The Dallas Cowboys weren’t able to get the job done in a cold rainy Gillette Stadium on Sunday. It brings us sadness because the game was within their grasp after a very impressive showing from the defense. Unfortunately, it was their high-powered offense that wasn’t up to snuff with the aid of a very dysfunctional special teams unit.
So, what happened? After re-watching the tape, here are some things that contributed to the Cowboys 13-9 loss to the New England Patriots.
Dak Prescott had all kinds of accuracy issues
It’s no secret that the Cowboys quarterback did not have a very good game on Sunday. Prescott finished the game 19 for 33 for a completion percentage of 57.6%, his lowest mark on the year. After averaging 420 yards over the previous two games, Dak only had 212 yards against New England, also a season low. And for just third time this year, he finished the day without a touchdown pass, ending with a 64.2 quarterback rating, again...his lowest mark for the season.
We can chalk this up to a slippery ball, but professional quarterbacks who bring home a lot of bacon need to be a little more on target. Prescott missed some easy ones, including a gimme first down to a wide open Randall Cobb on a 3rd-and-2 play. Dak, rolling to his left, just let the ball get away from him as it sailed behind Cobb too far out of his reach. Prescott struggled to hit Michael Gallup on crossing routes, even throwing a worm-burner that gave his receiver no shot to catch the ball. He had a few throws that were just placed too far past the boundaries as both Tavon Austin and Blake Jarwin didn’t quite have enough room to get their feet in bounds.
But his worst pass came when he threw off his back foot with a side arm motion as he tried to hit Amari Cooper. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had great coverage and it would’ve taken a perfectly on-target to hit Coop in stride, but it was still a lazy attempt by Prescott that resulted in a costly turnover. Not the best of day for Mr. Prescott.
Speaking of not having a great day, Jason Witten couldn’t hang on to the ball in what little action he got. The veteran tight end hasn’t been lighting up the receiving game as it is, but up until this game, he’s still produced multiple-catch games and has been a key reason the team’s been so good converting third downs. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that on the day the team struggled to convert on third down, Witten was a complete non-factor.
Witten finished with just one catch for five yards and had two separate instances where the ball was thrown right at head level, only to have it go right through his hands. The Cowboys were fortunate that one of these drops didn’t get intercepted.
The special teams with special problems
It’s beyond the point of being funny that the Cowboys are just so bad at special teams. When you look closely at the tape, you’ll find that New England wasn’t perfect either. Rookie punter Jake Bailey has been awarded AFC special teams player of the week twice this year, but he wasn’t getting the bounce on Sunday. Several times he had great opportunities to pin the Cowboys deep in their own territory, only to have the ball bounce into the end zone for a touchback. The Patriots also got flagged for a false start during a field goal attempt that may have moved them back far enough to make a difference in a Nick Folk miss. It was far from perfect, but nobody cares because they came through with a great punt block and got the win.
While the Patriots special teams had some warts, the Cowboys bring the level of ineptness to a new level. They don’t know where to stand, they aren’t sure how to react if the Patriots players aren’t where they’re supposed to be standing, and apparently they seem to forgot the effect wind has on a football despite witnessing it over and over in the game. How many times do you think they muffed the return when the Patriots kickoff was short? Once? Twice? Try, three times. That’s ridiculous.
And what happens when a team that is well prepared is faced with the same situation? First and ten at the 36-yard line, that’s what happens.
Sean Lee is holding up well
It was very nerve-racking to see the Patriots constantly look to exploit the matchup between Rex Burkhead and Sean Lee. It just felt like a matter of time before Rex got loose for a big gain. But give Sean Lee credit, Tom Brady kept going after him, and the veteran linebacker held his own.
When they lined Burkhead up as a receiver, Lee went toe-to-toe with him down the sideline. On another play, it looked like Lee could’ve been flagged for pass interference when he never got his body turned around, but he did a great job avoiding contact and getting his hands up at the right moment. Even when they used a lineman to try to take him out so Rex could have space off a screen pass, Lee was able to shed it and make the tackle.
The Cowboys are without their talented young linebacker Leighton Vander Esch as he’s still dealing with a neck injury, but they aren’t hurting at linebacker. Lee’s been a reliable fixture on defense in LVE’s absence.
In a close game like this, there’s always those “what if” moments. We’re all scratching our head wondering what the Cowboys offense might’ve done had it not been for those phantom tripping penalties. Maybe things would’ve worked out differently if the Tom Brady fumble didn’t bounce right back to him when he was sacked. Or if that deflected pass he threw over the middle of the field that seemed to stay in the air forever would’ve landed in the arms of a Cowboys defender?
One play where a positive result for the Cowboys wasn’t as obvious was that fake reverse play that Tony Pollard kept himself. The entire New England defense was following Pollard, and if he pitched the ball to Tavon Austin, it would’ve been real interesting to see how that would’ve ended up. That was almost the same distance where Austin took a option pitch-play to the house against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7. What do you think?