Read & React: Dismal days for the Dallas Cowboys

[This is an excerpt from the Dec. 23 edition of the Yahoo Sports morning newsletter. Subscribe right now for free to get the best sports news, opinion & commentary delivered straight to your inbox, first thing every weekday morning.]

Do you know the gentleman in the photo below? Runs like a brakeless truck barreling down a Colorado mountain, fan of soup and Salvation Army buckets, signed a $90 million deal earlier this year? If you can identify him, could you point him out to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff? Because they apparently forgot they’ve got this particular sledgehammer in their tool shed.

Zeke, unfed. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Of all the ways for this season to sputter to a near-stop for Dallas, none could have been more 2000s-era Cowboy than this: Super Bowl-level talent spinning in place like ineffective foos-ball kickers thanks to uninspired, overmatched playcalling. With a guaranteed home playoff date sitting right there waiting to be snagged, Dallas lost to Philadelphia, 17-9, in a battle of NFC East mighty mites that ought to answer, once and for all, whether this current iteration of the team has what it takes to make a deep January run.

Dallas isn’t dead, not yet; a win and a Philly loss next week and the Cowboys will back into the playoffs with all the authority of a 16-year-old trying to parallel park. Dallas has a winnable game against Washington, but Philadelphia drew the Giants for its final game. Advantage: Philly.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. With Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper behind an expensive o-line, Dallas appeared ready to replicate the Aikman-Smith-Irvin triple threat of the 90s glory years. But in their most crucial game of the year, Prescott was ineffective, Cooper was invisible, and Elliott wasn’t involved in many of the most critical third- and fourth-down decisions.

Much of the blame for the team’s struggles has to fall on the shoulders of Garrett, the head coach for now. Garrett’s scared-money strategy was on full display Sunday night, with Dallas declining again and again to play the aggressor and push the Eagles until it was far too late. Now Dallas, in control all season, has taken its hands off the steering wheel at the worst possible time. It’d just be perfect if the lasting legacy of this year was the fact that the Cowboys ended up in a controversy over — of all things — the coin toss. Hell, the team couldn't even fly out of Philadelphia without something going sideways

Garrett’s longevity on the job borders on the inexplicable. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a tweet earlier today, the list of coaches in all four major professional leagues who have been on the job since 2010 and have not won a championship has exactly one member. Take a wild guess who.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny that the Dallas Cowboys make life more interesting in the NFL. With the swagger of their fans and the hellraising lineage of the franchise, they’re one of a handful of organizations that inspire no casual feelings. The NFL’s always a little more fun when the Cowboys are in the mix, and it’s a shame this team has fallen down on the job for so many years now.

More Week 16 takeaways

Rounding up some of the other big stories of the weekend:

Playoff jockeying: Baltimore clinched the top seed in the AFC, meaning that — for the first time ever — the road to the Super Bowl will run through Charm City. (Both of Baltimore’s Super Bowl wins came when the team was a lower seed.) Over in the NFC, tonight’s Green Bay-Minnesota game will determine whether the Packers stay in the hunt for a first-round bye, currently held by San Francisco and New Orleans. And the 49ers-Seahawks game next Sunday night looms as one of the season’s most important, with a home playoff game and possible bye on the line. There aren’t many teams still alive for the playoffs, but those that are, are fighting like hell for position.

Pride tops draft position: Whenever a truly pathetic team starts heading for the end of the season, a certain segment of fans would be happy seeing the team lose out in order to secure a better draft slot. But the teams themselves don’t quite see it that way. The Atlanta Falcons have won three straight to tumble down the draft board (and possibly save Dan Quinn’s job). The Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals forced overtime after dramatic comebacks. After Cincinnati came up just short in a furious comeback attempt against Miami, Andy Dalton ripped fans who were happy about the loss. (At least Andy probably won’t have to deal with them much longer; next year those fans will probably be Joe Burrow’s problem.)

Tempers flare: Dalton’s not the only player who’s sick of 2019. This late in the season, anyone on a losing roster is pretty much completely sick of excuses or losses. Odell Beckham Jr. continued his rocky run in Cleveland by slinging his helmet and got into it with head coach Freddie Kitchens in a loss to Baltimore. Meanwhile, Carolina’s Greg Olsen declared the Panthers’ seventh straight loss “as rock-bottom as it gets.” If there’s any consolation, it’s that the pain ends in just a week.

Saints look playoff-primed: Six days after Drew Brees set the career touchdown passing record, teammate Michael Thomas set the single -season receptions mark in a win over Tennessee. Brees, Thomas and the rest of the Saints are operating at peak efficiency now; the refs are going to have to work overtime to figure a way to screw them out of a Super Bowl berth this year.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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