The winning streak is over. The Dallas Cowboys went to upstate New York and lost to the Buffalo Bills by a score of 31-10. The usually first-half scoring phenoms were nowhere to be found in this one. They didn’t even get into the end zone until garbage time late in the fourth quarter. It was a terrible showing that puts the team’s divisional title hopes in dire straits. Here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys no-show performance against the Bills.
1. THE NEVER-ENDING FORWARD PROGRESS
I don’t know if there was a lag in my television or what, but it seemed like the officials allowed the Bills runners to milk every ounce of yardage out of every play. Even when the play was over, it wasn’t. There were multiple instances on the first drive of the game where a small Buffalo gain turned into a much larger one because the pile kept slowly moving forward. Credit the Bills players for being stronger, but for crying out loud, blow the whistle already!
2. FRUSTRATING FLAGS
There were a couple of moments when it looked as if the Cowboys made a huge defensive play only to have it washed away by personal foul penalties. DeMarcus Lawrence was flagged when he “nudged” the floppity flooper Josh Allen which negated a key third down stop and gifted the Bills an early touchdown.
Then later, Sam Williams burst through the middle of the line to block a punt, only to have burst so fast that he overran the actual kick. Instead of getting the ball, he got the Bills punter and Merry Christmas, another fresh set of downs for Buffalo.
That’s not to say they weren’t the right call, but it was still frustrating that these almost good plays ended up being very bad plays.
3. THE NO CHALLENGE
There was another moment in the second quarter when the Cowboys’ defense appeared to make a stop when Markquese Bell punched the ball out of the hands of Stefon Diggs. The players were looking around expecting a challenge, but the Bills rushed to the line and got the ball off. The Cowboys staff was caught sitting on their hands as they did nothing and the Bills drive continued, once again ending in a touchdown.
Come on, Mike McCarthy, do something! If you haven’t gotten the word from the booth yet that it was a fumble, then at least call a timeout and afford yourself some time to sort it out. Donovan Wilson was signaling the sidelines, defenders were standing around, and Diggs was gesturing to hurry and get the snap off because he knew he had fumbled. That’s all the information you need! This no challenge was costly. Instead of a Cowboys takeaway, the drive continued and ended in a, you guessed it, Bills touchdown.
4. COOK’D IN THE RUNNING GAME
It’s no secret that the Cowboys have been known to struggle against the run sometimes and without their best run-stopping defender, Johnathan Hankins, available, it was going to be a challenge. The Bills exploited this weakness in spades as the Cowboys gave up 266 yards on the ground, the most they’ve allowed all season. Second-year running back James Cooks did most of the damage with 179 yards rushing.
This is not a good sign. The Cowboys have the tandem of Raheem Mostert and DaVone Achane up next followed by David Montgomery and Jamyr Gibbs the following week.
5. THIS DEFENSE HAS QUESTIONS
Some will say that the Cowboys' defense is the identity of this football team, but if that’s the case, this football team was very bad on Sunday. The inability to not get off the field was tough to watch, but it’s something that surfaces now and again. When opposing teams keep the Cowboys pass rush from being a factor, this defense becomes very average, or in the case of Sunday, terrible. We can chalk it up to a bad performance and convince ourselves that it won’t happen again, but this defense has deficiencies and there will be times, like against Seattle, where the offense will need to show up and bail them out.
Speaking of which...
6. WHERE WAS OUR MVP?
It was strange to see the Cowboys offense perform so poorly after firing on all cylinders since the bye week. They finished the game with just 195 total yards, their lowest mark of the season. They only had 14 first downs, their lowest total since that dreadful 49ers game in Week 5. The offense looked like they didn’t know what they were doing.
After finally being taken seriously as a legit MVP candidate for the first time in his NFL career, Dak Prescott couldn’t get anything going. He finished with just 134 passing yards, one of the lowest totals of his career. He also didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time since the season opener and had his first interception since November 12th.
7. DAK UNDER DURESS
To be fair, it wasn’t all Prescott’s fault. The offensive line couldn’t protect him as he was constantly under pressure. It didn’t help that the team lost their starting right guard Zack Martin early in the game and had to resort to using UDFA rookie T.J. Bass. The Bills brought the pressure and forced Dak to unload early and the Cowboys passing attack never seemed like it stood a chance.
Luckily, the quad injury to Martin doesn’t seem too severe to where he misses a lot of time as the team has struggled without his presence in the lineup.
8. WHY WAS DAK STILL IN THE GAME?
With the game clearly in hand, McCarthy left Prescott in the game on the team’s final drive. Why? What was the point of that? Does this group of veterans need a little confidence boost heading into next week’s matchup? No.
Instead, the real priority is the preservation of Prescott. If the long game is to keep Dak healthy, then why was he still in the game at the end? That made zero sense.
9. NO WIN, BUT THEY’RE IN
Before the game even started the Cowboys had clinched a playoff spot for the third straight season. On the surface, that feels good. The more times they make the playoffs, the more chances they have to get past the divisional around.
Of course, we all knew this team was making the playoffs, so nobody was impressed. We have our eyes set on the bigger prize, and Sunday’s game doesn’t particularly inspire confidence.
10. EAST IS STILL WITHIN REACH
The Cowboys' chances of winning the NFC East got worse after dropping this game, but it’s not out of the question. We all know the Eagles still need to lose another game, it’s just now it has to be to the New York Giants. Monday’s night game against Seattle doesn’t matter quite as much (although it’s still better if the Eagles lose). Since the Cowboys' chances of jumping ahead of the Eagles took a huge hit on Sunday, they can still win the tie-breaker if the Eagles lose a divisional game. Likely? Maybe not. Possible? Sure.