So, that happened. The Cowboys followed up their painstakingly-close loss to the Patriots with a demoralizing loss to the Buffalo Bills at home on national television. The wheels seemingly came off in this one, and it got ugly fast. Here are five non-scoring plays that shaped the game.
Dak Prescott’s terrible interception to a defensive tackle
To everyone’s surprise, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on their opening drive and then got the ball back shortly after. It was the start of an uncharacteristically promising first quarter for Dallas, which should have been a sign that everything was about to unravel. And unravel it did, starting with the most head-scratching turnover of Dak’s otherwise-stellar season.
Having run for no gain on first and ten, Buffalo sent a jailbreak blitz on second and ten knowing it would be a pass and Prescott made a boneheaded decision under the immense pressure of it all. As a result, Buffalo got the ball at the Dallas 29-yard line. Somehow the Bills got zero points out of it, but it was the beginning of the end for the Cowboys.
Poor pass protection leads to Dak fumble
After the Bills’ missed field goal following the interception, Dallas got the ball back with a chance to overcome their mistake and take the lead back. But left guard Connor Williams went down on the first play, bringing in Xavier Su’a-Filo against a talented Buffalo defensive line. Then this happened.
Talented rookie Ed Oliver bullied Su’a-Filo straight back and overpowered him to get behind Prescott and knock the ball out right when he wound up to throw the ball. Buffalo recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown five plays later to take the lead.
Clock management skills costs Dallas over 15 seconds on two-minute drill
Facing a 13-7 deficit and running a two-minute drill to try and score before halftime, the Cowboys had the ball. After taking a sack, they faced a second and 18 at their own 32-yard line before Dak hit Michael Gallup for 11 yards.
Most people expected Jason Garrett to use one of his three timeouts, but instead they lined up the offense and ran off over 15 seconds before snapping the ball, costing the offense precious time that could’ve been used to try and score. As it happened, Dallas went into the halftime break with a timeout remaining, so it’s not like they used it elsewhere. Instead it was yet another example of questionable clock management from Garrett.
Dak dumps it off to Witten and Cowboys play for the field goal
After the Bills inexplicably called a timeout as Dallas faced third and three at the Bills’ 24, the Cowboys faced a pretty simple situation with eight seconds remaining: take a shot into the endzone to get a go-ahead touchdown and if not, settle for at least a field goal.
Instead, the Cowboys ran a quick dump off to Jason Witten to move it a little closer for Brett Maher. And the reward for such poor strategy was a missed field goal that rendered the two-minute drill Dallas had just run completely worthless.
Brett Maher misses another field goal
Coming out of the locker rooms at halftime, Buffalo converted a field goal on their opening drive to extend the lead to 16-7. After a big play to Michael Gallup, the Cowboys were looking like they were ready to finally respond, but a false start from Connor Williams pushed them back and led to the drive fizzling out at the Bills’ 29-yard line.
Garrett rolled Maher out to attempt a 47-yard field goal and he once again missed it wide right. Between the turnovers and missed field goals, this established the trend that points just weren’t going to happen for Dallas on Thursday. In response, Buffalo scored a touchdown seven plays later that more or less clinched the game.