Another postseason, another disappointing result for the Dallas Cowboys as they failed to reach the NFC Conference Championship once again.
The Cowboys have not made an appearance in the NFC Championship game since winning Super Bowl XXX on January 26, 1986. This is the 12th playoff appearance where the team has not made it past the divisional round.
The Cowboys on Sunday went on the road to take on the San Francisco 49ers, who have one of the most talented and dynamic rosters in the NFL. Dallas' defense played great through the majority of the game, as they did all they could to contain the 49ers' many dynamic weapons.
Dallas needed to find a way to create scoring drives against the top-ranked defense in the league without turning the ball over. There was no doubt that Dallas would try to find ways to score, but the big issue was for quarterback Dak Prescott to not throw interceptions. There was hope for Prescott to elevate himself after a fantastic performance in the 31-14 win on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round. But Prescott couldn't make it happen, and threw two interceptions.
Outside of the two interceptions, Prescott did a nice job of pushing the ball down the field to his key pass-catchers, including wide receiver CeeDee Lab and tight end Dalton Schultz. Prescott completed 23-of-37 of his passes for 206 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a QBR of 51.5. The interceptions were a key reason for Dallas' loss, but they weren't the Cowboys' only issue.
Outside of Lamb, the top wide receiver in the game was Noah Brown, who caught two receptions for 21 yards. Newly acquired receiver T.Y Hilton caught one reception for 15 yards.
The biggest disappointment from the receiver corps was Michael Gallup, who didn't record a single reception on three targets. He is set to be the highest paid receiver in 2023 and the sixth highest-paid player overall as he will receive $13.8 million in compensation next year. Since coming back from a torn ACL injury from last season, Gallup has caught 39 receptions for 424 yards and four touchdowns. Gallup's first game was in week four of the 2022 regular season. He had a serious lack of urgency and awareness in the game against the 49ers.
The Cowboys' biggest concern going into the off-season should be the lack of productivity from three-time Pro-Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliot. For the firs time in his seven-year career, Elliot didn't have a single game where he rushed for 100 yards or more. He rushed for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns on 231 carries for an average of 4.4 yards per carry last season. Elliot rushed for only 53 yards on 23 carries for an average of 2.3 yards per carry in the Cowboys' win over Tampa Bay an loss to San Francisco. Elliot is set to earn $16.7 million ($10.6 million in base salary) -- 7.3% of Dallas' salary cap -- next season. Elliot and Gallup are set to be collecting 13.34% of the Cowboys' salary cap this next season; meanwhile, many fans do not feel confident in their ability to be consistent for an offense that was up-and-down during the season.
Prescott's abilities to lead the team to a Super Bowl title are also up for questions. Right now, he is showing he cannot lead the team to their sixth Super Bowl title in franchise history. Prescott is set to earn $49.1 million in 2023, 21.46% of the team's salary cap. So far, he has only lead the team to four playoff trips, an Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2016 and two Pro-Bowl appearances.
The Cowboys are in a mess, as they are set to be in the negative in the salary cap when the 2023 NFL off-season starts. While teams like San Francisco and their NFC East Divisional rivals the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants are trending up, the Cowboys are trending down. There are going to have to be some tough decisions to be made this off-season by owner/president/general manager Jerry Jones before the Super Bowl window closes on Dallas permanently.