The Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs are always a must-watch, usually for all the wrong reasons. With their 1990s run of dominance firmly in time’s rearview mirror, the Cowboys’ 21st-century legacy mostly consists of postseason disappointment. After grabbing the NFC’s second seed in the regular season, it felt like these Cowboys should have easily handled a visiting Green Bay Packers team that many thought were just happy to be here.
Except, these are the Cowboys, a team who haven’t made it to the NFC Championship Game since 1995. At this point, their fans have come to expect embarrassment no matter how heavily the odds seem stacked in their favor.
Still, not even the most pessimistic fans imagined that Dallas’s defense would allow the Packers to score 27 unanswered points in the first half on Sunday, their largest playoff deficit since 1969. Dallas needed a defensive penalty to score a touchdown before the end of the half just to make it 27-7 heading into the break.
The momentum did not carry over into the second half, as MVP of the Week candidate Aaron Jones answered with his third rushing touchdown of the game early in the third quarter. That effectively ended Dallas’s comeback hopes, although a few Dallas touchdowns in garbage time resulted in a final 48-32 scoreline that made the game look slightly less like the epic beatdown that it really was. After all, the Cowboys’ previous high as far as points allowed in a postseason game was 38; the Packers topped that by the third quarter on Sunday.
While Green Bay’s second-half defense left something to be desired, it was still an impressive road victory. Once again, the franchise has managed a successful quarterback succession, replacing Aaron Rodgers with understudy Jordan Love just as Rodgers replaced Brett Favre years prior. Love threw for three touchdowns in an offensive clinic. No matter what happens next week against the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers, the Packers’ rebuild is ahead of schedule.
If there’s one person who had the most to lose on Sunday, in more ways than one, it was head coach Mike McCarthy. He almost certainly hoped to get revenge on the Packers, the team who fired him in 2018. Instead, the Cowboys put together maybe their most humiliating first-round exit yet. Given the Cowboys’ 28-year-long Super Bowl drought, it’s possible that the Packers could have caused McCarthy to lose yet another job. (He’s still in a job at time of writing on Sunday night, that could well have changed by the time you read this on Monday morning. After the game, Jones said he had “nothing set” on when he planned to meet McCarthy).
If he’s gone, the rumors are also out there that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could be interested in Bill Belichick, who will have to become the winningest head coach in NFL history with a new franchise after “mutually parting ways” with the New England Patriots. On paper, it’s an intriguing concept, as Belichick won a record six Super Bowls in New England, and two additional ones as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator.
Still, there are concerns that Jones would be committing the cardinal sports sin of hiring big-name talent based on past performance while ignoring signs of decline. Belichick has struggled to win in his last four seasons in New England – the Patriots played just one playoff game after Tom Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Even assuming Belichick is more successful with a more talented roster, inevitable personality clashes between Jones and Belichick, two men accustomed to having full control over their teams, would make this an extremely volatile situation. In fact, it will be a volatile situation no matter who the head coach is going forward. The Cowboys gig may not be as attractive as it seems given the team’s sky-high expectations, Jones’s insistence on being his own general manager and their history of underachieving under his watch.
After all, it hasn’t really made a difference who Dallas’s head coach or starting quarterback has been in the 21st century. Even though they are the most valuable franchise in sports, the Cowboys’ postseason ineptitude has become as predictable as a running gag in a sitcom. In terms of raking in profit, Jones has been an unquestioned success. In terms of putting together a winning team despite having all the resources in the world, Jones continues to be a massive failure. Same as it ever was.
MVP of the week
CJ Stroud, QB, Houston Texans. Usually this award requires a lot more thought, but when you become the youngest quarterback ever to win a playoff game, that pretty much makes you a lock in our book. The rookie quarterback threw for three touchdowns in the Texans’ blowout 45-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns, without throwing a single interception and not being sacked once (with some assistance from his offensive line). Along the way he went 16-for-21 for a total of 274 yards. He was easily the best player on the field on Saturday, although he will face a much tougher opponent next week as the Texans will be on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens and likely MVP Lamar Jackson. Stay tuned!
Stat of the week
57 years. That’s how long it had been since a Cleveland Browns quarterback had given up a pick-six in the playoffs, before Joe Flacco threw one to the Houston Texans’ Steven Nelson. The last time it happened was when Frank Ryan was picked off by the Dallas Cowboys’ Cornell Green back in 1967.
Unfortunately, Browns fans would not have to wait nearly as long for their next one as Flacco threw a second pick-six, this one to Christian Harris, on the very next drive. That essentially ended the game, as the Texans were able to rest their starters during the fourth quarter. Considering that Flacco was all but retired a few months prior, it’s quite likely that this will mark the end of his memorable NFL career. It was a nice Cinderella story while it lasted, but even her carriage had to revert back to a pumpkin eventually.
Video of the week
At -4F (-20C) at kickoff, it was the coldest ever game in Arrowhead Stadium. In the stands, beer cans exploded like sodas left in the freezer for too long. Then, in the second half, Mahomes’s helmet cracked after absorbing a hard hit.
By the end of the night, the temperature had dipped as low as -27F (-32C) when factoring in the wind chill, making it one of the coldest NFL games of all time. It couldn’t have been a fun experience for the Chiefs, particularly for Mahomes who had to play the second half with a replacement helmet. Still, the poor Chiefs fans huddled up in the stands, got to see Kansas City easily defeat the Miami Dolphins 26-7.
Elsewhere around the league
— The main storyline for Sunday night’s marquee game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions involved the curious case of the quarterback carousel. Lions quarterback Jared Goff was the Rams signal caller until 2020, when the team traded him to Detroit … for Matthew Stafford. It was a move that the Rams would do over again in a heartbeat given that Stafford led them to a Super Bowl in the 2021 season. At the time, Lions fans were happy for Stafford, given that he had been stuck in a seemingly hopeless situation in Detroit. Plus, they needed something to celebrate having not appeared in a playoff game since 2016 and not won one since 1992. On Sunday, now that Stafford was standing between them and ending that losing streak, they were more than happy to root against him for at least a night.
The game was a back-and-forth affair and not without controversy. The referees halted a promising Detroit drive at the end of the first half after calling a false start on what was almost certainly a neutral zone infraction. Later, Stafford returned to the game after apparently being knocked out cold by Lions defenders.
While the Rams made it a 24-23 game late, the Lions held them off to secure victory by the finest of margins. It’s hard to say who was more relieved after the game, Goff or the long-suffering fans at Ford Field.
The Lions will have yet another home game to play this season when they face the winners of Monday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round. Who could have imagined?
— Get ready for a rare Wild Card Extended Weekend! That was already going to be the case, with the reeling Philadelphia Eagles scheduled to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. However, the weather conditions turned it into an unscheduled doubleheader, with the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers postponed until 4.30 pm EST on Monday after a massive snowstorm made playing during Sunday afternoon an impossibility. There have been calls to push kickoff back even further – snow was falling at a rate of up to six inches an hour on Sunday in some areas near Buffalo – but New York governor Kathy Hochul said the game will still go ahead. “I’m not saying it’s going to be pleasant, but conditions won’t be life threatening either,” she said.
— As usual, it was a brutal Black Monday around the league but the biggest news didn’t become official until a few days later. As mentioned earlier, the New England Patriots moved on from Belichick although the writing was on the wall during the previous Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets. Make no mistake, if the Patriots wanted Belichick back they would have found a way to keep him.
On Saturday they promoted linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who was in New England for his entire eight-year NFL playing career, as his successor, ensuring that there will at least be some connection to their glory days. His first major task will be figuring out how to solve the mess that has been their quarterback situation since Brady left.
— Over the weekend, reports emerged that the NFL is seeking to buy a significant share of ESPN, the network that essentially dictates how the league is covered in the US. It’s somewhat worrying from a journalistic perspective, given that the NFL would have even greater leverage to suppress negative coverage of the league. But critics also pointed out that ESPN has recently branched into sports betting, raising conflict-of-interest concerns. Stay tuned.
— Congratulations if you were able to watch Dolphins-Chiefs live on Saturday night in the US (unless, I suppose. you were a diehard Dolphins fan, in which case, our condolences). In its quest for more money, the NFL accepted a large sum of cash from NBC to hand over the exclusive broadcasting rights to streaming service Peacock. It’s the kind of naked cash grab a corporation can pull off when they have a product that guarantees huge viewing numbers in a fragmented media landscape.
— Speaking of the Miami Dolphins, their season may have effectively ended with their loss to the Buffalo Bills right before the postseason began. As one would imagine, the freezing temperatures at Arrowhead did not end up favoring the team accustomed to playing in warm weather. In the unforgiving climate, the Dolphins, one of the best offenses in the regular season, managed to score just a single touchdown. It’s hard not to think it could have gone differently had they beaten the Bills and won the AFC East, ensuring home-field advantage in their first playoff game. Instead, it ended up being Miami’s last this season.