ARLINGTON, Texas – Just 11 days ago the Dallas Cowboys were viewed as one of the best teams in the NFL after their 40-point whupping of the Atlanta Falcons. With their 36-33 overtime defeat against the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving, they have lost two games in five days and are facing serious questions.
At 7-4, the Cowboys still have a 94% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, but this was a team that looked like it could be in the mix for homefield advantage, not just a postseason bid, by winning the NFC East.
Heck, maybe that is not much of a certainty anymore with the way the Philadelphia Eagles are playing lately.
"The sense is I'm sure a bunch of people are jumping off the bandwagon, which is fine with us, because we know what we're capable of," Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. "We know the team we have. More importantly, we know the men that are in that locker room. That's the most important thing is just our belief in each other. That's not going anywhere. It's not fading. We lost a tough one in an overtime game today. That's the bottom line."
Yes, the Cowboys did not have their top two wide receivers, CeeDee Lamb, who was unavailable because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s 19-9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and Amari Cooper, who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but the passing game was rough to watch for most of the game.
Prescott finished more than 300 yards passing and two touchdowns, but he was aided greatly by a 51-yard throw to Cedrick Wilson in the second quarter and 41- and 31-yarders to Michael Gallup in the fourth quarter that set up scores. The Cowboys did not move the ball consistently until they moved to a hurry-up look in the fourth quarter.
They actually tied the game twice in the final three minutes to set up overtime but Prescott missed Noah Brown on an easy third-down throw and the Raiders were able to gash the Dallas defense to set up Daniel Carlson's fifth field goal of the game.
But don't be confused by the 33 points. The Cowboys are built for success because of their offense and they weren't sharp.
If the pass game was off, the run game was worse. The Cowboys spent the week talking about getting the running game going, which sounded good against a Las Vegas run defense that allowed 159 yards in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Ezekiel Elliott, who is dealing with a knee injury, finished with 25 yards and Tony Pollard had 36 yards.
As the Cowboys enter December, the returns of Lamb and Cooper will help, but they need to find their offensive mojo before it’s too late.
Troubling trend: For as much good as the defense has done outperforming expectations, they have have given up far too many big plays and lately they have started games far too slowly. In five of the last six games they have allowed points on the opening possession, including four touchdowns. The Raiders needed three plays for the first touchdown, with DeSean Jackson beating Jourdan Lewis for a 56-yard touchdown. With the Cowboys’ offense scuffling in three of the last four games, the defense cannot afford any soft moments.
Rough day: Playing across from NFL interception leader Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown has been mostly in the shadows. He was in the spotlight Thursday for all of the wrong reasons. He became the first player this season to be flagged three times for pass interference in the same game and was flagged again in overtime in a third-and-18 situation, giving the Raiders a first down that set up the winning kick. He is the only Cowboy to be charged with at least three defensive pass interference penalties in the same game in more than 20 years.
Brown is now the third player this century to be flagged for defensive pass interference four times in a single game. He joins Trayvon Mullen and Xavien Howard, who each did it last season. As a team the Cowboys finished with 14 penalties and 166 yards.