Cowboys fumble into the postseason after loss to Jacksonville


The Cowboys swear an overtime loss to the Jaguars won’t impact what the team can accomplish this season.

Players insist it doesn’t alter what they think of themselves.

It should.

Confidence is critical for any team heading into the postseason. But Dallas can’t afford to fool itself, either. There’s nothing to indicate at the moment that this team is poised to reverse decades of playoff disappointment.

The Cowboys departed Jacksonville late Sunday afternoon in a state of purgatory after its 40-34 defeat. Dallas fumbled into the postseason later in the evening after the NY Giants beat Washington.

Dallas squandered an early 14-0 lead then blew a 27-10 edge in the final 20:21 of regulation. It has a quarterback making mistakes at the worst possible time — a 52-yard pick-six by Jacksonville safety Rayshawn Jenkins to end Sunday’s game is the latest evidence — and a defense that’s leaking oil.

Yes, the Cowboys carried a four-game winning streak into Jacksonville. But eight days earlier, another late interception by Prescott forced the Dallas defense to respond with a goal-line stand before the quarterback atoned for his mistake with an 11-play, 98-yard drive to escape with a victory over one-win Houston.

Prescott’s two interceptions in this game led to 13 points for the Jaguars. Afterward, he concocted an alternate reality in which Dallas won the game to illustrate why his faith in what this team can accomplish isn’t diminished.

“Say the interception doesn’t happen and we kick a field goal and win,” Prescott theorized. “Sure, I’m happier right now, but it doesn’t change the way we’ve got to clean up and get better.

“This is about momentum right now heading into the postseason."

Momentum? The Cowboys needed to run the table in this stretch against three teams with a losing record — Indianapolis, Houston and Jacksonville — to keep their slim chances of winning the division intact. Finding themselves three games back with three to play dramatically alters the landscape.

The Christmas Eve showdown between the Cowboys and Eagles isn’t really much of a showdown anymore. Philadelphia can absorb a loss and still capture the NFC East easily. The only path open to the Cowboys now is if they win the final three games of the season while the Eagles lose the final three.

That’s not going to happen. The Cowboys, in essence, relegated themselves to a wild card team with this loss.

“I’m not wired that way," head coach Mike McCarthy said. “I expect to win every day. That’s the way I was as a kid, too. I’m just on to the next one.

“I’ve been at this long enough to know at the end of 17 games, it sorts itself out. I’ve been the one seed and been knocked on my ass and won it from the fifth seed."

True. But here’s the thing. A wild card team must advance on the road. In this 10-4 season, Dallas has won seven straight games at AT&T Stadium after losing the opener.

It’s 3-3 on the road with overtime losses in Green Bay and Jacksonville, two teams that remain under .500.

That doesn’t change what the Cowboys think of their chances?

“It doesn’t change at all," right guard Zack Martin said. “I have all the confidence in the world in this locker room and the guys in it. That’s what I think this locker room has got.

“Disappointing, obviously. On the way home, it’s going to hurt. But I know these guys will move forward and get ready for Philadelphia on Saturday."

The players, almost robotically, repeated how they must learn from what took place in the second half of Sunday’s game and move forward. Martin made the point if they dwell about letting this win get away, it will bite them in the coming weeks.

“Sure we lost, but there was a lot of good in this game, too," Prescott said. “It’s about continuing to push forward, understanding the men that we have in this locker room, understanding what we’ve done up to this point, the foundation we’ve laid and continue to try to grow.

“Whether it’s my interceptions, whatever it may be. Eliminate the bad, build on the good and create momentum heading into the postseason.”

Time’s running out.

“We’re not supposed to talk about that until we get to 11 wins, and we’re not there yet,” McCarthy said of where his team stands in the playoff race. “We’ve got to keep our head down and keep working.

“We’ll react properly to this. It’s a very accountable locker room. I love this bunch. They do it the right way.

“We’ll just stay after it and we’ll definitely come out of this.

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