As bad as it is to lose, as Cowboys fans we should remember it’s been a long time since we’ve had that feeling. A record of 11-2 is still tops in the NFC, so we shouldn’t overreact to one bad night, as long as it doesn’t become a trend. Let’s see what the (bad) news is for the day.
There was a lot on the line for the Cowboys on Sunday night.
A win Sunday night would have clinched the NFC East and a first-round bye for the Cowboys. They still seem likely to earn both, but they have to wait at least one week. And if they face the Giants in the playoffs, there will be legitimate questions about whether that's the matchup that could derail their Super Bowl dreams.
The Cowboys are still likely to accomplish their goal of being the #1 seed in the NFC, but their margin for error just got a little bit tighter. Next Sunday’s game against hard-charging Tampa Bay takes on a new sense of urgency.
And the player with the most sense of urgency next week is undoubtedly Dak Prescott. His recent shaky outings are coming at the wrong time.
Simply, Prescott had his worst game. He had his first multiple-interception game of his career. The first interception came after Bryant slipped to give Janoris Jenkins the takeaway. The second was a forced throw on third-and-long to Bryant that Leon Hall picked off late in the third quarter. He nearly had another pass picked off in the fourth quarter by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Prescott was sacked three times. He was inaccurate, completing just 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards. He was flustered. For the first time this season, he looked like a rookie. This time, he could not summon any magic.
We’re used to Prescott being able to turn it on and pull out victories. On Sunday night, he couldn’t make it happen.
The Cowboys also lost the battle of the superstar receivers.
The game matched two of the NFL's most mercurial and explosive receivers in Bryant and Odell Beckham. The difference was Eli Manning was able to get the ball to Beckham once when it mattered -- and Beckham took a quick slant 61 yards to the house in the third quarter for that decisive 10-7 lead.
Prescott did not complete a pass to Bryant until only 2:18 remained in the game and Bryant promptly fumbled the ball -- and the game -- away. It was the only reception of the night for Bryant in nine passes from Prescott.
Bryant had a terrible night. He fell down leading to Prescott’s first interception. He pulled up on his route instead of staying on his trajectory on the second interception. It was a bad pass and a bad read by Prescott, but Dez did him no favors by altering the route and not even being in position to fight for the ball. Then he fumbled away the Cowboys last real chance of doing anything to win the game. He must also bounce back next week.
The Cowboys failings on third down are reaching crisis level.
What happened to that third-down success? The Cowboys came in converting 46.1 percent. They were 1-15 on third down Sunday night. They were 1-9 on third down in the previous game against Minnesota. Are opposing defenses beginning to figure out how to stop the offense? Getting Bryant and Prescott going again is one way of fixing that problem. Things won't get easier next week against Tampa Bay and the following week against Detroit.
Getting in shorter down and distances would help.
On the other hand, the Cowboys defense looked fantastic. They have been steadily improving all year and are starting to peak at the right time.
If the Cowboys defense is going to go on the road against a reasonable offense in a division battle in December and take the ball away three times, sack the quarterback two times and battle their tails off all night long while allowing only 260 yards and 10 points, I am going to give them the highest grade possible. I am not sure Sean Lee and his mates could have done more and held the Giants to 3 or zero, which is what would have had to happen to get the win. Overall, they fought hard, rallied to the ball and got stops continuously. I have no real issues with the defense.
In addition to an overall effort by the defense, Sean Lee was simply out of his mind on the night. He was the best player on the field.
The Cowboys defense has seemingly been defined by the fact they overachieve.
But they have at least one legitimate star in the middle of it all, as linebacker Sean Lee continues to prove he’s one of the best every-down linebackers in the NFL.
Lee has the kind of range and instincts to make plays all over the field, against the run and pass. And he’s clearly the emotional leader of a unit that hasn’t gotten enough credit for its role in their success.
Lee was credited with 18 tackles. It just seemed like a lot more.
It did seem like more. Every time the Cowboys needed a stop, there was Lee.
The Cowboys pass rush also made a difference. For once, they were holding up their end of the bargain.
The Cowboys were helped by a pair of fumble recoveries early on. Cedric Thornton first pounced when the ball slipped out of Eli Manning’s hand and then Sean Lee fell on the prize after Benson Mayowa recorded a strip-sack of the Giants passer. While neither eventually resulted in Dallas points, the turnovers kept New York from gaining any momentum.
The Cowboys defensive line had three sacks on the night and plenty of pressures. It was one of the bright spots on the evening.
It didn’t seem like the biggest deal at the time, but who knows how much this play changed things in the game.
Up 7-0 in the first half, the Dallas Cowboys had one last drive in the second quarter to tack on three more points. And they did attempt a 55-yard field goal. The Dan Bailey kick looked great as it ascended to the sky at MetLife Stadium.
But as we’ve learned this season, if there’s a high-pressure field goal attempt, it’s going to end up as a doink.
This one was especially heartbreaking. For one, it was no good, in comparison to the others that were actually doinked in for points (as was the case for the Chiefs). This one went right down the middle, until it dropped and hit the horizontal post.
If Bailey gets another yard on that kick, the Cowboys are holding a 10-0 halftime lead. Who knows how things would have played out, but it turned out to be three very important points missed.
So it’s been a while since we’ve experienced a loss. It’s no reason to panic. The team is 11-2. They’ve been very good about solving their issues all year, let’s wait until we see how they play next week before making any definitive determinations. The future is still bright.