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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions are moving backward

After Nov. 28 wins, the Lions and Cowboys were seeded third and fourth, respectively, in the NFC. Dallas is now eighth and Detroit ninth, and the coaches are dangling by threads.

December 21, 2013|Sam Farmer
  • Lions Coach Jim Schwartz has watched his team squander away fourth quarter leads in four of their last five games after starting season 6-3. Detroit now is on the outside looking in and will need plenty of help to make the postseason.
Lions Coach Jim Schwartz has watched his team squander away fourth quarter… (Rick Osentoski / Associated…)

D is for disheartening, devastation and disappointment.

D is also for Dallas and Detroit.

In a matter of weeks, the Cowboys and Lions have gone from the thick of the playoff race to a race to the bottom. They are a combined 0-4 since posting Thanksgiving wins and have tumbled from the top of their respective divisions.

Both teams were 7-5 after their Nov. 28 victories, with the Lions seeded third in the NFC and the Cowboys seeded fourth.

The Cowboys and Lions are now seeded eighth and ninth, respectively, and both Dallas' Jason Garrett and Detroit's Jim Schwartz are dangling by threads.

Schwartz, who is 29-49 in five seasons as Lions coach, declined to address his job status with reporters this week or any conversations he's had with the Ford family, which owns the team. Detroit plays host to the sputtering New York Giants on Sunday.

"I look at it like we're one game down with two to play and I've been in worse situations and come out of them — from a team standpoint, I'm not talking about me personally," Schwartz said. "But that's where we are and as much as it sounds like I keep saying the same thing, but it's true. And we can't let anything detract from that."

At one point, the NFC North looked gift-wrapped for the Lions, who were 6-3 and had a relatively healthy quarterback in Matt Stafford while the rest of the division had a revolving door at the position. They were on track to win their first division title in 20 years.

Since, they have lost four of five, frittering away fourth-quarter leads in each defeat.

The Cowboys, who play at Washington, had a chance to claim first place in the NFC East last Sunday but were shocked at home by the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers, 37-36.

Whereas the Lions need a lot of help to get to the postseason, the Cowboys can get in on their merit. They would clinch the division by winning at Washington and at home against Philadelphia.

But as the Cowboys have been reminded, they can take nothing for granted — especially Garrett's future with the team.

"We've got to rebound," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after last Sunday's demoralizing defeat. "We've got a ballgame coming up, and, by the way, Garrett will coach that game against the Redskins. So write about that. He'll coach our ballgame we've got coming up, and as far as I can see in the future, he will be coaching games for the Cowboys."

That endorsement is loaded with escape hatches. If only it were so easy for the Cowboys to escape their current predicament.

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Other notes and quotes heading into Week 16:

This is only the second time since realignment in 2002 that just one division has been decided by this point in the season. Only Indianapolis has clinched. However, Denver, Kansas City and Seattle have locked up playoff spots.

Both Seattle and New Orleans can clinch their divisions by winning Sunday.

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It's clear why they had to do it, but it's still strange to see New Orleans cut kicker Garrett Hartley, one of the stars of their Super Bowl season. Hartley missed a couple of field goals in last Sunday's 27-16 loss at St. Louis and his season numbers were dismal — a career-low 73.3% on field goals (22 of 30), ranking him 30th of 32 kickers in the league.

Still, Hartley's 40-yard kick in overtime of the 2009 NFC championship game against Minnesota is among the greatest moments in Saints history.

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Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy says Rodgers looks ready to play. Rodgers, recovering from a broken collarbone, says he wants to play. Yet the Packers are holding him out another week. If Matt Flynn can get them past Pittsburgh on Sunday, that probably would set up a must-watch Rodgers return at Chicago in Week 17 with the NFC North title hanging in the balance.

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When he was head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Nebraska Cornhuskers, Bill Callahan took a lot of flak for abandoning the running game in favor of the pass. He's doing the same thing as offensive coordinator in Dallas.

In their home game against the Packers last Sunday, the Cowboys ran for 93 yards in 11 carries in the first two quarters, on their way to building a 26-3 halftime lead. In the second half, Dallas ran just seven times and failed to control the clock, as the Packers inched back to win.

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One of the best extreme makeovers of the season has been Buffalo's Aaron Williams. He was a bust as a corner but has found a comfortable home at safety, where he's one of the Bills' more productive defensive players.

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The New England Patriots can send a cold chill through a lot of teams, but the Baltimore Ravens aren't one of them. The Ravens have beaten the Patriots in three of their last five meetings — with two of those three victories coming in Foxborough — and both losses were by a score of 23-20.

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