ARLINGTON, Texas — The NFL playoffs haven’t begun yet, but it sure felt like they had in watching Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys host Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium, with the Cardinals edging out the home team in a 25-22 bout that became a nail-biter before it was all said and done. The Cowboys were 11-4 entering the critical matchup and looking to hold on to the No. 2 seed after seeing both the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers escape upsets earlier in the day while hoping to to sidestep one of their own, but it was not to be.
With the Cardinals looking to right their ship to start January, they mostly imposed their will upon the Cowboys after getting off to a bit of a rough start in the first quarter. It was all far from a barnburner as both defenses made their presence felt time and again, but the Cowboys did as much damage to themselves as they allowed their opponent from the desert to.
Why the Cardinals won
From an excessive amount of penalties in the first half to a list of drops — both having been an Achilles heel for the Cowboys in games they struggle to find their mojo in — all the Cardinals had to do was execute and take advantage of the many stalled drives the errors helped to generate, and they did just that.
That said, they also failed to put the Cowboys away when they had the chance, watching their 15-point lead shrink to just eight points and then to only three in the fourth quarter on the heels of a touchdown toss from Prescott to wideout Cedrick Wilson and another TD toss from Prescott, this time to Amari Cooper. The Dallas defense (led by more impact plays by Micah Parsons and Co.) forced a punt with 12 minutes remaining in regulation. But again, and stop me if you’re sensing a theme here, the Cowboys coughed it up via a fumble by Prescott — punched out by linebacker Isaiah Simmons — that was recovered by fellow linebacker Dennis Gardeck.
Things nearly fell apart for the Cardinals in the fourth quarter, but they managed to make just enough plays to keep the Cowboys speeding toward the loss column and to put themselves back on the other side of the hyphen. And with the win, they’ve now made things that much more interesting in the NFC playoff seeding, and on a field Murray has never lost on.
Why the Cowboys lost
In a game that also saw the Cowboys lose Michael Gallup to a torn ACL in the second quarter, they’d find some late heart but ultimately lose their grip on the No. 2 seed and the Cardinals are again aimed in the right direction going into the regular-season finale. After demolishing the Washington Football Team last week in all three phases of football, Prescott and the offense returned to their mostly inept ways for the majority of their fight against the Cardinals, and it put too much pressure on an elite defense that was eventually gassed after trying to keep a handle on the shifty speedster known as Kyler Murray.
Murray finished with 263 passing yards and two passing touchdowns along with 44 rushing yards on nine carries, and it’s the latter that made it difficult for the Cowboys defense to get a handle on the former. Micah Parsons delivered another impressive outing despite being unable to land a sack on Murray, as he and others (e.g., Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, etc.) were able to consistently hurry Murray but couldn’t reel in at least two chances at interceptions — something that’s been a key driver of their and the team’s success (takeaways).
Had they come down with those, and one in particular that bobbed around on the hands of safety Jayron Kearse in the end zone before falling incomplete, it’s a much different game, but that’s also true if kicker Greg Zuerlein doesn’t miss a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter, if Prescott doesn’t lose a fumble in the fourth, if the Cowboys receivers and halfbacks don’t drop several passes, if they’re not all penalized heavily in the first half, and and and. The Cowboys needed this win for a variety of important reasons, but couldn’t get out of their own way long enough to take it.
If the Cowboys defense could get one more stop, this game might end differently, but Murray says no.