The headlines Sunday and Monday came fast. The Dallas Cowboys, fresh off their second loss in a row, were "frauds" according to The Dallas Morning News' Jean-Jacques Taylor. Mac Engel at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram went a step further, proclaiming the Cowboys capitulation to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers as proof that the "8-8 Dallas Cowboys" were back.
The Cowboys, five games in, have freed up more than 40 hours of time for their fans this fall and winter, to hear the columnists at North Texas' two biggest dailies tell it — no use watching the team's 11 remaining games.
That's fine. Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and the rest of the Cowboys all did things Sunday to make you wonder if the hype that accumulated during the team's 3-0 start was unwarranted. This week is an OK spot to get off the 2019 Cowboys bandwagon, if that's something you're looking to do. Just remember that football seasons are long, and Dallas' roster is just as talented as it was before it suffered two ugly losses in as many weeks.
Prescott threw three interceptions Sunday afternoon, as many as he had in the previous four games. Picks one and three were explainable — if not excusable. Cooper should've caught the first one, and Packers defensive back Kevin King was all over Michael Gallup before the third. Interception No. 2 by Chandon Sullivan, however, resulted from a terrible decision. For 40 or so minutes, Prescott's performance was anything but sharp.
Dak Prescott throwing into triple coverage for his second interception of the game. It is his 10th career game with multiple interceptions. Hate to see it. pic.twitter.com/NHwQUiJFsc— Patrick (@pmc_cmp3) October 6, 2019
Over the last 20 minutes of the game, Prescott turned the ball loose frequently and on target, on the way to racking up a career-high 463 passing yards. Some of his stats were padded by the Packers turning down their defensive play-calling aggression with a 31-3 lead, but Prescott looked nothing like the quarterback frequently criticized over the last two seasons for his inability to throw downfield or move the ball in the face of a good pass rush.
The Cowboys offense had the ball 13 times Sunday. They punted just three times and piled up more than 560 yards of total offense, outgaining the Packers by 228 yards. Cooper, still battling an ankle injury, also had a career high with 226 receiving yards and recorded a highlight-reel 53-yard touchdown to bring the Cowboys within 10 midway through the fourth quarter.
On the offensive side of the ball at least, all the pieces for a win were there, just like they are for the rest of the season. They just didn't get put together.
There were positive signs on defense, too. Despite fighting a losing field-position battle throughout the game thanks to turnovers, the Cowboys consistently got pressure on Rodgers and limited one of the NFL's best quarterbacks to less than 250 yards passing. Both Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence were active on the defensive line and will only get better as they have more opportunities to play together.
All that was missing, and these are not small things, were tackling and turnovers (or lack thereof). Throughout, the Cowboys' vaunted linebacking corps, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, struggled to limit Packers running back Aaron Jones whenever he hit the second level in either the Packers' run game or passing game. If Vander Esch and Smith continue to struggle getting players to the ground, it will be a big deal, but, for now, we're talking about a one-game sample.
The same can't be said for the defense's continued struggle to turn teams over. Through five games, Dallas is minus-4 in turnover margin. Some improvement — something that frequently happens over 17 weeks — along with continuing improvement from the pass rush, would really benefit the team and those who think they can break through to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1995 season.
Sunday's performance wasn't anything like one of the team's multiple dismal offensive performances in 2017 or 2018. The offense moved the ball at will against one of the NFL's best pass defenses. The defense, while it struggled against the run, frequently frustrated Rodgers, something that couldn't have been said after its performances against Green Bay in the 2016 playoffs or 2017 regular season.
While it's not to a Super Bowl aspirant's benefit to cough up games to two rivals for high playoff seeds in consecutive weeks, it's not a sign that the mediocre, scraping-to-get-by middle-Romo years Cowboys are back, either. Sunday affirmed one thing for certain and one thing only: It's hard to win in the NFL when you turn the ball over three more times than your opponent. True in 1920, the NFL's first season. True in 2019.
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