Three words sum up the plight of the Dallas Cowboys.
Help, desperation, elimination.
The Cowboys had it set up so well for their playoff prayers on Christmas Eve. Ezekiel Elliott was back from his six-game suspension. Up in Cincinnati, the Detroit Lions lost. Over in New Orleans, the Atlanta Falcons lost. And inside AT&T Stadium, the Seattle Seahawks limped in with an injury-stung defense.
Yet the Cowboys gagged.
The Seahawks (9-6) eliminated Dallas with a 21-12 thumping, and in the end the Cowboys had no one to blame but themselves.
This didn't get resolved by a controversial instant replay review ot some new interpretation of the Dez Bryant rule. It wasn't settled by a first-down measurement confirmed by an index card.
No, they can't pin this on the zebras.
Bottom line, the Cowboys (8-7) couldn't help themselves – and hardly deserve to go to the playoffs.
Dak Prescott threw two frightening interceptions – one on an ugly throw that was returned 30 yards by Justin Coleman for a pick-six early in the third quarter and the other on a too-hot fling over the middle for Bryant that caromed off the receiver and into the arms of K.J. Wright to kill a potential scoring drive late in the third quarter.
Bryant, by the way, gift-wrapped Seattle's first touchdown near the end of the first half, when he began a drive by carelessly cradling the football. Byron Maxwell ripped the football out for the fumble, and five snaps later, Russell Wilson hit Jimmy Graham for the 5-yard, go-ahead TD.
Elliott came back, with fresh legs and a rejuvenated spirit after training in Cabo San Lucas during his NFL exile for violating the league's domestic violence policy, and immediately found a rhythm. He rushed for 97 yards on 24 carries. But it was too little, too late.
And they waited all that time, with all that hope, for this flat-tire of an ending.
These Cowboys looked nothing like a playoff team. Had they somehow squeaked in, they seemed destined to be one-and-done. Sure, the defense is better and they can pound you with Elliott. But despite the occasional improvised big play and the occasional heave to draw a pass interference penalty, there is not enough consistency with Prescott in the passing game to scare anybody.
Shoot, with the season on the line, the Cowboys couldn't even score a touchdown. Not even after lining up in the fourth quarter with first-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
No wonder it was raining boos as that drive ended with a Dan Bailey field goal miss.
So, the Cowboys can send thanks to the Bengals for upsetting the Lions and providing some hope. They can tip their hats to the Saints for stuffing the Dirty Birds.
To make the playoffs, the Cowboys needed Detroit to lose one of its final two games and they needed the Falcons – hosting Carolina on Sunday – to drop back-to-back games.
And, of course, the Cowboys needed to win out themselves.
Everything happened according to plan…for a while.
Then it was loser go home. The Cowboys just couldn't take care of their own business.
Now they can root for the Seahawks, who will host the Arizona Cardinals on New Year's Eve with a chance to make the playoffs…if Atlanta loses.
The Cowboys will be home for Christmas … and for the playoffs, too.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.