Take the biggest, ugliest, most outrageous mess you can think of. Double it, twirl it around a couple of times, roll it in some mud, and you still might not be close to the extraordinary saga of the Dallas Cowboys, circa 2020.
Thanks to a crazed concoction of questionable moves, some bad luck and a lot of mind-bending atrocious play, Jerry Jones’ pride and joy has gotten to the midway point of a campaign that began with – yes, I’m serious – Super Bowl aspirations and now makes your regular old dumpster fire look like a flickering birthday cake candle.
On Tuesday, what was already dismal somehow got worse, when quarterback Andy Dalton was ruled out of this weekend’s game after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
There is nothing funny about the coronavirus, but the Dallas situation – certainly the self-inflicted part – is now laughable to those who strongly dislike the Cowboys’ franchise . Think it can’t get worse? Well steady on there, Cowboy fans.
“After two months to discover what this team can and can’t do, the latest of shortcomings rivals the size of a Dallas-area phone book,” wrote David Moore in the Dallas Morning News. “You remember phone books, don’t you? They were around the last time the Cowboys made it past the second round of the playoffs.”
Did someone say playoffs? The postseason, once seen as being the bare minimum result for the year, is now an absurd concept. Even in the horrifically bad NFC East, a division that has a combined record of 8-22-1 (2-16-1 against non-division opponents) and shows every sign of being potentially won with a losing record, the Cowboys have just a seven percent shot, according to FiveThirtyEight. FOX Bet currently has them at 8-to-1 odds to win the division, trailing both the Eagles (-275) and the Washington Football Team (+400).
That’s the kind of disrespect you get from the shrewd odds-making minds when you go 2-6 and under-perform so badly that you fail to beat the spread in every single game. And next up, the small matter of the National Football League’s only remaining undefeated team, the 7-0 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cowboys will be without Dak Prescott, who is done for the season. Without Dalton, who is required to quarantine. Without last week’s rookie starter Ben DiNucci, whose tenure might be so short-lived that this could be the last time I write his name. There really isn’t any silver-and-blue lining except that when you’re this bad you don’t even need to try to tank.
“Like anything in life, the game of football will teach you humility in every form or fashion you can imagine,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “To me, it’s just part of the course of the season; it’s part of our challenge. I believe we will be better off because of these hard times.”
Heck of a way to learn a lesson.
Let’s take a little side tour into the self-contained spinoff of the Cowboys’ QB situation. They had Prescott, big, strong and franchise tagged for $31.4 million, watched him rack up record numbers that counted for little because the defense struggled mightily, then saw him fall victim to that sickening compound ankle injury.
Fortunately there was Dalton, one of the better backups around, waiting to come in. But then he got concussed two weeks back, which led to DiNucci (I was wrong Ben, you get another mention) stepping up last week.
Sadly for the young seventh round pick, he didn’t really step up at all, resembling a deer thrust into the headlights immediately after watching a horror movie and being overwhelmed against the Philadelphia Eagles.
So now with Dalton’s return to the field delayed, the choice that remains is between Garrett Gilbert, formerly of the AAF’s Orlando Apollos, or practice squad member Cooper Rush. Between them, they have attempted nine career passes.
“And here we go again,” FOX Sports’ Skip Bayless, co-host of Undisputed and a lifelong Cowboys fan, said. “Now I am just crushed again. I cannot get a break. Andy Dalton is on the COVID list and I’m on the ‘I’m outta here’ list.”
The Cowboys fan base echoes those thoughts. Despite the team being somehow just a game and a half behind the division lead, the white flag has been raised. No one expects things to get better. Right now, they’d be happy if it just didn’t get any worse.
They’d settle for things being settled, even in defeat. They’d be happy for a quiet week that brings no more bad news. The players likely feel the same way.
“My motto has always been ‘crazier things have happened,’” wide receiver Amari Cooper said.
Come on. There’s nothing crazier in football than this ongoing Cowboys script, filled as it is with head-shaking moments and continuing calamities.
Here’s what others have said …
Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News: “The message here in case you missed it is that this season has proven beyond any doubt that the Cowboys have a lot of holes, and they need quality players to fill them … The problem with maintaining that the Cowboys have been unlucky or just plain cursed this year, and good players will be back next season, is that there still won’t be enough of them. Don’t play eternal optimist. Jerry (Jones) does that. Wish the Cowboys the worst. It’s for the best.”
Matt Galatzan, Sports Illustrated: “To say the 2020 Dallas Cowboys have been a disaster is an understatement, but after yet an embarrassing 23-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, things may have reached a new low. Much of this is due to Dallas’ high profile – ‘America’s Team’ and all of that. Still … For a team that had Super Bowl expectations coming into the season, not 8-8 expectations, or playoff expectations, but SUPER BOWL expectations, 2020 now truly feels like an all-time low for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys head coach: “At the end of the day, every position room is designed to get the guys ready to play, whether it’s the offensive line room and there’s changes in there or defensive line room and changes in certain players potentially getting more reps in the game. It’s obviously heightened in the quarterback room not only because of the responsibility of the position but because of the design of our room. There’s definitely things you learn from, play design, game-planning process and playcalling thoughts. These are all part of our game plan weekly conversations.”