Dallas Cowboys face offseason questions after playoff letdown

By Matt Mosley
Special to FOX Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — We came in hopes of being reminded of the glorious rivalry these teams created in the ‘80s and ’90s.

Instead, Cowboys fans had to endure the usual sideshow at Jerry World, including a wide receiver being blinded by the sun in an indoor stadium and the Dallas punter hitting the giant scoreboard hanging above midfield. 

The San Francisco 49ers — and their fans — clowned the Cowboys for much of the game. An estimated 20,000 scarlet-and-gold-clad partisans were so loud that at one point they caused back-to-back false starts by the home team. This game was a hot secondary market, in part because Cowboys fans know what to expect this time of year.

The silver lining now for Cowboys fans is who in their right mind would hire offensive coordinator Kellen Moore after witnessing that game plan? Step right up to see a receiver catch a ball on a drag route and then lateral it into the field-level suites. Some folks think Jones is worried about losing Moore, but he might have been trying to shop him around the league after Sunday’s performance.

Meanwhile, quarterback Dak Prescott continued his concerning trend of playing his worst against good teams. Prescott has been a monster against second-stringers from Washington and Philly, but on Sunday, he threw behind receivers for much of the game. His throw behind Cedrick Wilson in the third quarter was picked off by Niners cornerback K’Waun Williams, which set up the touchdown to give San Francisco a 23-7 lead.

The Cowboys pay $40 million a year to a quarterback who is now 1-3 in the playoffs. This was the worst he has played in the postseason, and that’s why Jones was asked afterward about Prescott not being able to get over the hump.

“The hump is advancing in the playoffs,” Jones said. “There’s been some good quarterbacks that haven’t advanced in the playoffs. I’m just sick we’re one of them. Really sick. I’m surprised and sick.”

As they nearly always do, the Cowboys made a frantic comeback attempt. Head coach Mike McCarthy tends to hang his hat on those.

Trailing 16-7, the Cowboys had a chance to score late in the first half. But the drive was thwarted when Prescott tossed to Wilson a ball he never saw because the sun was shining through the glass behind the end zone. Jones has been asked for years about hanging curtains during day games, but he insists that he likes the feature.

The fact that the Cowboys didn’t take the sun into account speaks to how unprepared they were. Teams must overcome the design flaws of their $1.2 billion stadiums. 

The last time the Cowboys beat a good team was Oct. 17 against the Patriots. This is a team that collects six wins per season against dreadful division opponents, and the other NFC East playoff team (the Eagles) was humiliated by the Bucs on Sunday. 

The Niners, for their part, did exactly what they wanted in running the ball for 169 yards and keeping the Cowboys’ normally potent pass rush at bay. Dallas didn’t record a sack in the game, and All-Pro rookie linebacker Micah Parsons left due to injury and wasn’t as effective when he returned. 

Now the Cowboys face the reality that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could leave for a head-coaching opportunity in the coming days. 

Now, it’s a long shot that the Cowboys would lose both Moore and Quinn, but does Jones want to take that chance? 

He didn’t exactly give his head coach a ringing endorsement when asked Sunday whether he plans to make a change.

“I don’t even want to discuss anything like that at this particular time,” Jones said.

Firing McCarthy after two seasons wouldn’t be unjustified. His team went from looking like a Super Bowl contender to being a huge disappointment. McCarthy doesn’t bring anything dynamic to the table. He doesn’t have the swagger and confidence of Quinn. And it’s not like he’s calling plays. 

If Jones believes Quinn is the best head coach on the staff, he needs to make a move. 

And the biggest reason to make Quinn the head coach would be because you don’t want to see young players such as Parsons and Trevon Diggs regress. 

The numbers say this is one of the better offensive teams in the NFL, but some of that is fraudulent. They put up big numbers against some of the worst teams in the league, scoring more than 50 points in recent games against Washington and Philly. This is a team built around a big-play defense, and Parsons has benefited from Quinn more than anyone. 

After Sunday’s game, Parsons said Quinn made the defense want to “fight for him, play for him.” 

Now, we might soon find out that Prescott was playing through a significant injury, but from November on, he simply wasn’t good enough. Zeke Elliott revealed Sunday that he’d been playing with a torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). It will be interesting to see if he’s in a Cowboys uniform in 2022. He’s one of the highest-paid running backs in the league, and he had 12 carries for 31 yards with the season on the line. The Cowboys’ complementary back, Tony Pollard, had just six touches, despite being the team’s best home-run threat.

The Niners were able to win despite not having defensive end Nick Bosa for more than half the game due to a concussion. They also lost middle linebacker Fred Warner in the fourth quarter. With its running game and pass rush, San Francisco is better equipped than Dallas to play at Lambeau. Jimmy Garoppolo, who might be playing somewhere else next season, was the best quarterback on the field Sunday.

“I think whenever you go battle at the end, the real team shows,” Garoppolo said. “You know, you look guys in the eyes and see who’s in that moment and ready for it. It’s just gonna do us well down the road. It’s not going to be easy going to Lambeau. We know it’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but we’re ready for it.”

On his way to the locker room, Garoppolo stopped to acknowledge the Niners fans in Dallas. It was difficult to figure out which team had home-field advantage. 

This was supposed to be a throwback game, but the Cowboys are light-years from those teams.

Matt Mosley has covered the Cowboys for The Dallas Morning News, ESPN, FOX Sports and Texas Monthly Magazine. He also co-hosted afternoon-drive radio in Dallas for 10 years and is now heard on ESPN Central Texas, home of his alma mater, Baylor. He makes regular appearances on “The Herd” on FS1 and Fox Sports Radio.

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