zeke, Amari, and few key (wounded-but-willing) brothers among others continue controlling the pace, leading Linehan’s Clan over, around, and through the Rams’ collection of high-investment, low-return defenders . . . or will potent pass-rusher Aaron Donald suddenly receive enough support from Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers, and “LockAngeles” (particularly Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters) to reward owner Stan Kroenke, the Rams’ big spender?
Will Wade Phillips (one of the kindest human beings on Earth) suddenly implore his 3-4 to dramatically settle the score for that (still sore) moment when Jerry Jones turned the Cowboys over to Jason Garrett and shoved “Son of Bum” out the door . . . or will Scott Linehan (at the very least) continue allowing Prescott and Co. to overcome an occasional (?) play call so dumb (and, in turn, prevent Cowboys Nation from going absolutely numb)?
Will Garrett’s Gang continue to (successfully) use plenty of Zeke mixed with play action and crisp receiver routes to ensure Dak’s passing opportunities gain more move-the-chains traction? Will those still-surviving-and-striving members of “The Great Wall Of Dallas” be ready to do that much more against a potential 9-man defensive stack that will surely dare Dak to aerially attack?
Will the Cowboys allow themselves to believe that just because the Eagles beat the hell out of the Rams a few weeks ago . . . they can simply walk on in with a different name and deliver the same lights-out show? Will America’s Team emerge victorious tonight with an NFC championship opportunity to continue their playoff fight?
We shall see. We always do.
You can chat with or follow Eric on twitter @emscharf