This is about slumps.
The Cowboys — particularly quarterback Dak Prescott — were supposedly in a slump a week ago. Even their owner, Jerry Jones, said on his radio show, “I don’t want to say that, slump, but that’s probably fair.”
Five days later, Prescott and Cowboys obliterated the Washington Football Team 56-14 and clinched the NFC East title.
Slump apparently over.
Prescott finished the game with 330 passing yards and four touchdowns. For better perspective on just how dominant he was: He threw all four of those TD passes in the first half en route to building a 42-7 lead.
“I never said we were in a slump,” a defiant Prescott told reporters after the game. “Those were your words, so I think it would be hard for you to say that now.’’
It would not, however, be hard to state that the Cardinals are in a slump entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys (11-4) in Arlington, Texas.
Arizona (10-5) enters having lost its previous three games after owning the NFL’s best record at 10-2 less than a month ago. The Cardinals began the season 7-0 and looked like they were headed toward the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, perhaps it’s not, but teams that Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury have led have had an alarming trend of fading late in seasons.
In each of his nine seasons as head coach dating to 2013, his first season at Texas Tech, Kingsbury’s teams have had a worse record in the second half of the season than in the first.
In Kingsbury’s three seasons in Arizona, the Cardinals are 15-5-1 in Games 1 through 7 and 8-18 the rest of the season. At Texas Tech, his teams went 27-15 in Games 1 through 7 and 8-25 the rest of the way. That’s a cumulative 42-20-1 record in Games 1 through 7 and 16-43 after.
After last week’s 22-16 loss to the Colts in a game that featured a month’s worth of self-inflicted mistakes (11 penalties for 85 yards and two missed field goals and a missed extra point by kicker Matt Prater), Kingsbury was asked how to fix the mess.
“That’s what we’ve got to figure out,’’ he said. “I don’t have an answer to that, but it’s untimely penalties, the snaps hitting the ground, missed kicks. It’s just things that we had done well all year, but we’re not doing well.”
The Cardinals, who trail the first-place Rams (11-4) by one game in the NFC West, can trace their offensive issues to the red zone. They scored TDs from inside the 20-yard line 68.8 percent of the time in the first seven games, and that’s dropped to 53.8 percent in the past eight.
“We just got to look ourselves in the mirror, stop making these mistakes, because that game was very winnable,” Cards quarterback Kyler Murray said of the loss to the Colts. “Good teams don’t do that, and right now, we’re not doing what we need to do.”
The Cardinals have clinched a playoff berth, their first since 2015. But they’re trying to avoid being one and done in the postseason.
“To be in the playoffs with two games left is an accomplishment, we understand that,” Kingsbury said. “But we know we’ve got to improve a lot and play better football. We’ve got to stop hurting ourselves in these games before we even think about taking the next step.’’
The Cowboys, meanwhile, look like one of the best teams in the league right now, having won their past four games and in the mix for the top playoff seed in the NFC.
Prescott, who was slowed by a calf injury earlier this season, looked as good as he has all year last week.
“Dak was right on point,’’ Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought he was in total control.’’
The Cowboys, who were thought to be in a slump a week ago, are the opposite of the Cardinals, who are in a slump. While Arizona has faded, Dallas went from 1-3 November to 4-0 in December.
“There is no ceiling,” Prescott said of his team. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing. We are playing our best ball and we are going to be a tough group to stop in all three phases.’’