The final score aside, little about Thursday’s game against the Tennessee Titans should be acceptable to the Dallas Cowboys.
They played with limited energy and intensity.
And there seemed to be a lack of focus against an undermanned Titans team playing without six starters, who were on the inactive list to stay fresh for the winner-take-all for the AFC South title in the season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars next weekend.
How else do you explain three dropped passes, a number of dropped interceptions and horrible interception by quarterback Dak Prescott and three total turnovers? Or explain how the Titans (7-9), who have now lost six straight games, stayed alive well into the fourth quarter with third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs at the helm?
The good news is that the Cowboys finally got the job done with a 27-13 victory against the Titans, thanks to two second-half touchdown passes from Prescott to tight end Dalton Schultz.
The Cowboys (12-4) have back-to-back 12-win seasons for the first time since 1994-1995 and they remain in the race for the NFC East title.
The Cowboys need the Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) to drop their final two games, starting Sunday against the New Orleans Saints as well as the season finale against the New Giants.
The Cowboys must beat the Washington Commanders in the season finale on January 7 or January 8. The NFL will set the final schedule Sunday night.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy plays his team’s poor performance on it being their third game in 12 days and second in five days after last Saturday’s emotional victory against the Eagles. He said the Cowboys will appreciate the mini bye this weekend before having to face Washington.
“It wasn’t clean. This was not a clean performance,” McCarthy said. “We recognize that. I’m not disputing that at all. I do know my football team. They came out of the hard victory on Sunday. And you know, it took a little longer to get the bodies back with this. This was very tough. It’s a tough, it’s a tough, tough, challenging, you have to go on the road on those things. So the most important thing was when we answered the bell and got it done.”
Clarence Hill’s 5 Things from the Dallas Cowboys 27-13 victory against the Titans
Dak Prescott continues to throw picks at an alarming rate
At this point, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is any more. Dak Prescott has an interception problem and it could lead to the demise of the Cowboys in the playoffs.
His three first-half turnovers were a reason why a limited Titans team stayed competitive in a game they had no business being in.
Up 10-0 and seemingly cruising in the second quarter following a Titans sack and fumble, Prescott fumbled the ball back on a bad exchange with center Tyler Biadasz.
Then the next time the Cowboys had the ball, Prescott hit tight end Peyton Hendershot in the hands with a perfect pass. The ball bounced off his hands, then his chest and was picked off by a Titans safety Kevin Byard, which led to a Tennessee 37-yard field goal with 1:04 left in the half.
On the ensuing drive, Prescott’s attempt to put the Cowboys back on the board before the end of the half backfield when he forced a pass to tight end Dalton Schultz and was picked off by Byard again.
Byard returned the interception 28 yards to set up a 29-yard field goal to make the score 10-6 at halftime.
Prescott has a career-high 14 interceptions, including 10 in his last six games. That also includes four two-interception games during that streak.
Of course, Prescott fought back to throw two touchdown passes in the second half to lead the Cowboys to victory.
Prescott finished 29 of 41 for 282 yards.
The interceptions remain a problem and must be cleaned up.
“It’s frustrating whether it’s off your guy’s hands or whether I throw it behind the receiver and the cornerback makes the play,” Prescott said. “They’re all frustrating. Some how or another they’ve got to stop.”
TY Hilton impacts the passing game but drops remain a problem
Newly signed Cowboys receiver TY Hilton continues to make an impact two games into his Cowboys career.
One week after catching a 52-yard bomb to spark a 40-34 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, the 33-year-old Hilton caught four passes for 50 yards, including a 28-yard catch on third down to spark a scoring drive.
“I’m a play maker that’s what I do,” Hilton said. “I just make plays you know especially on third down, money down.”
And Hilton has become an important side kick to No.1 receiver CeeDee Lamb, who not only notched his third straight 100-yard game but his 11 catches for 100 yards against the Titans gave him 102 catches for the season. He is the third player in franchise history to record 100 catches in the season, joining Michael Irvin with 111 in 1995 and Jason Witten with 110 in 2012.
“If you go double CeeDee, let’s go,” Hilton said. ”If you go double me, well, let’s go CeeDee. So you got to pick and choose your battles.”
But all is not well with the team’s pass catchers as they continue to drop passes at an alarming rate.
Receiver Noah Brown, who had a drop turn into a pick-6 in the 40-34 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, had two drops that hit him in both hands against the Titans.
And rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot had a ball hit him in both hands, then his chest before bouncing off and being picked off by safety Kevin Byard.
Cowboys defense remains a concern
Statistically speaking, the Cowboys defense was solid against the Titans.
They forced a fumble and an interception to increase their NFL lead for turnovers to 32 on the season.
They also allowed only one touchdown in the game.
The Cowboys had two sacks against the Titans after notching just one in the previous three games combined.
But it was also a performance that continues to foster concerns about the unit heading into the postseason.
The Titans played without star running back Derrick Henry and started third-string quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Yet they still recorded five explosive plays in the game.
The Cowboys recorded two sacks but they didn’t get enough pressure on Dobbs, who passed for a career-high 232 yards.
The Cowboys also gave up too many leaky yards on the ground to a plethora of backup running backs. The Titans rushed 24 times for 97 yards.
That the Cowboys continued to have players come in and out of the game due to injuries was a factor as well. And star linebacker Micah Parsons played with a heavily taped left wrist due to an injury that limited him in practice all week. He could not grab or hold with his left hand, which looked more like a club. But he recovered a fumble with one hand but recorded only one tackle in the game.
McCarthy believes extra rest over the weekend will do Parsons good.
And give cornerback Nahshon Wright credit for battling through a shoulder injury and coming up with his first career interception in the fourth quarter.
Injury to C Tyler Biadasz forces Cowboys line shuffle
The injuries are continuing to mount for the Cowboys and it forced a unique line shuffle in the fourth quarter.
Center Tyler Biadasz, who struggled for much of the game, was carted off the field with an ankle injury.
The compensated my moving left guard Connor McGovern to the center. Left tackle Tyler Smith moved to left guard and backup tackle Jason Peters came on to play left tackle.
And there we no hiccups as the Cowboys continued to march on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Schultz.
It may be the line the Cowboys have to use in the postseason, as Biadasz’ injury does not look good. He returned to the sideline with a boot on his ankle.
Running game lacking without Pollard
The Cowboys played without leading rusher Tony Pollard, who was held out with a deep thigh bruise.
And he was sorely missed as the running game had little pop against a strong Titans run defense.
Malik Davis had a 23-yard run but, outside of that, the running game was a non-factor.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 37 yards on 19 carries; Davis finished with 39 yards on 10 carries.
The Cowboys could not run the ball to run out the clock with the lead in the fourth quarter.
The Titans had the league’s second best run defense, giving up just 80 yards a game and it showed against the Cowboys.
“The run game wasn’t what we had hoped for,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
Pollard has 988 yards on the season and sat out needing just 12 yards to top the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career.
Cowboys are now Saints fans
It wasn’t pretty but the Cowboys did what they needed to against the Titans.
They got the win to keep the heat on the Philadelphia Eagles in the race for the NFC East title.
The Cowboys will now go home and rest before the season finale against the Washington Commanders on Jan. 8.
They need the Eagles to lose their final two games against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants.
But first things first. The Cowboys took care of their business, now they will become huge Saints fans on Sunday.
“This is what the league wanted with the division games at the end, and I think it’s awesome,” coach Mike McCarty said. “I’m looking forward to watching football this weekend. Looking forward to Monday night game. So this is where it’s supposed to be. So we just got to keep playing. And obviously we want the Saints to win. We want to line up to play for as much as we possibly can in Washington. That’ll be the best situation for us.”
This story was originally published December 29, 2022 10:29 PM.