The 2021 NFL season is nigh and, with it, the incredibly over-the-top expectations of Cowboys fans. Dallas played in the worst single-season division in pro football history last year and still finished in third place at 6-10, missing the playoffs. In 2020, the Cowboys had the worst defense in franchise history. To fix it, Jerry Wayne has brought in Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator. Quinn was fired as head coach of the Falcons before last season ended because they had the worst defense in Falcons history. Nice. Dak Prescott shattered his ankle five games into the 2020 campaign and, after two surgeries and months of rehab, strained his throwing shoulder during the first week of training camp. He still has not played a live down of football in eleven months. And, by the way, Mike McCarthy is still the Cowboys coach. And Jerry is still the owner. Yet. Still. Cowboys fans will tell you this is the year, this team’s going to go all the way. Even some level-headed football insiders believe Dallas will win the East and compete for a Super Bowl.
What follows is my week-by-week breakdown of the Cowboys 2021 football season, which begins tonight in Tampa Bay against the Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers and will end, as it always does, in dramatic and delicious despair.
Tonight @ Tampa Bay
The Cowboys alumni group celebrates the season opener by hosting a “Silver Sorry” in the AT&T parking lot, recognizing 25 straight years of Cowboys football without a single divisional playoff win. Danny White and Everson Walls are the headliners – they were once maligned for going to three straight NFC Championship Games. Dallas suffers an embarrassing blowout loss on prime time national TV. This is not a scrimmage on HBO’s Hard Knocks, this is a full-tilt regular season slaughter that exposes some of the team’s worst weaknesses and makes real their greatest fears. Compensating for his untested ankle and his sore shoulder, Dak strains a ligament in his pancreas and winds up committing three turnovers. Tom Brady, still buzzing a bit from the avocado tequila shots he took with Michele Tafoya during the pre-game sideline interview, throws for three TDs and rushes for another in the 36-13 shellacking. Ezekiel Elliot was held to just 48 yards on the ground and never was on the field for three plays in a row. The Bucs high-powered offense was too much for the Cowboys young defense, which is still trying to learn the simplified system implemented by Quinn, the team’s third defensive coordinator in three years.
September 19 @ LA Chargers
Dak Prescott missed two days of practice this week under mysteriously undisclosed circumstances. Prescott has still never confirmed whether he has received a COVID vaccine and we don’t know if that’s because he hasn’t gotten the shots or because he doesn’t want to alienate the Cowboys fan base. Either way, he just doesn’t look right. He was slow on reads and missed a couple of wide open receivers in another double-digit loss on the road. The whole offense looks sloppy. Zeke is missing a step, the line looks out of sync, and Dak can’t find his receivers in a 27-17 loss. For the second week in a row, Blake Jarwin is the team’s leading receiver. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who is not a fictional character in a romance novel, twisted his knee during the coin toss and will miss 3-5 weeks. This early and fairly significant injury makes him a front runner for the Sean Lee Award. Mike McCarthy takes advantage of the league’s rule change regarding video help to inquire as to whether his oversized mic-pack makes his rear end look big.
September 27 v. Philadelphia
Monday Night Football at Jerry’s Palace and the Cowboys get their first win of the year, a much-needed 30-24 divisional win over the Eagles. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons had his breakout game, collecting two sacks of Philly quarterback Jalen Hurts and one interception. This is a good sign for the Cowboys whose recent defensive draft picks have been plagued by either injury issues or drug habits. Prescott survived a pedestrian performance while Zeke and Tony Pollard combined for over a hundred yards rushing.
October 3 v. Carolina
The Cowboys offense finally comes alive in a blowout win over the Panthers. Dak begins to earn some of his $75-million by throwing for 312 yards and three scores, two of them to Cee Dee Lamb, in the 35-17 victory. Dallas’ young defense takes advantage of playing back-to-back games against sub-par quarterbacks and shines opposite Sam Darnold. Trevon Diggs gets his first interception of the year and Randy Gregory gets two sacks. Dan Quinn credits his simplified defensive schemes. Mike McCarthy giggles incoherently. Jerry Wayne tells reporters that everything is coming together just like he drew it up.
October 10 v. NY Giants
Reality comes crashing in on the Cowboys in a key divisional home loss to the rival Giants. Saquon Barkley outperforms Zeke Elliot by running over, around, and through the Dallas D in a 31-20 Giants win. Tony Pollard gained more yards rushing than Elliot, leading some to question whether Zeke should be benched. Dan Quinn put ten in the box to stop Barkley, allowing Giants quarterback Daniel Jones to pick the young Cowboys secondary apart. Midway through the 4th quarter, McCarthy called for a chip-shot field goal with the Cowboys down by 14, causing Jerry Jones to pop an aneurysm in his neck. Doctors at AT&T Stadium said all the silicone in Jerry’s face kept the damage at a minimum. Dak was picked up by the Fox television cameras several times coughing on the sidelines. Reporters noticed Dak drinking a bottle of Pine Sol in the locker room, apparently unable to taste the difference between the industrial strength cleaner and his preferred Gatorade.
October 17 @ New England
Dak Prescott tests positive for COVID-19 and Ben DiNucci gets the start at quarterback for the Cowboys in a tough road loss against the Patriots. Garrett Gilbert also took some snaps in the 13-10 Patriots victory. Bill Belichick still hasn’t smiled since 2003. The Cowboys limp into the bye week at 2-4.
The Cowboys hold a players-only meeting, masks optional. Dan Quinn simplifies his defense, designing a 4-3 package based on primary colors. Kellen Moore experiments with Amari Cooper at running back. Jerry Wayne books three concerts and a tractor pull for AT&T Stadium for January. Nobody is returning Mike McCarthy’s calls. Zeke gets his eyelid and three fingers pierced. In reporting on Dak’s progress during his COVID quarantine, Channel 8 in Dallas discovered that Jerry had a plan dating back to March in case Dak died of COVID. The Cowboys owner was going to preserve Prescott’s body under glass like Vladamir Lenin and charge fans $80 to view it at The Star in Frisco.
October 31 @ Minnesota
Dak is back to lead the Cowboys to victory in a nail-biter, 33-30 over the Vikings. Mike McCarthy calls two failed fake punts in the first half, but the Dallas offense prevails as Prescott hits Lamb over the middle for the winning score with :01 left on the clock. It’s not exactly the Hail Mary, but it’s close.
November 7 v. Denver
Jimmy Johnson is inducted into the Cowboys hallowed Ring of Honor at halftime. The AT&T Stadium public address announcer reminds the crowd what a Super Bowl is. Fans are disoriented by the highlight reel depicting the team participating in championship events. During the ceremony, the Jimster leans into the microphone and hollers, “How ’bout them Cowboys?!” Three people in the stands respond with, “Dez caught it!” Troy Aikman throws up inside his mouth. Dallas wins 27-10.
November 14 v. Atlanta
No watermelon kick required. Not even Matt Quinn can mess this up. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory harass Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into two picks and a fumble while Kellen Moore’s offense lights up the scoreboard in a big 42-31 Dallas win. Elliot gets his first 100 yard rushing day of the year and the Cowboys are 5-4 riding a three game winning streak. Jerry gives McCarthy a three-year contract extension with a signing bonus of two cases of spicy pork rinds.
November 21 @ Kansas City
If the Cowboys are going to accomplish their goals, they must be competitive against the league’s best teams. A 37-17 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead shows us how far away they still are. Patrick Mahomes had all day in the pocket to read Dan Quinn’s eleven-deep coverage scheme and this one was never close. The Cowboys looked bad. The Dallas Morning News reports that some players have anonymously complained about Mike McCarthy. Jerry Wayne contacts his lawyers.
Thanksgiving v. Las Vegas
The Cowboys are still very much in the playoff hunt after a solid 24-20 win over the Raiders. Dallas is 6-5 and one game behind the WFT in the NFC East. Talk of firing McCarthy has died down a bit. Jerry says all they have to do is win the division, get into the postseason, and then everybody’s got the same shot. Four of the final six games are against division opponents, three of them on the road. Cue the scary organ music. We’ve seen this movie. And it doesn’t end nice.
December 2 @ New Orleans
Nobody saw this coming. Jameis Winston only threw four total passes as he and Alvin Kamara combined for 239 yards rushing in a Saints win over the Cowboys. Three of Winston’s passes were caught by Michael Thomas who scored two touchdowns in the 41-37 barn burner. Jaylon Smith changed his jersey number four times during the game, trying to change his luck, but the Cowboys linebackers couldn’t keep up. Dan Quinn’s defense is being called the Legion of Gloom. Dak threw for 421 yards and three scores, but almost all of it came with the Cowboys trailing by double digits in the second half. The pressure is on now. Too many losses. The Cowboys are forced to almost run the table to win the NFC East. So much pressure.
December 12 @ Washington
The Football Team has the league’s number one defense and the division’s best coach in Ron Rivera and they proved it in a methodical 27-20 win over the Cowboys. Dak was sacked seven times and coughed up the ball three times while Zeke was benched in favor of Tony Pollard who played every offensive snap in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys are 6-7, two games back of Washington, and they must win three of their final four games to win the division and qualify for the playoffs.
December 19 @ NY Giants
Mike McCarthy’s rousing pre-game speech in which he referenced Vince Lombardi, Dean Martin, and Kevin Costner was enough to propel the Cowboys to a 17-14 win over the hapless Giants. On the flight home, Jerry tells reporters he’s giving Kellen Moore a three-year contract extension with a signing bonus of the complete Blues Clues series on DVD. Some speculate that Jerry is preparing to fire McCarthy and name Moore as head coach / sock puppet if the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs.
December 26 v. Washington
The Cowboys are right in the thick of things now, just one game back of the Football Team after a thrilling 35-34 come from behind win. Prescott led Dallas on a 65-yard drive in the final 1:18 to put Greg Zuerlein in position for the game-winning 26-yard field goal. Immediately after the game, Ron Rivera announces his retirement from football. Losing to McCarthy in a December game with playoff implications is too much to bear. The Cowboys only need to win one of their remaining two games to take the East.
January 2 v. Arizona
No one is surprised by the Cardinals’ easy win. J. J. Watt and Chandler Jones took turns eating Tyron Smith up in sacking Dak Prescott six times and pressuring him another seven times in Arizona’s 38-17 victory. At one point early in the 3rd quarter, in desperation, Smith tackled Watt before the snap and claimed temporary insanity. McCarthy’s video challenge didn’t hold up. Arizona’s Kyler Murray threw for 310 yards and ran for another 81 yards. DeAndre Hopkins attempted to renegotiate his contract at halftime after blowing by Trevon Diggs for two TDs in the second quarter. He staged a second half holdout, but that only meant more balls for Larry Fitzgerald. Jerry Jones fires Dan Quinn after the game and calls Dave Campo to coordinate the Cowboys defense for the last game of the year.
January 9 @ Philadelphia
For the past 25 years, it seems the Cowboys are always one win away heading into the last game of the season. That game is always against a division opponent. And Dallas must win it to make the playoffs. With the addition of a 17th game in the NFL this season, the agony is prolonged for another week. The inevitable is dragged out for seven more excruciating days. We all know what’s going to happen because it happens every year. The 5-11 Eagles, with nothing to play for, beat the 8-8 Cowboys with everything to lose. Final score: 24-10. Jerry Wayne says it’s the most disappointed he’s ever been in his professional life. Again. Mike McCarthy says they saw lots of good things this year they can build on for the next season. Kellen Moore is thinking about dying his hair red so Jerry will give him the job. Dave Campo is at the Greyhound bus station. Cowboys fans claim the NFL rigged the schedule against Dallas with so many divisional games stacked together at the end of the year. Dez caught it.
Twenty-six years and counting. How ’bout them Cowboys?