Are You Allowed to Feel Bad for the Dallas Cowboys?

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 22: Amari Cooper #19 of the Dallas Cowboys is unable to catch a pass during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles in the game at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Amari Cooper is unable to catch a pass during the second half against the Eagles on December 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Believe it or not, but there are worse teams in the NFL than the Dallas Cowboys. It’s hard to tell, what with the fog of dismay and sadness that follows them everywhere they go, but the Cowboys’ playoff chances are technically still alive, even after Sunday’s 17-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Sure, they’ll need to win next week and hope Daniel Jones and the Giants pull off an upset against Philly, but anything can happen in the self-flushing toilet that is the NFC East. Dallas still has everything to play for, though that actually might be a reason to count them out.

The Cowboys could have clinched the NFC East with a win on Sunday, but they barely looked in the general direction of the Philadelphia end zone all night. A potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter fizzled, and Philly was able to run out the clock and take control of the division for the first time this season. The Eagles have been ravaged by injuries and their receiving corps is made up of guys they found hanging out outside a Wawa, yet it was Dallas who played like the pitiable underdogs on Sunday. (Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was throwing with a bum shoulder, though he said after the game that this didn’t affect his play.)

You may think it can’t get much worse than losing a crucial divisional game to a hobbled opponent, but that was just the start of the Cowboys’ awful night.

The Cowboys are easy to hate. When they’re successful, we’re subjected to shots of a jubilant Chris Christie celebrating with Jerry Jones in the owner’s box. No one wants that. When they’re a mess, the cameras catch Jones escaping his luxury suite in a hurry. That’s much better, but I fear sadness has turned this 77-year-old oil billionaire into an emo teen.

There was a point this year when Dallas seemed to have it all figured out. The Cowboys began the season 3-0 and they could have been mistaken for a legitimate Super Bowl contender. It eventually became clear, however, that this hot start had more to do with their opponents (the Giants, Washington, and Miami) than their own football-playing abilities.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys are perplexingly good in some areas. Prescott spent a chunk of the season as an MVP candidate. Dallas compiled the most yards per game of any team (425.8), the second-most passing yards per game (297.1), and a formidable point differential of +82. (For comparison’s sake, the NFC East-leading Eagles have a differential of +14). They also have an above-average defense (11th in both points and yards allowed per game). That’s all fine and dandy, but the Cowboys are cursed to exist in two separate dimensions. In one, they’re an offensive juggernaut with the ability to punish opponents on both sides of the ball. In the other, they have 7 wins. That dimension is reality, where they are bad.

While their playoff hopes are technically still alive, realistic Cowboys fans are mostly looking forward to the inevitable firing of head coach Jason Garrett. For eight years, he’s led Dallas with the bravado and tenacity of a sleep-deprived substitute chemistry teacher, and the team duly followed his example.

It’s one thing for the Cowboys to be swaggering, pompous villains—we’re used to that. This current iteration isn’t even good enough to give us the gift of a disappointing playoff exit. The blue star is a sad husk of wasted promise, and never has the nickname “America’s Team” been more appropriate. With all this misfortune and humiliation piling up, one might even start to feel … hmm, what’s that sensation? Do I feel bad for the Cowboys?

Maybe in another dimension.