Well that was rough. This was always a game that was teetering between a competitive contest for the Cowboys and a total blowout in the first game without Dak Prescott. It ended up being the worst case scenario, as Zack Martin’s injury made an already-injury-plagued offensive line even worse.
As if playing behind four backup linemen wasn’t enough for Dalton’s first start in Dallas, Ezekiel Elliott made sure to put the nail in the coffin with two early fumbles, which forced Dalton to push things and take risks he otherwise wouldn’t take. By the end, the final score of 38-10 seems to make it look closer than it ever was. These five plays were especially impactful in the blowout loss.
Too many men on the field moves Cowboys inside their own 5
After the defense managed to force punts on the Cardinals’ first two offensive drives, it started to seem like all the Cowboys needed was a decent showing from their offense to win the game. After getting the ball at their own 10-yard line, that would be a tall task, but still doable.
But on second down, the offense somehow sent out an extra player to the huddle and were penalized for it. As a result, the Cowboys were backed up to their five-yard line, which immediately limited their options from a play-calling standpoint. A short run by Zeke and an incomplete pass that was nearly a safety ended with Dallas punting the ball away, which furthered the inability for Dalton to get into a rhythm early.
Ezekiel Elliott’s first fumble kills the offense’s first promising drive of the game
Let’s face it: Ezekiel Elliott has been bad this year. After vowing not to fumble anymore, he went back on his word Monday night. After the defense once again forced a three-and-out, Dallas had yet another chance to strike first. Dalton was getting in a groove as the offense pushed the ball, overcoming a holding penalty early on, and then:
Baker forces a Zeke fumble— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 20, 2020
His third of the season
This was hardly Zeke’s first such trouble this year, and it wouldn’t be his last. On a drive where the offense finally started showing signs of life, Zeke’s fumble was a dagger in the heart of that confidence they were building. The Cardinals ended up scoring a touchdown as a result of the turnover.
Ezekiel Elliott’s second fumble lets Arizona get a commanding lead
If you thought that fumble would result in Zeke putting on a show to prove he’s not the guy who fumbles, you were very wrong. After the Cardinals took a 7-0 lead, the Cowboys had a chance to try and continue their success pre-fumble and tie things up. Two plays into the drive, Zeke made sure that wouldn’t happen.
CARDINALS ARE BALLHAWKING @AZCardinals— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 20, 2020
#AZvsDAL on ESPN pic.twitter.com/UnqH6UEWks
The Cardinals offense took the field with just 27 yards to go for paydirt, and in just five plays they were in the endzone again. The Cowboys now had two turnovers, zero points, and a 14-point deficit, all happening within a span of two and a half minutes. The Cowboys were now only one big gut punch away from ceding the game.
Michael Gallup drops a touchdown before halftime
After an 80-yard bomb to Christian Kirk for a touchdown, the Cowboys were reeling with a 21-0 deficit. Getting the ball for one final drive before halftime, Dalton and the offense started clicking and moved the ball down the field. Since they would get the ball to start the third quarter, a touchdown here and a touchdown to open the half would suddenly make it a game again.
The drive stalled in the red zone, though, and the Cowboys faced a third and goal from the Arizona 16-yard line. Dalton threw a pass to Michael Gallup on an out route, and actually hit him in his hands in the endzone. But Gallup, who’s been nothing short of incredible this season, dropped a sure touchdown.
Gallup... you gotta catch that dawg pic.twitter.com/Y3UbWRi3rt— Roto Street Journal (RSJ) (@RotoStJournal) October 20, 2020
This dropped touchdown was a critical mistake, and it forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal, robbing their chance to cut the deficit to one score before giving the Cardinals a real offensive possession.
Dre Kirkpatrick gets rewarded by refs for pass interference penalty
The disappointment of Gallup’s dropped touchdown didn’t prevent the Cowboys from coming out hot on offense in the third quarter. Amari Cooper made a big play up the middle of the field and CeeDee Lamb started to heat up when Dalton tried to hit the rookie on a deep out route. Problem is, the rookie had already been tackled to the ground.
Clean tackle from Dre Kirkpatrickpic.twitter.com/4EtnhADkcv— PFF (@PFF) October 20, 2020
Not only did the refs not throw the flag on the most blatant pass interference since the 2018 NFC Championship game, but it resulted in Dre Kirkpatrick picking off the pass. This kind of gut punch effectively ended the game, and it was evident by the way the Dallas defense got bullied on the ensuing Cardinals drive. This missed penalty changed a potential 21-10 game to a 28-3 game, and it completely changed the dynamic.
There were plenty of things that led to the Cowboys’ demoralizing loss, and it’s hard to pin one play on a 38-10 loss, but this was certainly a big one. Professional referees simply cannot miss this kind of thing, especially when it results in a change of possession. It was the final nail in the coffin for Dalton and the offense, as they lacked any real punch the rest of the game.