'Too hot to trot': Some Cowboys think loss was needed

INDIANAPOLIS -- Locker rooms can be a strange place after a loss.

Sometimes they are deathly quiet. Other times they are surprisingly upbeat.

After Sunday's 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Dallas Cowboys locker room was a mixture of both.

For five weeks, the Cowboys knew nothing but winning, moving from 3-5 and out of the playoff picture to all but being guaranteed a spot in the postseason. According to ESPN’s FPI, the Cowboys had a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs before Sunday's defeat.

The disappointment felt in the locker room wasn't so much that the Cowboys lost but how they lost, as they were manhandled.

"We never gave ourselves a chance," Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said. "If anything, we were angry at ourselves. It wasn't any finger-pointing where, hey, I'm looking at this guy, that guy's looking at me, offense looking at the defense -- none of that. If anything, we're all coming together saying, 'Hey, in a way we needed this.' Maybe we thought we were too hot to trot or whatever in our five-game winning streak or whatever it was."

The Cowboys are a young team. They have only two players over age 30 (Sean Lee and L.P. Ladouceur). Of Sunday's key contributors, only seven players were in similar roles as they were in 2016, when the Cowboys last made the playoffs.

With their win streak, the Cowboys showed they could handle adversity. Now, they have to show they can handle success and make the Indianapolis loss a blip and not the beginning of the end.

"When you have a team like this, I don't think demoralizing or anything like that is even in our dictionary," Prescott said. "You're talking about a team that was once 3-5, backs against the wall. [It's] still backs against the wall and back to where we are right now."

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones made a quick appearance in the interview room before coach Jason Garrett spoke and then answered questions quickly inside a Lucas Oil Stadium hallway.

"I thought if your name was 'Jones' or 'the Cowboys,' they handed it to you," Jones said. "We played like that today and lost an edge early and then just never got it back. It's very disappointing. It's pretty obvious to me that this team is the caliber of team that you could see in any point in the playoffs -- I'm talking Indianapolis.

"They took it to us. There's no question about it. About as good as I've seen it in the last 10 or 15 years as far as doing the things that it takes to win the game."

For five weeks, the Cowboys were fighting for their lives against NFC opponents to either remain in the NFC East race or have a chance in the wild-card chase. Playing the AFC South Colts represented something not as pressure-packed.

"We played good football here the last five weeks," Garrett said. "Every game we've played the last five weeks has been a challenging game that required 60 minutes. And that's what it takes in this league."

During the winning streak, breaks went their way. In last week's overtime win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Amari Cooper's game-winning touchdown catch came on a deflected ball. On Sunday, they created no breaks with a blocked field goal, a dropped touchdown pass and other near-misses that left them inches away from big plays or first downs.

"I think a loss like this was very much needed," Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "I think it's better for us in the grand scheme of the season. I think we needed to get put in check. I think we needed a reality check. I think we needed someone to just remind us that we still have a lot of ball left and nothing will be given. We got to go out there and take everything."

This loss might impact the Cowboys in potential tiebreakers for seeding based on either common opponents, strength of victory or strength of schedule. But they enter the final two games of the regular season in the same spot they entered Sunday: in first place in the NFC East.

With the Eagles and Washington Redskins winning Sunday, the Cowboys will have another opportunity to clinch their second division title in three years (and third in five years) by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

"It ain't even about winning the division right now," wide receiver Cole Beasley said. "We just got to win games right now. Period. We can't even think about that. We've just got to approach it one game at a time, and we're past this one. Now, we just need to go and not worry about winning the division and just worry about winning the damn game. That's it."