They called it an N.F.L. game, but was it really?
For a Week 17 game between two teams with postseason aspirations, the Dallas Cowboys-Tennessee Titans game on Thursday night meant very little. And the teams mostly played like it. A subdued crowd in Tennessee watched as the Cowboys beat the Titans, 27-13.
The Titans, now 7-9, are battling with the Jacksonville Jaguars at the top of the A.F.C. South, but Thursday’s game was almost meaningless, with a final head-to-head meeting with the Jaguars next week set to determine the division winner regardless of this week’s results.
The Cowboys, now 12-4, are very likely to be a wild card team, with only the faintest mathematical hopes of catching the Philadelphia Eagles for their N.F.C. East division title.
So both teams lacked much motivation to win.
The result was another Thursday night game lacking quality, something N.F.L. fans have been complaining about for several years. Sometimes that happens because teams struggle to produce their best efforts with only a short rest. Sometimes it is because the league is known to schedule stinkers in the Thursday slot from time to time.
This week, the truth was that no one really cared who won.
The Titans rested the league’s second leading rusher, Derrick Henry, and several other starters were given a week off or sat out with minor knocks.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is out for the season with an ankle injury unless the Titans are alive at the time of the A.F.C. Championship game, so last week the team added Joshua Dobbs, a longtime backup to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, and rolled him out for his first N.F.L. start on Thursday. He had 17 career passes before the game.
In contrast, the Cowboys did play quarterback Dak Prescott (29-41 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, still a problem for him this season) and running back Ezekiel Elliott. That and being a much better team than Tennessee made the difference.
The Cowboys went up by 10-0, and the Titans got a couple of field goals before the half. The Cowboys pulled away in the second half. There were some fumbles and interceptions. Elliott had a touchdown. The Cowboys were 12- to 13-point favorites. They won by 14. There wasn’t much to see.
“We came here for the win,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re not going to get into what it’s supposed to be and things like that, because that’s how you get yourself in trouble.”
Dobbs was 20-39 for 232 yards, his first career touchdown pass and an interception.
“Shoot, we’re throwing routes out there on the field that we haven’t even thrown in practice with it being a short week,” Dobbs said of his limited preparation.
The Titans have now lost six games in a row, not the ideal form before their all-or-nothing finale against the Jaguars, who have won four of five. The Cowboys will be lining up in the playoffs soon.
Those should be good games. This one wasn’t.