USA Today

America's Team is back, baby. Amid Dak Prescott's anticipated return and the approaching 2021 regular season, the Cowboys returned to TV on Tuesday night for the fifth and final episode of this year's edition of "Hard Knocks." HBO's annual training camp series, which has offered an inside look at the club's preparations for the new year, marks the third time Dallas has been featured on the show, and prefaces the Cowboys' return to prime time for Thursday's opener against the Buccaneers.

Who stood out in the season finale? Who fumbled down the stretch? Here are the winners and losers:

Winner: Jerry Jones

Let's face it: The Cowboys being featured in the first place was a big win for his brand. But man did Jerry steal the show here. He dropped some nice one-liners about the urgency to win it all: "Yesterday is as dead as Napoleon." But nothing will top his semi-lucid monologue during a meeting with Mike McCarthy and staff about players on the roster bubble. Pressed to make some tough decisions about which youngsters to cut from the final roster, he said this exactly:

'We're going to California, we'll have to burn these wagons,' said the wagon master back east. We gotta burn the wagons for firewood, we'll float the Mississippi River with some of 'em. Some of you gon' die, we gon' have some new faces be born. This f***ing train's going to California, I'm gon' be on it ... Love that one.

Not sure what that has to do with Ben DiNucci failing to secure the No. 2 quarterback job, but sign me up!

Loser: John Fassel

The longtime special teams coordinator definitely brought some flair to the Cowboys' staff, but he fitted himself for a "Loser" mention right from the jump this time around, and all of his players knew it. Early in the episode, Fassel is about to review film with his guys, who are seated in chairs on the turf of AT&T Stadium, when he unconvincingly insists that running -- you know, like sprint exercises -- is never a punishment but rather a reward. Players immediately snicker or shift uncomfortably in their seats. Why? Because no one believes that! I don't even mind running, but of course I know the difference.

Excited for the biggest NFL schedule in history? Follow along on the CBS Sports app and get the latest insights from our team of NFL insiders, plus news from our team of experts, as well as data insights on every player. If you already have the CBS Sports app, make sure to favorite the your favorite team so you don't miss a thing!

Winner: Dak Prescott

First he handled Trevon Diggs' son, Aaiden, mistakenly calling him Patrick Mahomes with grace. (Aaiden easily stole the spotlight from his dad once again.) Then he got crowned the "Pied Piper" by Jerry Jones, who was recalling Dak's first impression in Dallas. The QB faces a lot of pressure to return to form in 2021, but he was never not an affable, easygoing presence during "Hard Knocks."

Loser: The Cowboys on Thursday

Just a hunch, because the finale didn't spend a ton of time on this week's opener against Tampa, but Dallas probably knows it's in trouble in Week 1. During one moment of Jerry Jones' commentary, the owner spent a solid minute listing the reasons the offense will be more fully realized in 2021, citing Dak's health, Ezekiel Elliott's conditioning, and so on. When he got to the defense, he literally could say only one thing: "They're better." Later, the D-line coach said pressuring Tom Brady will be key to winning on Thursday, and yet no one outside of DeMarcus Lawrence has looked particularly scary. Then there's Trevon Diggs, who needed blatant pass interference to stay perfect in red-zone drills against Amari Cooper. Brady is licking his chops.

Winner: Mike McCarthy

Yes, you read that right. McCarthy might not be a great head coach in real life (2021 will go a long way in defining his post-Aaron Rodgers trajectory), but he finally seemed at ease in the finale. Instead of delivering speeches for TV, he 1.) successfully pretended, complete with a few fake-smile nods, to comprehend Jerry Jones' wacky story about burning wagons; 2.) showed genuine affection for players like Azur Kamara and Isaac Alarcón; 3.) and threatened to take legal action against an HBO cameraman in the closing credits: "I'm suing you if I get hit in the head with that damn thing."