The Week 17 must-win matchup between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys was, in theory, going to bring out the best in a Dallas team that had won three straight before Sunday.
But instead, it brought out the weirdness - fitting weirdness, in a Giants 23, Dallas 19 final - for a team that chose quite a spot to be "The Biggest Loser.''
This, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said, was "a bit of a microcosm of our season.''
This much, the coach got right.
*Consider the way this season, now dead at 6-10, began for new McCarthy, who, with little time to implement a new system, opted to do so, anyway, on defense - to mostly disastrous results.
That decision mirrors a pair of questionable choices McCarthy made in this all-important game. The coach chose to kick the PAT in the third quarter in order to close to four points (for not much good reason) and then later passed on a chance to challenge a controversial Giants catch, a sleepy choice that set up New York's easier field goal.
After Dallas failed to score in the red zone in the final two minutes (due in part to an Andy Dalton lob into the end zone that was intercepted), the Giants only needed to sit on possession - but fumbled.
A mad scramble and a conflicting series of calls from the officials eventually handed the ball back to Giants fumbler Wayne Gallman.
*Consider the injury/illness factor, which started on the first day of training camp when Gerald McCoy was lost to injury on the first day of practice. As the year marched on, two Pro Bowl offensive linemen (Tyron Smith and Zack Martin), the star running back (Ezekiel Elliott) and middle linebacker (Leighton Vander Esch) missed games with various ailments.
And then the QB issue. Dallas started four different quarterbacks because No. 1 (Dak Prescott) was injured and No. 2 (Dalton) was sidelined by COVID and a concussion. Dalton's been fine for the last month, one reason the Cowboys won three games straight going into Week 17.
Here, Dalton played valiantly (and with a bloodied hand, the result of being stepped on by a Giant), but his throws were errant, New York coming close to a volume of interceptions to go with its six sacks.
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*Consider the big-stage embarrassments. ... on Monday Night Football (38-10 by Cardinals), Sunday Night Football (23-9 by Eagles), Thanksgiving (41-16 by Washington) and even on a Tuesday (34-17 by Ravens). ... the flex-out of prime time.
And now this.
*Consider offense, defense and special teams ...
Did the defense step up a bit more than they had in those embarrassments, during which time it became the worst (in points and touchdowns allowed) in franchise history.
Here, Dallas engaged in some defensive silliness from Jaylon Smith ...
And some more defensive silliness from Jourdan Lewis ...
And no. Not enough from the defense.
Did a season full of thrillingly goofy fake punts and go-for-it's work out here? Kind of, in that Greg Zuerlein kicked four field goals.
Did the offense look Dak-level, as it has for the last three games? Ezekiel Elliott joined Dalton (29 of 47, 243 yards) in the try-hard department. But overall, Dallas looked here very much liked they looked a month ago, when they were 3-9 and - to their credit, responded positively.
But this was an "NFC East championship game'' (of a sort, as a Washington loss tonight is also needed for this game's winner to advance). It was a chance for the offense to be bigger than New York. For the defense to be bigger than New York. For the special teams to be bigger than New York. For Mike McCarthy to be bigger than the competition, on the biggest Dallas stage of the year.
"It's disappointing that we didn't come out of here with a win,'' McCarthy said. "We felt confident ... that we'd be able to come out of here with a victory."
Nope. The biggest stage produced "The Biggest Loser.'' Which is both fitting ... and weird.