ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys pledged the rest of their 2020 NFL season was about winning for injured quarterback Dak Prescott. A 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football was not what they envisioned.
The 28-point loss tied for the worst the Cowboys have had at AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009. Monday's performance begged the question: How much did Prescott, who is out for the season because of a compound fracture and dislocation to his right ankle that required surgery, cover up with his stellar play to start the season?
Without Prescott, who still leads the NFL in passing with 1,856 yards despite not playing five full games, everything for the Cowboys suffered.
Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton completed 34 of 54 passes for 266 yards and was intercepted twice, although one easily could have been negated by a pass interference penalty. In the first half, Dalton threw for 82 yards, averaging 1.3 air yards per completion, per ESPN Stats & Information. Prescott averaged nearly 7 air yards per completion.
On his first four pass attempts, Dalton was pressured by a Cardinals' defense that was without its best pass-rusher in Chandler Jones. With 5:07 left in the first quarter, Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin suffered a concussion and did not return to the game.
Since the season started, the Cowboys' offense lost Prescott (ankle), tackles Tyron Smith (neck) and La'el Collins (hip) and tight end Blake Jarwin (knee) for the season. Center Joe Looney is on injured reserve with a knee injury but is expected to return.
A once-feared offensive line that was the envy of the NFL was reduced to starting two undrafted rookies at tackle (Brandon Knight, 2019, Terence Steele, 2020), a rookie center (Tyler Biadasz), a second-year player (Connor McGovern) with two offensive snaps of experience prior to Monday and a third-year guard coming off knee surgery (Connor Williams).
Somehow Prescott kept the Cowboys competitive, but his teammates could not rally for him Monday.
Baker bowls a strike after INT
Budda Baker goes for the bowling celebration after intercepting Andy Dalton for their fourth turnover of the night.
The Cowboys (2-4) are off to their worst start since 2015 when they had to start four different quarterbacks because of a twice broken right collarbone suffered by Tony Romo. They finished that season at 4-12 overall. For coach Mike McCarthy, the 2-4 start is tied for the worst in his coaching career. The Green Bay Packers were 2-4 in 2006, his first season, on their way to an 8-8 finish.
Yet even with Monday night's loss, the Cowboys are still in first place in the pitiful NFC East with consecutive division games coming up against the Washington Football Team (1-5) and Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1)
Troubling trend: Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott can't hold on to the ball. Elliott fumbles on consecutive drives that the Cardinals turned into touchdowns. In six games, Elliott has lost four fumbles, which is more than all of the league's top-10 rushers combined (three). What's worse is that all four turnovers have been turned into touchdowns by opponents. To compensate for the loss of Prescott, the Cowboys wanted to rely on Elliott. On Monday, they couldn't count on him.
Troubling trend, part 2: The defense has not been helped by an offense that turns the ball over too much -- 15 and counting after four vs. Arizona -- but it is legal to hold a team to a field goal on occasion. The Cowboys have allowed 84 points off turnovers this season, the most in the NFL. Last season, they allowed 45 points off turnovers. Oh, by the way, the Pittsburgh Steelers have allowed 94 points all season.
Troubling trend, part 3: The Cowboys are now 6-19 in their past 25 games started by a backup quarterback, dating back to 2010. McCarthy has a 6-12-1 with his backup quarterback. These aren't good trends with 10 games to play.