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Oh, the pain Dallas Cowboys fans feel the Monday after this Super Bowl.

Gone is the opportunity to continually taunt Philadelphia Eagles fans over their lack of Super Bowl wins. Yes, the Cowboys can point to five championships, but those are ancient history. The Eagles, with their thrilling 41-33 victory in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots, have bragging rights for at least the next 12 months and likely longer.

The pain runs deep because Philadelphia’s winning touchdown looked similar to a non-catch that ended the Cowboys’ chances to stop their Super Bowl drought in 2014.

On Zach Ertz’s 11-yard touchdown catch with 2:21 remaining, the Philadelphia tight end took two steps and dived for the end zone, with the ball hitting the ground after crossing the goal line.

Every scoring play is reviewed, and this one took a longer time than expected.

“I didn’t even think there was anything to review,” Ertz said. “I knew that you kind of had to after every touchdown, but I didn’t know there was a reason behind it, that it was going to be that close, that they had to go over and spend what seemed like an eternity over there.”

That Gene Steratore was the referee should not have been lost on Cowboys fans. He was the referee in Oakland in Week 15, pulling a piece of paper out to measure a Dallas first down. He was also the referee in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 season.

Late in the fourth quarter and facing fourth down, Tony Romo sent a pass down the sideline to Dez Bryant that would have given the Cowboys a first down at the 1. Bryant leaped over Sam Shields for the pass, wrestled the ball away, took two steps and dived for the goal line. The ball popped in the air, but Bryant took control of it again in the end zone.

The initial signal was a catch for a first down, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play. After a similar eternity, Steratore overturned the call on the field, and the Cowboys never got the ball back, seeing their season end in controversial fashion.

In Super Bowl LII, Steratore was talking with Al Riveron, the director of officiating. In the 2014 playoffs, he was talking with Dean Blandino.

What was a catch Sunday was not a catch in the 2014 playoffs.

To this day, Bryant believes he caught the ball. The Cowboys believe he caught the ball. Their fans, to their last breath, believe Bryant caught the ball. Just last week, the obituary of Dallas fan Robert Clyde Drew of Wichita Falls, Texas, made reference to Bryant’s catch. Bryant shared the obit on his Instagram account.

As Steratore confirmed Ertz’s touchdown catch Sunday, thousands — if not millions — of Cowboys fans had to wonder why he did not do the same for Bryant’s catch.

Had the call been overturned, Philadelphia likely would have settled for a field goal attempt and taken a 35-33 lead. The Patriots’ strategy would have been different, knowing a field goal would win the game in the final two minutes. Instead, needing a touchdown they had to be more aggressive, and Brandon Graham was able to force a fumble on the only sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, leading to an Eagles’ field goal and eight-point lead.

There are no what-ifs for the Eagles — just a Super Bowl victory.

The Cowboys have plenty of what-ifs from 2014. Had they scored the go-ahead touchdown against the Packers, there is no telling whether they could have stopped Aaron Rodgers. But they would have liked to have had the opportunity to see what happened.

Had the Cowboys won, they would have played the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game at Century Link Field, where they had won the previous October. A win would have been difficult but not impossible.

Who knows — maybe the Cowboys would have gone on to win, appear in Super Bowl XLIX and beat the Patriots too.

Romo’s narrative could have been changed forever. Jason Garrett’s ability would not be questioned as much. And Jerry Jones could finally find peace in success without Jimmy Johnson.

But now Nick Foles’ narrative is changed forever, Doug Pederson is a genius and Howie Roseman is a guru.

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No one knew it at the time, but the Dak Prescott era of the Dallas Cowboys began on Jan. 15, 2015, on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. Prescott, of course, hadn’t yet turned pro. He had recently finished his junior season at Mississippi State, where, during his four years, he became one of four FBS players and the second in the Southeastern Conference to throw for 70 touchdowns and run for 40. The date is immortalized in Cowboys infamy as Tony Romo’s last impactful moment under center and ground zero for one of the most controversial calls in league history: Dez Bryant’s no-catch.

For years, the Cowboys had avoided the elephant in the room that was Romo’s eventual successor. The next season, Romo suffered a string of injuries, including a fractured collarbone in Week 2 versus the Philadelphia Eagles. A comedy of errors ensued, with Dallas cycling through quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Kellen Moore, Romo again for two more games and Matt Cassel. Dallas finished 4-12, and reality had finally caught up to the league’s most popular (and despised) franchise. What did post-Romo life resemble?

Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott was chosen 135th overall in the 2016 NFL draft. Seven quarterbacks were selected ahead of him, including the top two picks, Pro Bowlers Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, but also Paxton Lynch, Cody Kessler, Christian Hackenberg and Connor Cook. Prescott figured to be a backup in his rookie campaign. Those plans quickly went awry when, in a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Romo was sacked awkwardly, his body folding like a lawn chair at the hands of Seattle’s Cliff Avril. Romo had a broken bone in his back. For the second time in two seasons, Romo’s season had suffered a critical setback. This time, though, proved to be the end. The Cowboys and Prescott never looked back.

Prescott’s rookie season took the league by storm. Led by its stellar offensive line and the emergence of first-year sensations Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys achieved a 13-3 record. Prescott’s 23 touchdowns and four interceptions paced an offense that once again ran like a well-oiled machine. A heartbreaking postseason loss to Aaron Rodgers and those same Packers ended Prescott’s rookie season, although the Pro Bowl soon followed. Prescott’s life story became a national topic of discussion. Prescott is biracial, the son of a black father and white mother in Louisiana, and his relationship with his mother, Peggy Prescott, who died of colon cancer in 2013, became emotional fodder for an already inspiring story.

“She’s the reason that I live life,” Prescott said. “She’s the reason I have a story today.” Largely overlooked is his close relationship with his father, Nathaniel Prescott, who never once sought to defend himself publicly, out of respect for his ex-wife, whom he continues to speak highly of, but also because of the bond he and his son share. “There’s nothing you can tell me. As a black father, we tend to take offense to it. I knew better. It wasn’t for me to convince the world. That’s not my job,” the elder Prescott told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last summer ahead of Prescott’s second training camp with the Cowboys. “My child knew. That was the main concern.”

Prescott’s second season in Dallas became a story that the franchise and fans have become all too familiar with in the decades since its last Super Bowl in 1996. The team entered 2017 with preseason hype predicting a return to yester-decade dominance. It was all for naught. Elliott’s on-again, off-again but ultimately on-for-sure suspension, stemming from domestic violence allegations, haunted the team all year. Prescott’s numbers took a hit as well, although he still played relatively well, with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, in a system that still hasn’t been fully fitted to his style of play. He and star wide receiver Bryant never found a true rhythm, and the Cowboys finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Meanwhile, divisional rival Philadelphia, with fellow quarterback of the future and 2016 draftee Wentz (though injured), sit one win away from the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

All eyes will once again be on Prescott next year. Critics and fans alike will look to see whether his sophomore season was a one-off or a sign of a career to come.

Prescott is the sixth black quarterback in team history, following Reggie Collier, Randall Cunningham, Rodney Peete, Anthony Wright and Quincy Carter. What separates Prescott from the others is that because of age, personal decisions or talent, none of them was a bona fide star with the Cowboys. That’s what makes Prescott so intriguing. One NFC personnel director told NFL.com that Prescott is due for a major comeback after his second-season setback.

“I feel like they’ve rebuilt the team like the 1990s teams with the dominant offensive line and an efficient quarterback,” the scout source said. “I’m not saying he is Troy Aikman, but if you check their numbers and look at their games, they play the same way. They take care of the football over everything else, and when the team is built the right way, they’ll win.”

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While Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters at the Senior Bowl this week that re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was a top priority, talks about a contract extension between the Cowboys and Lawrence’s agent have not yet begun. There’s no panic in Lawrence’s camp, however.

“It’s great for them to prioritize me as being a Cowboy,” said Lawrence, who’s at the Pro Bowl in Orlando this week. “I’m not worried about it. I’m gonna let my agent worry about that part. … I believe and trust in him 100 percent to get the job done.”

Lawrence’s agent, David Canter, who’s also in Orlando for the Pro Bowl, told ESPN that he expects things will pick up in a few weeks. He plans on meeting with the Cowboys at the NFL combine, which kicks off Feb. 28 in Indianapolis. The legal tampering period runs from March 12-14 this year, with free agency officially getting underway March 14 at 4 p.m. ET.

“I would imagine that they’re probably not just letting us get to free agency and leave Dallas,” said Canter, who indicated that he has a good working relationship with the Cowboys’ front office and expects conversations to be friendly.

“It’s really up to them to want to do a deal that’s in line with what the market is for a young, ascending, elite franchise-caliber defensive end,” Canter said. “Whatever that number ends up being remains to be seen. But I do imagine and believe that we’ll have multiple conversations over the next month or so. I think it’s early right now.”

Lawrence was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2017 season for the Cowboys, who finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs after going 13-3 the previous year. Lawrence had 14.5 sacks, tied for second in the league with Calais Campbell. It was the highest sack total of any Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware in 2011. Lawrence’s 27 quarterback hits were tied with Aaron Donald for fifth-most in the league.

“I think DeMarcus is an unbelievably mature 25-year-old, Canter said. “And luckily, I was in a similar situation a few years ago with another unbelievably mature 25-year-old named Olivier Vernon. And things worked out pretty well for us with the Giants. The Dolphins had similar comments, and so you just kind of wait and see. Whenever the date comes that my phone rings, we’re ready to talk.”

Jones told the Fort Worth Star Telegram this week “that the only reason you use a franchise tag is to hopefully protect yourself if you can’t get a long-term deal signed that you like” and that the goal is a long-term deal.

“Certainly, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and see if we can do something with DeMarcus without having a franchise tag,” Jones said.

“He says, she says. I’m gonna go by what the paperwork says,” Lawrence said. “I’m not worried about that. I’m gonna let my agent handle that. Trust me, he’s gonna do a great job. He knows what I want and soon enough, y’all will know what I want.”

The Cowboys have used the franchise tag in the past, most recently tagging wide receiver Dez Bryant in 2015 before agreeing to a five-year deal worth $70 million. Prior to that, they’d tagged offensive tackle Flozell Adams in 2002, safety Ken Hamlin in 2008 and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in 2012 and 2013. All received new contracts, with Adams remaining with the team through the 2009 season. Spencer’s was for just a year due to a knee injury.

“Whether it results in a contract extension, I don’t know, but we’re not afraid of the franchise tag either,” Canter said. “I imagine the franchise tag will be higher than the average per year that I got Olivier Vernon a couple of years ago, which is $17 million a year, and I’m sure the Cowboys know that. I can imagine, just based on having done the analytics of their books and their cap situation, it’s not something they’d prefer to carry, but certainly they can and they will.”

One thing Lawrence made very clear was his love for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Marinelli’s passion for pass rush.

“Coach Marinelli is great. The intensity in all aspects of the game that he brings to us is tremendous,” Lawrence said. “I love him to death. I love him like a father. He taught me so much about the game. I’m just grateful to be under his wing.”

“That’s all you want in a coach, that believes in you 100 percent, doesn’t put a [ceiling] on your head — he knows you can be greater than what you thought you could be,” Lawrence said. “That’s what he brings to the team and that’s why we love him so much.”

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When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, nothing is simple.One must read between the lines when deciphering just what the Cowboys might do.

Without question, Dez Bryant’s future is the biggest question facing the Cowboys in 2018. Yes, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is set to be a free agent, but the Cowboys know he will be in their lineup one way or another because of the franchise tag. Yes, they would like to sign Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin to an extension, but they know they have him under contract for 2018 thanks to the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Yes, defensive lineman David Irving is set to be a restricted free agent, but the Cowboys will likely put a second-round tag on him and either match a deal if one comes from another team or accept a second-round pick in return.

With Bryant, nothing is certain.

On Monday, executive vice president Stephen Jones went on the team’s “Hangin’ with the Boys” podcast and seemed to set up the Cowboys’ offseason position with Bryant. Since signing his five-year, $70 million deal after the 2014 season, he has not been the same receiver. This past season he played in every game and caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns.

“We pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s aware of it as anybody when he talks to Jerry and myself,” Stephen Jones said. “He knows when you get paid that kind of money, there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity. Those are all things that we have to look at as a team, as an organization, when we start to put our team together for next year.”

Bryant is set to make $12.5 million in 2018. He has a $16.5 million cap figure. The Cowboys can release him and save $8 million. They can designate him a post-June 1 cut and save $12 million and he will count $4 million against the 2019 cap.

The Cowboys could ask Bryant to take a pay cut, but the last time they faced a dicey contractual situation with one of their all-time greats, DeMarcus Ware, they did not make him an offer because they did not want to hurt him with a lowball contract. They eventually cut Ware and he signed with the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl in his second season there.

Also on the podcast, Stephen Jones said that Bryant’s sideline outbursts are a distraction. Over the years, Jason Garrett has defended Bryant’s actions as a sign of passion. On Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Stephen Jones was asked to clarify what he meant.

“Well, Dez is an emotional guy. He plays with emotion. That’s part of his game,” Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “We work with him constantly on trying to really channel his energy in positive ways. I just think when he has those types of emotional roller coasters, I think at the end of the day he needs to understand that it does affect more than just Dez. He loves his teammates. He obviously has made so many great plays for us over the years but when you start to look at the things that we need to be better at, that’s one of them. I think he needs to understand that it’s not something that’s just affecting him, it does affect his teammates.”

On Tuesday from the Senior Bowl, Jerry Jones played something of the good cop when he was asked if Bryant was still a Dak Prescott-friendly receiver as the Cowboys look to direct their offense around their third-year quarterback’s talents.

“Well again, I’ve said this and I’m so proud of Dez and proud of where he is today, with us,” Jerry Jones said. “I believe Dez to have a lot of gas in the tank. I think we need to improve across the board with our receivers, and I think we will. In doing so, it should be an opportunity for Dez.”

Does he expect Bryant to be on the team?

“Well, everyone we’ve got under contract right now — and I’m not addressing anyone — but everyone we’ve got under contract and have years left on their contract, I expect to be with the team,” Jerry Jones said.

And this is where you can read between the lines. If Bryant was a dead-set lock to be on the roster in 2018, Jerry Jones could have just said yes. He was direct in some of his answers about the coaching staff. Here he left the door open with the “expect to.”

Nothing that has been said this week is new to Bryant. He addressed his situation late in the regular season. He knows the NFL business. And he said he would not take a pay cut if asked. He has not been asked yet.

Like Ware, he might not be asked either.

The door for Bryant’s departure seems to be open.

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Dallas Cowboys coaches — those who remain, anyway — are set to return from vacation next week, and at some point they will head to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl.

At the moment, the Cowboys need a tight ends coach, a linebackers coach, a secondary coach, a special-teams coordinator, a wide receivers coach and a quarterbacks coach. The front office and head coach Jason Garrett might already know who will fill some of those roles and just aren’t saying.

So let’s lay out what has happened to the staff since the season ended, and what might happen next:

WHO’S OUT?

Special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia — Despite being under contract and putting together a good unit the past few seasons, he was allowed to leave by the front office and join Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders. Bisaccia is respected across the league and desires to be a head coach one day. Getting back together with Gruden could help him.

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus — He is expected to be Josh McDaniels’ defensive coordinator wherever the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator lands a head-coaching job (Indianapolis Colts, cough, cough). He was elevated to passing-game coordinator in 2017 and was a key part of the coverage schemes the Cowboys used. He devised their dime package a couple of years ago. He bet on himself last year, choosing not to sign an extension with the Cowboys in hopes of becoming a coordinator in 2018.

Wide receivers coach Derek Dooley — He would have been back with the Cowboys in 2018 but was able to land the offensive coordinator job at Missouri. This move allows him the chance to get back on track to being a head coach one day.

Offensive line coach Frank Pollack — With Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on his unit, his job did not appear to be on the line after the 2017 season ended. But a change was made, anyway, even though he remained under contract. He ended up as the line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson — The longest-tenured assistant under Garrett (2007-17), he was Dak Prescott’s first backer on the staff prior to the 2016 draft. His contract expired, and he was told he would not return.

Secondary coach Joe Baker — He was told his contract would not be renewed. While he incorporated almost an entirely new secondary in 2017, the fact that the players the Cowboys let walk in free agency — such as Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne — played better elsewhere did not help his cause.

Tight ends coach Steve Loney — He chose to retire after one season in his position, ending a coaching career that began in 1974.

WHO’S IN?

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander — He spent 23 years as the Bengals’ line coach and was able to put together some solid running game and pass protection schemes. He inherits what will be the best group he has coached and will be in charge of improving the pass protection while keeping the run game top notch. Over the years, he has changed his blocking scheme depending on the talent he has had.

Running backs coach Gary Brown — Sources say he is expected to return for his sixth season. He had interest from the Raiders and Houston Texans. He has had success with DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott since joining the Cowboys. He has also developed Keith Smith from a linebacker to a fullback and Rod Smith as an effective third-down back.

Sanjay Lal — A source said Lal will be the receivers coach after interviewing for the position last week. Miles Austin also interviewed for the spot and could be considered for another role on the staff, but Lal’s experience gave him the edge. The key question for the Cowboys and whoever coaches the receivers will be Dez Bryant’s future with the team.

WHO COULD BE IN?

Kellen Moore — After spending most of last season on the practice squad, he has interviewed for the quarterbacks coach job, and his close ties to Scott Linehan help his case. He has always been viewed as a coach-in-waiting. Considering that Linehan effectively runs the quarterback room as coordinator, it will allow Moore a chance to grow as a coach.

Keith O’Quinn — He has served as Bisaccia’s assistant since 2014. He has experience in coaching on both sides of the ball and comes from a scouting background. Considering how a special-teams unit is put together, the coach has to have an understanding of every level. The special-teams coordinator also has to work closely with Garrett. O’Quinn’s experience on the staff helps.

John Pagano — He is scheduled to meet with the club over the next few days. He ended last season as Oakland’s defensive coordinator, taking over for Ken Norton Jr. He has been an NFL assistant since 1996 and has extensive work as a linebackers coach, which is a sign the Cowboys are preparing for life without Eberflus. Pagano has experience in 4-3 and 3-4 systems and could be a solid resource for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Ray Horton — He won a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys in 1992 as a defensive back and was considered for Garrett’s staff back in 2011. He was out of football last season after serving as Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator in 2016. While the Cowboys would like Greg Jackson to return to help the secondary, Horton has a lot of experience.

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The Dallas Cowboys will hire Sanjay Lal as wide-receivers coach, according to multiple sources.

Lal interviewed with the Cowboys last week, but he had drawn interest from the Oakland Raiders and had a chance to remain with the Indianapolis Colts.

Lal, 48, was with the Colts for just one season after a two-year run with the Buffalo Bills and three years with the New York Jets. He broke into the NFL in 2007 with the Raiders and became their receivers coach in 2009.

Lal will replace Derek Dooley, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Missouri. Dooley had coached Dallas’ wide receivers since 2013. Former Cowboys receiver Miles Austin, who has worked in the scouting department the past two seasons, also interviewed for the position.

Lal will inherit a group that could look a lot different by the time the 2018 season begins. Dez Bryant is under contract for two more years, but the Cowboys could look for Bryant to take a pay cut or risk getting released. Terrance Williams signed a four-year deal with the team last year and his base salary is guaranteed. Cole Beasley is entering the final year of his contract, while Brice Butler will be a free agent. The Cowboys also had Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown on the 53-man roster at the end of the season.

The Colts had quarterback issues for most of the season, but lead receiver T.Y. Hilton had 966 yards and averaged 16.9 yards per catch with four touchdowns. In Buffalo, Lal oversaw the development of Sammy Watkins, who had more than 1,000 yards in 2015.

Lal becomes the second new coach to join Jason Garrett’s staff, with offensive-line coach Paul Alexander coming on board Monday. A source said running-backs coach Gary Brown is expected to return to the Cowboys, but the team has openings at tight ends, special teams, linebackers, secondary and quarterbacks coaches.

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With roughly 1,000 snaps on both sides of the ball, seasons can turn on a handful of plays.

That was certainly the case for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. The fall from their 13-3 finish in 2016 to their 9-7 record this season seems precipitous, but in reality they are not that disparate.

Lost amid the 13-3 finish were the plays that tipped the season in their favor, like the overtime win against the Philadelphia Eagles or the late-game fumble recovery at the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys made the necessary plays — big and small — to win those games.

In 2017, they didn’t — and as a result have to watch the playoffs go on without them.

Four of the Cowboys’ seven losses in 2017 were by 20 or more points. But even in those games there were moments in which the results could have flipped.

In the 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 2, DeMarcus Lawrence was penalized for leverage on a field goal attempt. The Broncos turned that penalty into a touchdown and 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Perhaps if there is no penalty, the Cowboys rally from that moment.

In the 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys moved down the field on their opening drive of the second half mostly on the legs of Alfred Morris. After an 11-yard run to the Atlanta 12-yard line, the Cowboys went into shotgun on first-and-10 and Dak Prescott was sacked for a 7-yard loss by Adrian Clayborn. The next play lost 2 yards. The third-down play gained just 1 yard and Mike Nugent’s 38-yard field goal attempt hit the upright. Had the Cowboys stood by their powerful run game, knowing fill-in left tackle Chaz Green could not block Clayborn, maybe they grab a touchdown in that situation and make the score 17-14.

In those defeats, however, the Cowboys were listless and not competitive for large portions of the games.

But what about the three losses by less than 10 points?

Three plays stand out:

Los Angeles Rams

The Cowboys offense was rolling. They opened with a field goal and two touchdowns on their first three drives for a 17-6 lead, at which point they had nearly 200 yards of offense. The defense forced a Rams punt and the Cowboys could have taken the game by the throat with another score on their fourth drive of the game.

Instead, Ryan Switzer fumbled the punt and the Rams took over at the Dallas 18. The Rams scored a touchdown five plays later. The momentum had swung. The Cowboys led 24-16 at the half, but they never had the same control of the game. The Rams scored on seven of their last nine possessions in a 35-30 win.

Green Bay Packers

Trailing 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, Prescott put the Cowboys in position to win late against the Packers, just like he did in the divisional round of the playoffs last January. The Cowboys needed a replay review to convert a fourth-and-1 run for a first down by Ezekiel Elliott to the Packers’ 19, but Elliott then picked up 8 yards on first down.

The Cowboys had the Packers on their heels. Although they needed a touchdown, they also knew they could not leave Aaron Rodgers much time on the clock. On second-and-2, Prescott threw a fade to Dez Bryant in the end zone that fell incomplete. Instead of running the ball and chewing up more time, only six seconds ran off the clock. On the next play, Prescott used the zone-read to fool the Green Bay defense for a go-ahead touchdown. As great as that was, Rodgers still had 1:13 to pull off the comeback, which he did, throwing a touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining for a 35-31 win.

If the Cowboys had run the ball on second down, maybe they score there and the point is moot. But they threw it, and the worst-case scenario turned true.

Seattle Seahawks

Needing a win to remain alive in the playoffs, the Cowboys held a 6-0 lead in the second quarter against Seattle, which also needed a win to keep its postseason hopes alive. The Cowboys defense was badly flustering quarterback Russell Wilson, with Lawrence picking up a sack of 22 yards that forced a Seahawks punt from their own 8.

The Cowboys should have had terrific field position following the punt, but Kyle Wilber was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the return. Instead of having the ball at the Dallas 45, the Cowboys had it at their 35.

On first down, Bryant, who was brooding because of a lack of action his way early in the game, caught a 7-yard hitch from Prescott, but Byron Maxwell punched the ball free and K.J. Wright recovered. Five plays later, the Seahawks scored a touchdown for a 7-6 lead despite being thoroughly outplayed.

Prescott was intercepted twice in the second half, including one that was returned for a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter, but the Bryant fumble started the downward trend in the Cowboys’ 21-12 loss.

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As DeMarcus Lawrence departed the locker room Monday, he carried with him a handful of opponents’ jerseys gathered throughout the season. He left the rest of his locker intact, while others gathered up their belongings in oversized trash bags and boxes.

Set to be an unrestricted free agent, Lawrence is certain he will be with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.

“I mean, I already know what my situation is,” Lawrence said. “I really don’t care about it because I already know how the Cowboys feel about me, and they know how I feel about the organization. My agent will take care of everything, bro. He knows how it feels. He knows my right moves, so he’ll do it.”

Lawrence did not have any qualms about whether the 6-0 win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday would be his last game with Dallas.

He remains confident the Cowboys will either sign him to a lucrative long-term deal or put the franchise tag on him.

Lawrence led the Cowboys with 14.5 sacks in 2017, which was 5.5 more than he recorded in his first three seasons with the team. The biggest reason he put up the numbers was health. He missed the first half of his rookie season with a broken foot and did not record a sack in the regular season. He had eight in 2015, which led the Cowboys, but needed offseason back surgery, which played a part in his picking up just one sack in 2016.

After a second back surgery last offseason, he managed to play every game this season and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

Having moved up to take Lawrence in the second round of the 2014 draft, the Cowboys view him as a long-term piece of their future, but reaching an agreement on a long-term deal could be difficult. If they use the franchise tag, then Lawrence would be guaranteed about $17 million in 2018.

The Cowboys last used the franchise tag on Dez Bryant in 2015 but worked out a long-term deal with the receiver before a summer deadline. Before that, the Cowboys put the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in back-to-back seasons.

“I don’t know where the chips are going to lay,” Lawrence said. “Say they spend all their money, what are they going to do? Tag me. Point-blank. Period. So I ain’t got time to sit here and think about that. I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to Jamaica or Hawaii.”

The other key free-agent decision for the Cowboys is linebacker Anthony Hitchens. The Cowboys discussed an extension with his agent during training camp, but nothing took hold. Hitchens missed the first four games with a knee injury but still managed more than 90 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown.

Given the injury histories of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, the versatile Hitchens is a big piece of the Cowboys’ defense. He could be in line for a bigger deal from another team, similar to what happened last offseason with safety Barry Church, who signed a lucrative deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“You never know it is a business until it hits you on the business side,” Hitchens said. “It is something that is out of my control and out of Dallas’ control. Hopefully I’m back here. This is home for me.”

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Wide receiver Dez Bryant does not want to leave the Dallas Cowboys and has not thought about life with another team, but he understands the way the NFL works.

Scheduled to make $12.5 million in 2018, Bryant understands questions about his lower-than-expected production compared to his high salary. But he will not take a pay cut if the Cowboys ask this offseason.

“I haven’t heard no talk about that but if it comes, I don’t know, probably not,” Bryant said Wednesday. “Hell naw, man. I believe in me.”

Bryant is set to count $16.5 million against the salary cap. The Cowboys can free up $8.5 million if they release him or $12 million if he is designated as a post-June 1 cut, with him counting $4 million against the cap in 2019.

After Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who has an affinity for Bryant, did not want to discuss the receiver’s future.

Bryant was asked if he could envision playing anywhere else.

“I don’t know, but if that came about, I’m still Dez Bryant,” he said Wednesday. “I’m still going over the top. If it’s there where I can grab it, I’m going to grab it. That’s who I am.”

Bryant, 29, leads the Cowboys with 66 catches for 815 yards with six touchdowns, but those numbers are a far cry from the 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns he averaged from 2012 to 2014.

In 2015, Bryant missed seven games with foot and knee injuries. He missed three games last season with a tibial plateau fracture. He has played in every game this season, but he said he has been bothered by tendinitis in his knee the past eight games. He has not been listed on the injury report.

“Well, I’m a warrior,” Bryant said. “I consider myself as a warrior. If I can walk, I can move, I’m going to go out there and try to play. It’s probably dumb, but, hey, that’s just who I am. I love this game and I try to push it.”

Bryant has gone 22 regular-season games without a 100-yard game. He has eight games this season with fewer than five catches, and nine games with fewer than 60 yards receiving. The low point came in the loss to Seattle when he dropped two passes, including one that led to an interception, and he fumbled once. Seattle turned both of his turnovers into touchdowns.

Bryant said he has allowed personal and professional things to impact his play, but he would not go into detail as to what those are.

“I just got to focus on the things that I can control and only I can control,” Bryant said. “All I know is if my mind’s not cluttered, I can beat whoever, whenever, anybody at any time. It’s just sometimes I let certain things get to me that I shouldn’t.”

Bryant has acknowledged the Cowboys have a different offense than the one they ran from 2012 to 2014, leaning more on the run, but he expressed frustration with the scheme, not with quarterback Dak Prescott.

“That’s something you got to discuss with them coaches, not Dak or me,” Bryant said. “You got to discuss that with them.”

Bryant is planning on sitting down with coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan after the season. He also will meet with Jones.

“Because it means something to me,” Bryant said. “Like, I don’t really do much in the offseason. I don’t. I like to be in Texas. I like to think about football. I like to focus on football. That’s all I care about. Just me thinking about this long-ass offseason is frustrating, and I just got to see what it is.

“But, hey, it’s probably going to be my best offseason yet because I’m going to enjoy the s— out of it. You better believe that. … I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to get my body checked out. I’m going to make sure I’m right in all angles. And I’m looking forward. I’m just looking forward. I got my mind on 2018. I got my mind on spending time with my family. I got my mind on everything that I need to have it on. I’m set in stone. Like, I’m ready.”

Youth Jeff Heath Cowboys Jersey Sale Cheap

As Jason Garrett stood behind a podium inside what is normally the Oakland A’s weight room Sunday night, he could have ticked off 30, 40, maybe 50 things his Dallas Cowboys did wrong against the Oakland Raiders.

The Cowboys blew a 10-0 halftime lead. They converted 2 of 10 third-down chances. They did not sack Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. They allowed 5.3 yards per carry. They did not get a takeaway until the game’s final play, missing out on at least four opportunities. They allowed 25.8 yards per kickoff return. They were bailed out by three touchdowns called back by penalty or overturned by replay.

That’s just some of what went wrong.

But as Garrett spoke, he kept coming back to one word. It’s something he puts on T-shirts and sweatshirts for the players to wear. It is on Yeti cups. It is on a digital board inside the locker room.

Fight.

Nothing was really pretty about the Cowboys’ 20-17 win against the Raiders except the result.

“Continued to scratch, continued to claw,” Garrett said. “Wasn’t our most perfect performance in any phase of our football team, but the fight was there.”

The fight was never more evident than on the Raiders’ final play. With 39 seconds left, Oakland had a third-and-3 from the Dallas 8. Carr scrambled to his right with nobody open and saw the front pylon daring him to go for the touchdown.

As he lunged forward he was hit by safety Jeff Heath, knocking the ball loose and ultimately out of the end zone for a touchback.

“I thought that play typified what we’re trying to instill in our football team,” Garrett said. “Him laying out, somehow, some way not letting that guy get to the pylon and ultimately knocking the ball out. It was a helluva play. It was an unbelievable game.”

So unbelievable that the Cowboys’ playoff chances can be symbolized by the piece of paper referee Gene Steratore used to affirm a first down on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Dak Prescott at the Dallas 39 with 4:49 to play.

“It’s a game of inches, a game of 5-by-7 note cards,” tight end Jason Witten joked.

That was on display on the Raiders’ final drive. Anthony Brown should have ended the game with an interception of Carr with 1:05 to play but inexplicably dropped the pass. On fourth down, rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis was called for pass interference at the Dallas 15.

A win was looking like a loss or at least a trip to overtime. The season hung in the balance before Ezekiel Elliott could return from his six-game suspension. And then Heath came up to hit Carr as the quarterback was looking for the winning touchdown.

Beyond “fight,” the play was another Garrett mantra.

“He talked about ‘finish’ all week,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “That’s been a big theme for us, and I think it showed.”

Now Elliott’s return can mean more. Now the Cowboys can envision the scenarios they need to get to the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006 and ’07. But all they have done is guarantee themselves no worse than the fourth 8-8 finish in Garrett’s tenure as coach.

“We got Seattle,” Dez Bryant said. “And we got to reset. As soon as I walk out of this locker room and every last one of us walk out of this locker room, let’s reset. We’ve got to get ready for Seattle.”

The Cowboys’ playoff chances are better but still not in their control. They will likely need to win their final two games and need the Atlanta Falcons to lose two of their last three games and the Detroit Lions to lose one of their final two games.

“Nothing has changed,” Prescott said. “We know where we are. Our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to win and that is what this team is about. We’re excited and we’re loving these matchups. We’re loving the position we’re in. It is what it is. We got ourselves here and we’re excited about next week. Just one at a time.”