By Dwain Price
Last week the Dallas Cowboys were asked to do the unthinkable. They were asked to play a very crucial divisional game against the Washington Football Team one day after their strength and conditioning coordinator, Markus Paul, suddenly died at the age of 54.
Paul had a medical emergency while at the Cowboys’ practice facilities on the morning of Nov. 24 and was subsequently rushed to the hospital. He died the next day.
And with that tragic loss on their minds, the Cowboys went out with heavy hearts and dropped a 41-16 decision to Washington on Thanksgiving Day at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“I want to thank the Paul family for sharing Markus with us,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “He meant so much to this team and he had such a big part of everyone’s every day life, and we’re just grateful that you guys shared him with us.
“It was definitely an emotional week for everyone. Every day (Paul) is the one leading the stretch (exercises). So we’re lining up for practice and getting ready to stretch and you get that reminder that he’s not here with us anymore.”
Paul joined the Cowboys in 2018 and worked as the team’s assistant strength coach until Mike McCarthy promoted him when he became the Cowboys’ head coach in January.
“I can’t tell you the impact that he made on our football team — really, on the whole organization,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, I’ve only been working with Markus since January, but it was clearly evident what he means to everybody.
“If you really look at the mark of a man, it’s more about significance over success.”
As far as on the field activity is concerned, it’s clear that the Cowboys aren’t enjoying much success this season. They currently are in last place in the NFC East with an awful 3-8 record after knowing a win over Washington would have put them in first place in their division.
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“I think everybody understands the state of our division,” McCarthy said. “So we’re going to re-boot, we’re going to re-group.”
The Cowboys only have five games remaining, starting with a 7:05 p.m. road game on Dec. 8 against the Baltimore Ravens. That contest was originally scheduled for Dec. 3, but was first moved to Dec. 7 and then to Dec. 8 due to coronavirus issues involving the Ravens.
Baltimore was originally slated to play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving, but the game was moved to this past Sunday, then moved to Dec. 1, and then moved to Dec. 2 because 23 members of the Ravens, including highly-regarded quarterback Lamar Jackson, tested positive for COVID-19.
In the meantime, since the Cowboys keep spinning their wheels for a variety of reasons, some of their fans want them to tank the rest of the season in order to get a higher pick in next year’s NFL Draft. But owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan that tanking is not an option.
“There’s really not a decision here on our team of tanking, let me be real clear,” Jones said.
“And I’m not offended by the conversation at all, and I understand what you’re talking about. That’s just not going to be the case.
“We’ve got players that we’re having to play not because necessarily we have a choice. We have these players — they’re our best players – to win the ballgame. It turns out, they’re the players that ought to be playing. They’re the young players, and players that also potentially have for the most part, good futures.”
To put a bow on the loss to Washington, the Cowboys had a pair of interesting calls that helped open the flood gates for the visitors. Facing a fourth-and-inches on their own 34 with the game tied at 10-10 in the second quarter, Dallas went for it on fourth down.
However, Andy Dalton’s pass to CeeDee Lamb fell incomplete and Washington went on a short touchdown journey to take a 17-10 lead.
The other play that really unnerved Cowboys’ fans occurred with a little over 12 minutes remaining in the game and Dallas on its own 24-yard line and behind, 20-16. The Cowboys lined up to punt on fourth-and-10, then inexplicably faked the punt, and wide receiver Cedric Wilson found himself with the ball on a double-reverse play.
The play was called for Wilson to pass the ball to punter Hunter Niswander. But Washington snuffed the play out, Wilson was tackled for a one-yard loss, and that play sort of summarized what 2020 has been like for the Cowboys.
Washington scored on the next play to go up, 27-16, and the rout was on. Linebacker Jaylon Smith, though, came to the defense of McCarthy.
“Coach McCarthy is a remarkable person,” Smith said. “He’s a guy that loves and cares, and he knows what he’s doing. We got to figure it out.
“It’s not all on him. It’s a team effort. We play a team sport, and winning is the name of the game. All is well, but nothing matters when you lose. You have to win, especially playing for America’s Team.”
Now it’s on to play the Ravens, who are one of the better teams in the NFL. With that, the Cowboys were commended for playing a game while also celebrating the life of Paul.
“We suffered just a tragic loss in Markus Paul,” Smith sad. “He touched so many lives — all our lives and families and things of that nature. We really wanted to come out and do it for God and for Markus, and we didn’t accomplish the mission.
“(He’s) a five-time Super Bowl champion, a successful player and coach, and strength coach. Just a great mentor and a servant leader. I learned a lot from him in his time here. Just may he rest in peace.”