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Cowboys in familiar position but need a wake-up call in hurry

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Stephen A.: Cowboys are in a world of trouble (0:55)

Stephen A. Smith sees the Cowboys as being in a world of trouble because of the amount of quality teams in the NFC. (0:55)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago, the Dallas Cowboys were in a much more difficult spot than they are now after Sunday's 24-22 loss to the previously winless New York Jets.

The Cowboys in 2018 were 3-5 after eight games, needing a game to get things together after trading for wide receiver Amari Cooper before turning things around to finish 10-6, win the NFC East and win a playoff game.

The Cowboys' 3-3 start to this season, however, seems different because of how good they looked in their three-game winning streak to start 2019 --granted, those wins came against teams that are a combined 3-14 -- and how bad they have looked in their three-game losing streak.

"Yeah, it's frustrating," Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "It's a long season. We've got a lot of football left. A lot can happen in these 10, 11 weeks. We just got to keep grinding and get back to work. We can't get discouraged. We have to be optimistic."

Elliott and many Cowboys likely said something similar last season after their less-than-scintillating start.

But, guess who didn't want to talk about last season? Dak Prescott.

"Last year is last year," the quarterback said. "It's a different team, different people. We know the men that we have. We know the character that we have. We know what we can do. We're not going to look back at least year and say, 'Oh, if we do this.' We know what we have to do. ... Our struggles last year that got us into that spot are completely different than the struggles that got us into this spot.

"We're moving forward. This is a whole different team. It's 3-3, but we have a huge game next week."

Do you know what jump-started the Cowboys' turnaround last season? A 27-20 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. Do you know who the Cowboys play next? The similarly 3-3 Eagles at AT&T Stadium on Sunday at 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC).

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Clark: No more excuses for Cowboys after third straight loss

Ryan Clark says it showed that the Cowboys did not come prepared to face the Jets, and they are not playing like a team expected to show up in the playoffs.

The Cowboys' Week 10 win last season kicked off a five-game winning streak that carried them into the playoffs.

To beat the Eagles on Sunday, Dallas has to figure out a way to start games better. The Cowboys have faced deficits of 28 and 18 points in their past two games.

Offensively, the Cowboys have gone three straight games without a touchdown in the first half. Defensively, they have given up 11 runs of 10 yards or more and 11 passes of 20 yards or more in the three-game losing streak. On special teams, Brett Maher became the third place-kicker in NFL history with multiple field goals of at least 60 yards with a 62-yarder Sunday, but he missed a 40-yarder in the third quarter, giving him four misses on the season.

"It's not the preparation," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "It's about coming out and doing it on game day. The coaches prepare us the right way. For us, it's about going out on game day and putting it to work. We need to have a sense of urgency."

There should be no greater sense of urgency than against Philadelphia this week.

"I don't know if I can say it's a season-defining game," Elliott said. "We are still tied for the lead in the division. We have to go out there and get a win. Next week is a must-win."

Jerry Jones still has the highest of hopes for his team, but the loss to the Jets, more than the losses to the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers, has the Cowboys' owner and general manager seeing the path to playoff success is more about winning the division than gaining any kind of home-field advantage or first-round bye.

"I think it's all about where you are in your division and that whole competition against each other and that competition in the division," Jones said. "I think that is where it all is. Ultimately, if you are one of the really top teams, which we are not -- we are not -- I hope that some day this season we could be one of the top teams. ... I hope we can do better than just win our division, although I will take that right here in this circumstance. I would hope we could get up there and get a little special positioning in the playoffs."