Despite second-half momentum, Cowboys should worry ahead of Week 18 final | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats & Rumors

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Cowboys QB Dak PrescottWesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys earned a decisive 27-13 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. For now, they stay alive for both the NFC East title and the No. 1 seed in the conference.

You’d think the Cowboys were feeling pretty good heading into their Week 18 Finals against Washington Commanders, but they shouldn’t.

While the final score might indicate the kind of clean, well-rounded performance Dallas wants to see heading into the playoffs, it wasn’t that. The Cowboys surged in the second half, but they played an error-filled first half that provided more questions than answers.

Quarterback Dak Prescott committed three turnovers in the first half and Dallas limped into halftime with a mere four-point lead.

Ed Werder @WerderEdESPN

A first half with three rotations for the Cowboys. Pass from Dak Prescott behind Dalton Schultz and intercepted by Kevin Byard, his second of the match. Prescott also suffered a deflected INT and fumbled a snap.

It’s easy to attribute Dallas’ slow start to the emotional fallout of last week’s big win over the Philadelphia Eagles. However, it continues a troubling trend for the Cowboys. Yes, they beat the Eagles – even though Philadelphia was without star quarterback Jalen Hurts (shoulder) – but before that they narrowly escaped the lowly Houston Texans and gave the Jacksonville Jaguars a big lead to lose in extension.

It’s not like the win over Philadelphia was really a feel-good moment either. With backup quarterback Gardner Minshew II leading the offense, Philly lost 442 yards and 34 points on the Dallas defense.

Sure, the Cowboys picked up some momentum by beating Philadelphia, and they should have been able to add some more against the Titans. Tennessee slumped — it has now lost six straight — and entered Thursday night without several key players, including running back Derrick Henry.

TURRON DAVENPORT @T Davenport_NFL

#Titans inactive for Thursday Night Football vs Cowboys

RB Derrick Henry
CB Kristian Fulton
DB Josh Thompson
S Amani Hooker
LB Dylan Cole
OL Nicholas Petit-Frere
DL Denico Autry
DT Jeffery Simmons

It should have been a bigger blowout than it was, especially considering the mistakes Tennessee made.

The Titans turned it over twice and committed 10 penalties for 124 yards. Despite Tennessee’s errors – and Dallas winning the possession time battle by nearly seven minutes – the Cowboys only had a 44-yard offensive advantage.

Despite Henry’s absence, Tennessee still rushed for 97 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. With quarterback Joshua Dobbs making his first-ever NFL start, the Titans matched Dallas’ 4.9 yards per offensive play. Although the Titans had nothing to play for in this game – their Week 18 game against the Jaguars will settle the AFC South regardless – the Cowboys struggled to put them away until late.

Considering Tennessee’s offensive personnel, this was the third straight game in which Dallas’ defense played poorly. He has now given up 87 points in his last three games. It’s not ideal.

Dallas has given up at least 300 yards in six straight games.

Prescott’s streak to return the ball is also less than ideal. He has now managed six consecutive games and is tied for the league lead in steals. This despite missing five games earlier in the year with a hand injury.

Although Prescott finished with 282 passing yards and two touchdowns, that was to be expected. The Titans were atrocious against passing and entered Week 17 ranked 31st in passing yards allowed and 29th in passing touchdowns given up.

The Cowboys can’t expect to turn the ball over frequently, play lackluster defense, and outrun teams like Philadelphia (with a healthy Hurts) and San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.

What might be most frustrating is that Dallas doesn’t have much to learn from Thursday’s game. Good teams learn from poor performances, which linebacker Micah Parsons referred to between the loss to Jacksonville and the win over Philadelphia.

“Truly every loss is a chance to learn and improve,” Parsons said, per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. “Losing loved ones sucks, but there’s always something you can look at and learn from.”

What is there to learn from surviving a shorthanded Titans team that hasn’t won a game since before Thanksgiving? Other than, maybe, the fact that TY Hilton (four catches, 50 yards) can be a factor or that CeeDee Lamb (11 catches, 100 yards) can beat a bad secondary, not much.

On top of everything, the Cowboys potentially suffered another serious injury-related loss when center Tyler Biadasz went out with an apparent ankle injury.

Michael Gehlken @GehlkenNFL

The Cowboys’ initial belief is that center Tyler Biadasz sprained his ankle tonight against the Titans, a person familiar with the situation said. The fact that it’s a Thursday game helps. More time to recover before the playoffs.

Injuries were already a concern for Dallas, as running back Tony Pollard (thigh) and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) both missed Thursday’s game. Parsons is struggling with a hand injury, while cornerbacks Anthony Brown (Ripped Achille) and Jourdan Lewis (Lisfranc) are on the injured list.

In the playoffs, it’s often the healthiest teams that have the best chance of going far. It doesn’t look like Dallas is one of those teams. It’s a major problem, as is the fact that the Cowboys stumbled to a sloppy win on Thursday.

The reality is, this may have been the Cowboys’ last chance to gain real momentum heading into the Wild Card Round. If the Eagles get past the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Dallas will have nothing to play for in Week 18.

The Cowboys could use the Washington game to rest their starters and avoid further injury. Their last truly dominant win came in Week 13 against the Indianapolis Colts, and it feels like an eternity.

Dallas cannot possess the confidence of a true title contender. The chance to change that was there on Thursday, and the Cowboys didn’t take it.

Instead of riding away from an effective, all-around performance, Dallas limps toward the playoffs with concerns about its ability to beat teams that don’t miss their best players.

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