It was not at all what we wanted to see from the Dallas Cowboys as they were embarrassed once again on the road by a good team, losing 31-10 to the Buffalo Bills in a game that saw nothing go right for Dallas. Before the Cowboys even took the field, they had a playoff spot all locked up thanks to a combination of the Detroit Lions winning on Saturday and the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons both losing earlier in the day. But this was a huge opportunity squandered as it makes it all but certain that Dallas will have to find a way to win on the road against good teams as a wild card.
The Cowboys were on defense to start the game, and it didn’t go well for them. Josh Allen used both his legs and arm, with Stephon Diggs and James Cook doing most of the hard work. Dallas almost forced the Bills into a field goal attempt, but DeMarcus Lawrence was flagged for roughing Allen to set up first and goal from the three-yard line, and they punched it in two plays later to take a 7-0 lead in what was a harbinger of the way this would unfold. The Cowboys needed a counterpunch, and tried to get it done on a deep throw targeting Brandin Cooks on 2nd and 6, but Dak Prescott was just a bit too long on the throw. Prescott avoided a three and out with a 13-yard scramble that also saw offsetting penalties, but the end result was a first down at the Dallas 42. However, Tyler Smith would draw the third flag of the game that would wipe out a Tony Pollard first down gain, and after a loss by Rico Dowdle and a sack of Prescott, Bryan Anger had to come on to punt. It was a frustrating but all too familiar story in a season that, despite the record, has been plagued by the Cowboys getting called for excessive infractions almost every game.
Their defense managed to force a three and out on the next Buffalo possession, as Stephon Gilmore denied Diggs on third down. But Zack Martin would be injured on second down, and Prescott would throw three consecutive incompletions as the Bills applied smothering coverage in the secondary. Dallas would counter with their pass rush to stop Buffalo, but their fourth big penalty of the game would come as Sam Williams would be called for roughing the punter as he just missed a blocked kick. That would extend the drive, and Allen would wind up finding James Cook coming out of the backfield to push the Buffalo lead to 14-0 with a bit under 13 minutes left in the second quarter.
In their first two losses, the Cowboys could not handle a big deficit, and now they faced one again with Martin sitting on the sidelines, his thigh iced up. A big flag would go against the Bills this time, as they were called for an illegal hit on Prescott for the second time in the game. A deep completion to CeeDee Lamb would get them to the Bills’ 32. The run game would start to contribute, but Pollard would be thrown for a loss on second and a yard. Prescott would nearly have a pass picked off for the third time in the game, and they would have to bring Brandon Aubrey out to try and get on the board. This was a mere chip shot for him, but it left them trailing by 11.
James Cook, who went over 100 yards from scrimmage on this drive, continued to bedevil the defense. The Cowboys were robbed of a takeaway on a completion to Diggs that was punched out, but the Bills hurried to snap the ball before it could be challenged. Two plays later it was Jayron Kearse’s turn to make a big mistake as he was flagged for unnecessary roughness to move the ball into Dallas territory. Buffalo was smelling blood in the water, and drove quickly to get their third touchdown on an Allen keeper. Both Donovan Wilson and Damone Clark would have to leave the field during the drive to add injury to insult. James Cook would already have 104 yards rushing and 42 receiving while the Bills held a massive 210 to 89 yards in total offense.
The Cowboys had 1:36 to try and cut into the big lead of Buffalo. They would sputter and have to punt the ball, hanging any hope of getting back into the game on the second half. They would start things off with Hunter Luepke getting a rare touch on third and inches to easily move the sticks. But a sack on the next series would snuff things out as the Bills would continue to blanket the receivers.
They badly needed a stop, but Allen was doing a solid Jalen Hurts impression, converting two consecutive third and ones with his legs. James Cooks picked up right where he left off and Buffalo with the big lead leaned heavily on the running game, which is not what Dan Quinn’s defense is designed to stop. They did manage to limit the damage to a field goal, but the long drive by the Bills left the Cowboys with just 17:36 in regulation to try and catch up.
It was certainly not enough as Prescott would get sacked on third down the next possession. The offense was completely shut down in this game, and the defense was simply porous. It was a game where Allen barely had to use his arm as the ground attack of the Bills simply dominated the Dallas defense. But when they did choose to throw it, players like Diggs were making one-handed grabs to extend drives. James Cook would get yet another big carry to score from 24 out and make it 31-3 at the 12:30 mark of the fourth quarter.
McCarthy would keep Prescott in the game until the end, long after the outcome was inevitable. He must have been looking for the final touchdown to have something positive at the end, but it seemed a risky move as it just exposed the quarterback to more hits and the 31-10 final score didn’t make things look much better.
Perhaps it was too much to expect the Cowboys to maintain such a high level of play for the rest of the season, but this was a devastating collapse in all phases of the game. Mike McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff have a huge task ahead to get this team to pick itself up and gain some positive energy heading into the playoffs. One very worrying thing is how many times Prescott came close to being picked off in this game before he finally threw one in the fourth quarter to just make things worse. All the MVP talk should be silenced for at least a while. And we are left with renewed doubts about how much of the Cowboys’ success so far has been because of the low quality of the opponents they defeated rather than their own abilities.