ARLINGTON, Texas — Even if a good portion of their fans would like the season to be over, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t dead yet.
The Cowboys’ 41-33 win against the San Francisco 49ers, coupled with the Washington Football Team‘s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, means the Cowboys will go into Week 16 with a chance to make the postseason, even with a 5-9 record.
What all of this means, of course, is winning could cost the Cowboys’ serious positioning in the 2021 NFL draft. The Cowboys entered Sunday with a projection of the No. 4 overall pick. With the win, they could inch closer to a top-10 pick instead of a top-five selection.
But coach Mike McCarthy isn’t concerned about draft positioning. He has said the goal is to finish strong, conjuring up his first season with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 when they won their final four games to finish 8-8 and used that as a springboard to a 13-3 record in 2007.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones isn’t concerned about draft positioning, either. As long as the Cowboys have a chance at the postseason, he wants to win and host a playoff game at AT&T Stadium, believing anything is possible in the COVID-19 era.
And the Cowboys players want to win every game they play, regardless of who is or isn’t on the field. On Sunday, the Cowboys did not have running back Ezekiel Elliott active because of a calf bruise.
For the first time since Week 7 and 9 last season, the Cowboys have won back-to-back games. Winning consecutive games was a goal McCarthy talked about during the week, which speaks to how this season has gone if winning two in a row is such an accomplishment.
“To me, it’s all about the commitment. The commitment doesn’t change,” McCarthy said. “We all signed on for 16 regular-season games and we want to see this through and be the best we can be. We need all of those opportunities.”
It was hardly aesthetically pleasing, but that’s to be expected when nearly $70 million of the Cowboys’ 2020 salary cap is on the sideline. Andy Dalton‘s biggest play came when he was forced out of the pocket and found wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for 45 yards that came before the quarterback’s touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz.
A running game that went nowhere for most of the day secured the win with Tony Pollard‘s 40-yard touchdown run, his second of the game with 2:27 to play.
And a defense that has been maligned for most of the season came up with three of the Cowboys’ four takeaways that were turned into 24 points. The Cowboys were still gashed on the ground, but they forced a fumble and intercepted two passes (Donovan Wilson, Anthony Brown). The special teams also recovered a fumble that was turned into a touchdown in the first quarter and Lamb returned the Niners’ late onside kick 47 yards for the final touchdown.
The 49ers attempt an onside kick, but it ends up with CeeDee Lamb, who goes 47 yards the other way for a Cowboys touchdown.
The Cowboys are alive. It might not matter now, but it could in the spring.
Troubling trend: Elliott did not play in a game because of injury for the first time in his career, but the running game did not improve. Take away Pollard’s 40-yard run and the Cowboys had 47 yards on 21 carries. It has been convenient to blame Elliott for the poor production of the run game, but it also ignores the issues the Cowboys have had on the offensive line all season. Sunday marked the first time all season the same five offensive linemen started three straight games. At different times, all five had issues with a San Francisco front that has helped the Niners be the eighth-ranked rush defense this season. But, they can point to Pollard’s 40-yarder.
QB breakdown: Not only was Sunday the first time the Cowboys have won back-to-back games since 2019, it’s the first time Dalton has started and won consecutive starts since 2018 when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalton’s numbers weren’t great — he completed 19 of 33 passes for 209 yards — but he threw touchdown passes to Michael Gallup and Schultz. More importantly, he did not have an interception for the second straight game. That might matter most.