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Column: Cowboys might not be as good as their bad record

A fan holds a sign that reads “Fire Garrett” in the fourth quarter of a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 28 in Arlington, Texas.
A fan holds a sign that reads “Fire Garrett” in the fourth quarter of a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 28 in Arlington, Texas.
(Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images)

The Dallas Cowboys can’t take away the football. Nor can they give away the football season.

The NFC East is so lousy, the 6-7 Cowboys couldn’t be irrelevant if they tried.

Even though they have lost seven of their last 10 games, the Cowboys are in better position to make the playoffs than the Rams, who face them Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

“Obviously thankful to still be in position to control our destiny,” said Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, whose team can clinch the division by beating the Rams or Washington, coupled with a victory over Philadelphia next week. “But definitely hungry.”

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After three consecutive losses, the Cowboys are closer to starving.

“It’s really about us coming together as a unit, as leaders, as a team, and getting this thing rolling,” said defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, part of a unit with 14 takeaways, tied for the worst in the NFC.

A Dallas Cowboys fan looks on in the second half against the Buffalo Bills in Arlington, Texas on Nov. 28.
A Dallas Cowboys fan looks on in the second half against the Buffalo Bills in Arlington, Texas on Nov. 28.
(Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

Sunday’s showdown is a Los Angeles team versus a Hollywood team, because the Cowboys are football’s answer to a two-dimensional movie set. On paper, they have the No. 1 offense and No. 9 defense. But those gaudy numbers don’t tell the true story.

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They have compiled more than their share of meaningless yards, and can’t make a defensive stop when they need to. They have just five interceptions, tied with Detroit for fewest in the league, and consequently start their average drive deeper than anyone.

The Cowboys and Rams both won their first three games, then lost their next three. Both were 6-5 two weeks ago, but since have headed in opposite directions. The Rams posted lopsided victories over Arizona and Seattle, whereas the Cowboys lost to Buffalo and Chicago.

After a 13-9 loss by the Cowboys at New England last month, owner Jerry Jones vented.

“This is very frustrating,” he told reporters. “It’s frustrating just to be reminded that some of the fundamentals of football and coaching were what beat us out there today. ... With the makeup of this team, I shouldn’t be this frustrated.”

Janoris Jenkins says the slur he used is part of his culture. He was released by the New York Giants two days after using the term.

All signs point to the team parting ways with coach Jason Garrett after this, his ninth, season, even though the futility of the Cowboys vastly predates him. It has been 23 years since Dallas last won a Lombardi Trophy, and the Cowboys are 3-9 in playoff games during that span.

Dallas has yet to qualify for the playoffs this season, yet its players aren’t gripped with an obvious sense of urgency.

“We know what we need to do,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “We know what’s at stake. Just focus on this week and handling business this weekend.”

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The Rams have won five of seven, but face imposing odds of reaching the playoffs for a third consecutive season. Their best hope is to run the table — they play the Cowboys, San Francisco and Arizona — and keep their fingers crossed that Minnesota stumbles in its bid for a wild-card spot.

“We do know the urgency is there and the value of each game at this point,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “You do treat every game the same with the same approach, but we do know we are coming down the stretch here and need to make some things happen.”

The New York Times has crunched the numbers and puts the Rams’ chances of reaching the postseason at 41%, and the Cowboys at 57%.

The Times’ Sam Farmer makes his picks for week 15 of the NFL season.

“This has been a streaky team, and, yes, you’ve got to get that first one to get the second one,” Prescott said. “That’s just the mind-set: Let’s focus on today, let’s focus on the now, let’s focus on this week and not worry about the rest. We’ll worry about that when it comes.”

It’s mathematically possible that either the Cowboys or Eagles could reach the postseason at 7-9. If you throw out the strike-shortened 1982 season, only two teams have made the playoffs with a losing record — 7-9 Seattle in 2010, and 7-8-1 Carolina in 2014. What’s more, both the Seahawks and Panthers won their first-round games.


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