Jerry Jones warns Cowboys about playoffs after ‘thorough butt-kicking’ loss
The Dallas Cowboys knew their regular season finale could be meaningful.
They knew they remained in contention for the NFC East title, home playoff games and improvement in the game.
They played their headliners.
However, they fell short in a 26-6 loss to a Washington Commanders team giving rookie quarterback Sam Howell his first start.
All three stages played below expectations. Problems on offense and special teams proved especially costly.
“We have to soak it up all week,” Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones said in the locker room after the game at FedEx Field. “And if that doesn’t make you want to get ready to go in 6-7 days, nothing else will.
“It was as complete a kick in the ass as we’ve had this year. And we’ll find out if that will get you ready or not. It should.”
The Cowboys finished their season 12-5 for the second straight year under head coach Mike McCarthy. But when Dallas hired McCarthy to succeed Jason Garrett, Jones didn’t hold out much hope for a coach who could navigate the regular season.
He wanted McCarthy to lead a team that hasn’t been back to the NFC Championship, let alone the Super Bowl, since the 1995 season. In 13 seasons as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, McCarthy led nine playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl title. Bowl.
Winning the turnover battle and pace in December were the two main tenets of McCarthy’s success in Green Bay. The Cowboys lead the league in wins but are also 17th in sacks, Prescott’s 15 interceptions the most of any quarterback in the league despite missing five games.
Jerry Jones was candid about the Cowboys’ loss to Washington. (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas hasn’t lost consecutive games this season. But letting go of a game that wide receiver CeeDee Lamb even admitted the Cowboys felt “like we knew we were going to win” exposed the flaws in the Cowboys’ current structure.
“It’s disappointing, no doubt,” McCarthy said. “Her time is not what you are looking for. I clearly recognize this. But it’s like many things in life: when you get kicked in the ass or punched in the mouth, you have a chance to fight back.
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“I have great faith in our football team that we will respond.”
McCarthy’s job security may depend on it. The Cowboys’ ceiling this year has been extremely high, the offensive explosions make 40 points look easy and the defensive performances furious, leading them to relatively early purchase of a postseason berth.
But lately, questions beset Dallas’ neutralized pass rush, the scheme and blocking challenges that stifle the run game and the reliability of a secondary to rise to the occasion despite injuries. Prescott knows he has to play better and change his decision-making to get to the divisional round.
“It’s a fine line and I’ve got to get better at it,” Prescott said. “How simple. This will not continue.”
Jones, also the team’s general manager, said he hopes his Cowboys use the loss as motivation to sharpen their focus and sharpen their details ahead of a Monday night game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We didn’t fire anyone, so everyone has to bite this apple,” he said, feeling the blow of defeat.
The Buccaneers beat the Cowboys 19-3 in the Week 1 opener. They have lost nine games since then.
And yet: The Bucs will have home-field advantage, facing a quarterback in Tom Brady who has played the Cowboys seven times in his career and won all seven.
Danger likely awaits the Cowboys — especially if they play as badly as they did Sunday in Washington.
Jones eventually interspersed some of his trademark optimism into his postgame comments that otherwise held a cautionary tenor.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that as a team, not just individually but as a team, we can come back and take this nightmare, whatever you want to call it, and turn it into a plus,” Jones said. “I’m very disappointed for our fans. But now half as disappointed as I would be if I were sitting here this time next week.
“We have something to do and we’re going to empty this bucket this week.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein