2. Special teams blunders
The Cowboys’ special teams hasn’t been bad all year, but it hasn’t been great, either, and Sunday was a culmination of the unit’s inconsistencies.
A holding call on Tyler Coyle on the game’s opening kickoff negated a positive return by KaVontae Turpin. That marked the start of a wave of blunders by John Fassell’s normally-disciplined group, as punter Bryan Anger fumbled the snap minutes later and was tackled by Milo Eifler before he could get the punt away.
The gaffe set Washington up with 1st and 10 on the Cowboys’ 20 and the Commanders capitalized in the form of a Terry McLaurin touchdown on the first completion of Sam Howell’s (making his first start) career.
Two drives later, KaVontae Turpin muffed a fair catch. Much like Peyton Hendershot’s drop that landed in the arms of Kevin Byard against the Titans, Turpin’s muff fell right into the oncoming Christian Holmes, who showed good concentration to snatch the ball out of the air and complete the turnover.
Turpin’s had a couple close calls in terms of bobbling returns in recent weeks, and they finally came home to roost on Sunday.
To say this can’t happen in the playoffs would be the understatement of all understatements, as the Commanders were gifted a 1st and 10 on Dallas’ 15-yard line. Luckily, the defense made a red zone stand and Joey Slye missed a chip-shot 31-yard field goal, but odds are that doesn’t happen in the postseason.
To rub salt in the wound, Anger’s next punt traveled a lousy 41 yards, and Brett Maher missed an extra-point after the offense finally got on the board before halftime.
Make no mistake, special teams can lose you a playoff game. If Dallas’ unit doesn’t clean up its act, they could be one-and-done for the second year in a row.