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The Dallas Cowboys do not play a game that matters again until September, but coach Jason Garrett’s proximity to the hot seat is already being discussed.

That’s what happens when you miss the playoffs for the fifth time in seven full seasons as coach, with the Cowboys finishing 9-7 in 2017.

At the Senior Bowl this week, owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked if it was fair to consider Garrett on the hot seat in 2018.

“It’s fair for you to ask,” Jones told reporters in Mobile, Alabama, “but he’s not on my hot seat.”

Well, what else would you expect Jones to say in January? He would not answer that question in any other way. Jones backed Wade Phillips publicly until the end in 2010 when it was painfully obvious the players were no longer buying what he was selling.

“I would like for Jason to repeat as coach of the year within 24 months,” Jones said. “And he’s capable of doing that if we do good next year, be coach of the year twice in 24 months. That would be great.”

Garrett was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year after the Cowboys’ 13-3 finish in 2016. He took a team that lost its starting quarterback, Tony Romo, in the preseason, handed the keys to a fourth-round pick, Dak Prescott, and built the offense around a rookie running back, Ezekiel Elliott, to finish with an NFC-best 13 wins.

He didn’t have the answers in 2017 with Elliott’s suspension and injuries to offensive tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee derailing their season. By the end of the season, the passing game was unrecognizable even after Elliott’s return from suspension.

While disappointed in missing out on the playoffs, Jones never gave serious consideration to dismissing Garrett. But there have been changes to Garrett’s coaching staff. Wade Wilson (quarterbacks) and Joe Baker (secondary) were fired. Receivers coach Derek Dooley became the offensive coordinator at Missouri and will be replaced by Sanjay Lal. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was allowed to leave for the same job on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raiders. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack was fired and replaced by Paul Alexander. Passing game coordinator/linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is expected to join Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis and was replaced as passing game coordinator by Kris Richard, who spent the previous three seasons as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.

More spots need to be filled, which is why Garrett was not at the Senior Bowl this week.

The coaches who remain and new coaches spent the week going over the Cowboys’ personnel, reviewing the 2017 season and what needs to be done to improve. Attending the Senior Bowl can be beneficial to coaches as they get a first look at prospects, but the truth is the week often turns into a high school reunion of sorts where coaches spend time catching up with buddies instead of paying attention to what’s happening on the field.

“I’m really excited about the changes we’ve made on the coaching staff,” Jones said. “There have been many. Probably by the time we’re through there would’ve been eight coaching changes. And so I think all of those give us a chance to improve, and we really are pleased with the availability of the coaches we’ve got and so I think that will help us. It was all done with the personnel we have and the moves we might have in mind.”

Garrett faced a more pressure-filled future in 2014. He was coming off three straight 8-8 finishes and was in the final year of his contract. The Cowboys went 12-4 and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs largely on Romo’s best season and DeMarco Murray’s 1,845 yards rushing.

That earned Garrett a five-year deal. This will be the fourth year of that contract.

“Jason has had a lot of success here,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “At times when we have had an offseason there’s been some extenuating circumstances and I just think Jason is a great head football coach. He was coach of the year last year. This is a tough business now, when one year you’re coach of the year and the next people are asking questions like this. I understand it. I understand that’s the nature of our business, but we just really believe Jason is the right man for the job.

“He has a great way about the team. He represents the organization in a great way and we just feel like he’s the right guy for our organization.”

But make no mistake — he will be on the hot seat even if Jerry Jones doesn’t want to say it right now.

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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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If the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive linemen want to know about their new coach, Paul Alexander, they would be wise to study Willie Anderson.

They will see a lot of Anderson whenever they get around Alexander. Anderson has not played since 2008, but he is still a fixture on the tape Alexander shows his linemen each year.

In 1996, Anderson was the first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, the 10th overall selection. He was named a Pro Bowler four times. He was an All-Pro pick three times. He started every game he played from 1997-2006. If not for Anthony Munoz, a Hall of Famer, he would be the best offensive tackle in Bengals history.

“Great coaches learn that teachers teach,” Anderson said. “A teacher should never say, ‘I teach math.’ You should say, ‘I teach John math. I teach the student.’ That’s an important of teaching. Don’t say, ‘This is my scheme and we do this.’”

In 23 years as the Bengals’ line coach, Alexander adapted. Anderson said he changed based on the personnel he had. He is not just a power-blocking line coach. He is not just a zone-blocking coach. He teaches it all, according to Anderson.

The Cowboys have had success with a zone-blocking scheme since Bill Callahan came in as line coach and continued with Frank Pollack, whom Alexander will replace, the last three seasons. The Cowboys have not had a running game ranked outside the top 10 over the last four seasons. But in truth, the Cowboys ran all sorts of run plays.

“It’s a mix,” Anderson said. “Every O-line coach in football, that’s the biggest misconception. If you’re a line coach, you’re teaching everything. We run power. We run zone. It’s all the same stuff. It’s about how that individual guy can get it taught to those five guys on the line.”

Through the years, the Bengals running game had success. From 2000-02, Corey Dillon had at least 1,300 yards rushing each season and 24 rushing touchdowns. From 2003-06, Rudi Johnson had at least 1,300 yards rushing each season and 36 rushing touchdowns. From 2009-11, Cedric Benson had three straight 1,000-yard seasons and 19 rushing touchdowns. In 2012, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a 1,000-yard season. In 2014, Jeremy Hill had 1,124 yards rushing and in 2015 he had 11 rushing touchdowns.

“Corey Dillon was the best at what we called 16 and 17 Chase,” Anderson said. “He would chase my inside leg however I took the guy and he felt the inside guard, but you have to have the players to do that. Corey was a great zone runner because he was great at cutting back, great vision. He can press the line and at the last second allow for the blocker to set up the block. Why did Terrell Davis run for 2,000 yards running nothing but zone? Denver was the smallest line. They’d run zone and cut the back side. That’s all they did. So Corey loved Chase but at the end [of his time with the Bengals] he wanted to run straight ahead. That’s because our line changed. We didn’t have the guys that could get movement, so he felt like he could get more yards just running straight ahead. With Rudi, he ran the power game. He ran the counter game. He ran zone.”

Alexander had top talents like Anderson, Levi Jones and Andrew Whitworth. He also helped Kevin Zeitler earn the biggest contract for a guard in free agency last year when Zeitler joined the Browns.

With the Cowboys, Alexander inherits three Pro Bowlers in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. He has a young right tackle in La’el Collins. The left guard and backup tackle spots are in flux, but he has a group that is the envy of just about every team in the league. He will also have Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and finished 17 yards short of 1,000 in 2017 despite missing six games because of a suspension.

“It’s all about players you have and what you’re good at and what you’re back is great at,” Anderson said. “Zeke can do a plethora of things. … Paul’s going to assess Zeke, assess the offensive line and they’re going to put scheme together that’s best for them.”

Anderson, who runs a linemen academy for professional, college and high school players as clients, hopes to come down in the spring and work with Alexander, like he had done in Cincinnati, to help. He knows of the Cowboys’ linemen but doesn’t know them personally. But he knows how good they can be, which he sees as good as the group of the 1990s that won Super Bowls right before he entered the league.

“You take Zeke and Dak Prescott, their rookie year and that line was hailed up there with the Cowboys’ from the 1990s,” Anderson said. “Those guys were dominant. That group brought a lot of attention. As an O-line, we want attention. We want people to see how important that group is to show everybody why they were successful as a team. That’s what these guys have. Now you move Collins out to right tackle, I think he’s still learning but he’ll be better in his second year at the position. You have a dominant center and guard that can get overlooked because of how dominant Tyron is. But that’s a real good group of guys. I know Paul is ecstatic to get his hands on to them.”

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all of his years as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones had not made a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals until last September when the team acquired cornerback Bene Benwikere.

In effect, the Cowboys have made their second trade with the Bengals, swapping offensive line coaches.

According to a source, the Cowboys have hired Paul Alexander, who had been with the Bengals for 23 years, to replace Frank Pollack, who took Alexander’s job with the Bengals.

Alexander has a multi-faceted background as the Bengals’ line coach since 1995. While Pollack came from the Bill Callahan school of zone blocking, Alexander uses a combination of zone, power and trap schemes.

Since 2014, the Cowboys have not had a running game rank outside the top 10. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014. Darren McFadden finished fourth in 2015 even though he did not become the lead back until the sixth game of the season. Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing in 2016.

Elliott nearly became the first Cowboys runner to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons top open a career since Tony Dorsett in 1977-78, finishing 17 yards short despite playing in just 10 games because of a suspension.

The strength of the Cowboys’ roster is their offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Smith has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the last five years. Frederick and Martin have been named the last four seasons.

La’el Collins moved from left guard to right tackle in 2017 and improved as the year went on. The two questions the Cowboys have are at left guard, where 13-game starter Jonathan Cooper is set to become a free agent, and at backup offensive tackle, where things fell apart in Smith’s absence from three-plus games due to injury.

The Bengals did not have success in 2017, finishing ranked last in yards offensively and 31st in rushing. Andy Dalton was sacked 39 times after getting sacked 41 times in 2016.

But Alexander will undoubtedly have the most talented group of linemen he has had in his career in Dallas. He oversaw the development of Willie Anderson, a first-round pick in 1997, who became a five-time Pro Bowler. He also saw Andrew Whitworth become a Pro Bowl left tackle. Kevin Zeitler left the Bengals after the 2016 season for the richest free-agent deal ever given to a guard. Martin should top that figure this offseason or next.

The Cowboys felt they needed to move on from Pollack even though the rushing numbers in the six games without Elliott were still good enough to rank in the top 10. Pass protection was an issue. Dak Prescott was sacked 32 times, including 22 times in the final eight games of the season. The passing game took a major hit with Prescott not throwing for at least 200 yards in eight games.

Even with Smith on the field, there was a belief among some in the building that the pass protection was the biggest reason for the slide of the pass-game numbers, especially in the second half.

The Cowboys don’t need to overhaul their running game. However, they can add to the scheme with the addition of Alexander. Where Alexander needs to have the biggest impact is protecting Prescott.

The Cowboys believe if they can do that, they won’t be far off from playing in games like this weekend’s.

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Gary Brown is expected to return as Dallas Cowboys running backs coach, according to sources.

Brown also had interest from the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, but opted to remain with the Cowboys, where he has been since 2013.

He has overseen the development of DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing in 2014 and 2016. Brown helped Murray, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and ’14, and Elliott, who was named a first-team All Pro in 2016, become smarter running backs and identify defensive fronts to improve their ability to hit the hole in the zone running scheme.

But Brown’s work extends beyond those two. In 2015, Darren McFadden finished fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,089 yards despite not becoming the lead back until the sixth game of the season. With Elliott suspended for six games in 2017, the Cowboys still managed to run the ball effectively with Alfred Morris and Rod Smith.

Smith’s development as a solid third-down back, as well as Keith Smith’s seamless transition from linebacker to fullback two years ago also speaks well on Brown’s coaching ability.

Brown is the first coach with an expiring contract to remain with the Cowboys. The Cowboys would also like passing game coordinator and linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and safeties coach Greg Jackson to return. Eberflus could be a defensive coordinator depending on how some head coaching vacancies are filled, but it is also possible he could return to the Cowboys with an expanded role.

There have been six changes on Jason Garrett’s staff so far with special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia (Oakland), offensive line coach Frank Pollack (Cincinnati Bengals), quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley (Missouri offensive coordinator), quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, secondary coach Joe Baker and tight ends coach Steve Loney not returning.

The Cowboys have interviewed long-time Cincinnati offensive line coach Paul Alexander and Indianapolis Colts receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

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As the Dallas Cowboys look to fill out their coaching staff, they know they will not have a vacancy on their personnel staff.

Will McClay, the vice president of player personnel, said Wednesday that he has officially declined a chance to interview for the Houston Texans’ general manager job. When reports surfaced last weekend that McClay had turned down the chance to speak with Houston, he said he had not been contacted by any representatives of the team.

McClay’s decision to remain in Dallas is the best news the Cowboys have had in the early offseason. He has run the team’s personnel department since 2014 and has played the lead in drafting four Pro Bowlers: Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. The Cowboys have also added 12 starters or key contributors through the draft during that time, in addition to right tackle La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent.

McClay has received interest from a number of teams in recent years, including the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, but has opted to remain with the Cowboys, who have given McClay a bigger title and added responsibility.

The Texans’ job had some interest for McClay, a Houston native and Rice graduate. He has family in the city and he would not be far from his son. Plus, the Texans have a decent roster, especially with the eventual return to health of J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson, and a good cap situation to be a contender in the AFC.

McClay has been with the Cowboys since 2002, working his way up from a pro scout. While Jerry Jones maintains the general manager role and Stephen Jones is the director of player personnel, they lean heavily on McClay in the draft process and throughout the season.

He has helped bring stability to the draft room with a program designed to keep the scouts and coaches on the same page.

One day he could have the chance to run his own team, but for now McClay is betting on himself and betting on the Cowboys.c

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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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The Dallas Cowboys finished the season Sunday with a win against the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s a look back at how I predicted their season would unfold.

My prediction: 9-7

Cowboys’ actual record: 9-7

How I fared: I guess I should play Mega Millions more often. The premise for my 9-7 pick was not having Ezekiel Elliott for six games. At the time, I didn’t know if it would be the first six games or not. In the first nine weeks I got only two games wrong, with the Cowboys winning at Arizona and losing at home to the Los Angeles Rams. Much like the Cowboys, my predictions took a turn after the loss to Atlanta, when I got four straight picks wrong. I thought they would beat Philadelphia and the Chargers at home, but they lost both games. I thought they would lose to Washington and the Giants and they won both. Of course, I thought Elliott would have been on hand for those games and he wasn’t, as the suspension did not begin until the ninth game. A playoff spot wasn’t on the line for the finale against the Eagles, but the Cowboys have now won seven of their last eight games at Lincoln Financial Field.

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It was a strange locker room Sunday after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 6-0, at Lincoln Financial Field.

There were pats on the backs. And laughs. And jokes. And everything that comes with winning a difficult road game in the NFL against a division foe.

But mixed in the answers was the reality the Cowboys’ season ended Sunday with a 9-7 record, good enough for second in the NFC East but not good enough to get them into next weekend’s playoffs.

“As far as what we did [winning the game], it doesn’t mean anything, but as far as what guys showed this game, it definitely carries into next season,” defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. “We see what guys got [inside] and that’s what I’m definitely going to demand out of the guys and expect guys to demand it out of each other in the offseason.”

That’s the smaller picture. In the bigger picture, there are myriad reasons as to why the Cowboys have failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back years dating back to the 2006 and ’07 seasons, with the most obvious being Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension.

But that ignores other realities of a team that simply wasn’t good enough.

The Cowboys became just the second team to lose back-to-back home games despite scoring 30 or more points since the 2012 Detroit Lions in defeats to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.

They became the first team in franchise history to fail to score at least 10 points in three straight games, which coincided with the start of Elliott’s six-game suspension.

They fought back into playoff contention with three straight wins but failed to score a touchdown in a 21-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 and were eliminated.

Despite that, the Cowboys approached Sunday’s game trying to win. A couple of draft spots didn’t matter. Players want to win. Coaches might have needed to win.

Having already clinched home-field advantage, the Eagles played their starters for a quarter but had six defenders inactive for the game. The case study for the Cowboys is the Eagles. They won a meaningless season finale in 2016 against a 13-win Cowboys team that had wrapped up home-field advantage to finish 7-9, improved their roster in the offseason in free agency and trades and ended up as the NFC’s top seed in 2017.

Quarterback Carson Wentz’s knee injury likely dooms the Eagles’ chances of making it to the Super Bowl, especially with how Nick Foles performed in his final five quarters, but that’s Philadelphia’s problem.

The Cowboys don’t believe they are that far off from contending again.

“Ultimately you find ways to win,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I did a study looking at some stuff and eight teams will be in the playoffs this year that didn’t have a winning record last year. That’s a strong fact. I mean 12 teams are going to the playoffs and eight out of the 12 didn’t have winning records. So this league switches. That margin, I’ve mentioned it to you guys before, but it’s tight and it’s small and that’s why it’s even more important.

“We’ll get back. It burns today and it should burn for all of us. But I’m proud that we fought and were able to get a win, but collectively we didn’t do enough [during the season] when we had opportunities.”

The Cowboys recorded their first shutout since the 2009 season finale against the Eagles. That team finished 11-5 and made the playoffs, winning in the wild-card round. These Cowboys knew they would be home for the playoffs.

The victory allowed Jason Garrett to avoid his fourth 8-8 record in seven seasons. Had the Cowboys lost Sunday, only Jeff Fisher would have more 8-8 records (five) than Garrett.

Garrett did not want to get into whether he considered 2017 a disappointing season.

“Today was indicative of the kind of guys and character we have on our team,” Garrett said. “Just to battle, scrap, claw, fight and find a win to win this ballgame was important to us. I’m proud to be with our guys.”

The difference between 9-7 and 13-3 records are not as wide as they might appear.

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A year ago, Scott Linehan could do no wrong.

He directed a Dallas Cowboys offense that averaged 26.3 points per game and 376.7 yards total per game, including 149.8 yards rushing per game. He did so with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick, starting every game. He had the NFL’s leading rusher in rookie Ezekiel Elliott and an offensive line that boasted three All-Pros.

All of that earned Linehan a contract extension after the 2016 season.

As 2017 comes to a close, Linehan has been under fire for an offense that is averaging 23.2 points and 334 yards per game. The Cowboys still run the ball well; even without Elliott for six games, they averaged 136.1 yards. But the passing game is 25th, averaging just 197.9 yards a contest.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Linehan said. “It’s part of the gig.”

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has backed head coach Jason Garrett’s return for 2018, but he has not done the same for the rest of the staff. A number of assistants have expiring contracts when the season ends.

Linehan was asked if he feels pressure for his job.

“No, that’s just part of the deal,” he said. “If you spend time listening to whatever you call it, criticism or whatever, then you’re not focusing on the right things. We stay in a pretty tight, close-knit group, and we focus on our team and what we got to do to win football games, and do it the best way we can. We’re not focused on what people think or how they think we should do it. That’s really our approach. That’s been my approach.”

Linehan came under question for calling a run-pass option from the Seattle Seahawks’ 3-yard line in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 21-12 loss. Prescott went with the pass based on Seattle’s look, but he was not able to get the ball to an open Cole Beasley. On second down, Jason Witten was called for a hold on another pass call.

“It’s a called run, but if the free safety is blitzing, it’s going to be a negative play,” Linehan said. “So we missed that opportunity. … And if it works, everything is fine. If it doesn’t, I’m sure like with any loss, you are going to have a lot of naysayers out there criticizing what we do. That doesn’t really affect our approach and what we do and how we do it.”

The passing game has taken a step back. Prescott has failed to reach 200 passing yards in a game seven times this season. Linehan put that on the lack of big plays. The Cowboys have just 31 pass plays of 20 yards or more. A year ago, they had 39.

“I think we’re going to run first here. Throwing for 300 yards in this approach is going to be a little bit more of a less common thing,” Linehan said. “I don’t think we say we have to throw for a certain number of yards. I just think the big plays have been the biggest thing. You saw it in the New York game. You really saw it for a couple games, the big play was a part of that game. We didn’t really throw the ball a whole lot more than we normally would.”