How bad was the Dallas Cowboys’ 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team? With 9:54 left in the second quarter, the Team took a 15-3 lead - and the feeling that this game was out of reach already for the Cowboys was not only overwhelming, it was absolutely right.
It wasn’t just another horrendously played game by Dallas, it had the latest in the seemingly interminable string of critical injuries as Andy Dalton went out in the third quarter after taking a late and clearly dirty hit to the head from John Bostic. We got to see Ben DiNucci, who wasn’t horrible - just lining up way before we every hoped to see him on the field in a meaningful situation.
This was not a game of drives or momentum changes. It was one of Dallas finding ways to fail on both sides of the ball, while the formerly inept Team suddenly was overcoming every difficult situation they faced. Kyle Allen was finding embarrassingly wide open receivers, or scrambling to convert long third downs. Antonio Gibson had a career rushing day - in the first half. The Washington defensive line, acknowledged as the best unit they have, was all over Andy Dalton all game, leading to him screaming at his offensive line - which may not have been completely fair, given how injuries have absolutely devastated that group. Normally sure handed receivers like CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup suddenly could not catch anything. Only Amari Cooper seemed to have come to play.
Dalton may have been angry in the first half, but he also had the first huge mistake of the game, losing a fumble inside the Dallas 15, which wound up bouncing into the end zone, where Dalton Schultz recovered it. That was a safety for the first score of the game, but things had already gotten off to a terrible start, as the formerly incompetent Team offense had marched down the field to within inches of the goal line before the Cowboys defense made a play to get the ball back on downs. That was the story of the day, really. One team on the field was playing well, while the other was just missing, like on the pass play from the Washington 12 where Dalton was behind Ezekiel Elliott, and the ball bounced up in the air to be intercepted by Cole Holcomb, who seemed to make big plays all day. It wiped out a chance for the Cowboys to cut into the lead. If they had, they had the kickoff coming to them to start the second half.
But of course that was all immaterial. The Team would take a 22-3 lead into halftime, the Cowboys would predictably do nothing with the ball coming out of half, and it became a game that was in many ways more embarrassing than the debacle against the Arizona Cardinals. We knew the Cardinals should have won that game beforehand. But many thought that the Cowboys actually had a chance to beat the Football Team, and find a way to prevail in the universally horrible NFC East. Now, they have shown they are a step below Washington and the Philadelphia Eagles, and just have to determine if they or the New York Giants are the worst team in the division - and perhaps the entire NFL.
It is not just that the team is bad. It is that there are no obvious answers, and may not be any. The injuries are reaching a ludicrous level, especially on offense. The O line is just about impossible to fix this year. The defense seems always a step behind or out of place or just flat missing tackles. That last thing was particularly galling early in the game, as the first contact with the ball carrier would be made in position to limit them to a minimal gain or even a loss, but the back or receiver would just fight their way through the defenders to get three or four more yards, turning it into a positive play.
While the offense has been so terribly degraded by injuries, there is no similar excuse for the defense. Leighton Vander Esch was back on the field, and Randy Gregory saw his first football action since his suspension, but it made absolutely no difference. This defense doesn’t slow the other team down, it elevates them. Washington had it’s best offensive first half of the season, getting those 22 points on 252 yards of offense - almost evenly split between passing and running. It is getting harder and harder to not acknowledge that Dallas is one of the least talented defenses in the league. It makes the reported discord in the locker room harder to discount, or address. The coaching really seems to be a major problem, but clearly the players are not getting their assignments correct or just aren’t making good reads. Like with the offensive line, these are not issues that are going to be fixed in season, although pressure on Mike Nolan’s job is going to mount. After all, the Team was one of the absolute worst offenses in the league - and the Dallas D made them look good.
It is sad to start working on mock drafts before October is even done, but here we are. Just as hope died before this game was even to the halfway point, our aspirations for the season should also be laid to rest. The few remaining stars for the Cowboys are not playing to the level the team needs, the staff seems out of its depth, the younger players are similarly in over their heads, and we have to accept that Dallas is just beginning the rebuild. And with so much work to do, that rebuild is going to extend beyond 2021.