A bad season has gotten worse for the Dallas Cowboys. Much worse.
Already without starting quarterback Dak Prescott due to a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, backup Andy Dalton was forced out of the Cowboys' 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team in the third quarter due to a concussion on Sunday.
"We need to be much better, and we're running out of time," coach Mike McCarthy said.
Dalton, who was making his second start in place of Prescott, took a hit to the head from linebacker Jon Bostic as he slid to the turf with 6:22 to play in the third quarter. Bostic was ejected from the game; Dalton went straight to the locker room for further examination and was replaced by rookie Ben DiNucci.
Before the injury, Dalton completed 9 of 19 passes for 75 yards. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble on the Cowboys' first possession, which led to a safety. He had one pass intercepted on a throw that was behind running back Ezekiel Elliott and tipped into linebacker Cole Holcomb's hands.
According to a team spokesman, Dalton was alert and doing much better than he was when he came off the field following the hit. He was in "good spirits" and will be flying home with the Cowboys.
McCarthy said he was not pleased with the passive reaction teammates had to the Bostic hit.
"We speak all the time about playing for one another, protecting one another," McCarthy said. "It definitely was not the response you would expect."
Asked what he thought of when he saw Dalton get hurt, Elliott said, "Just how s---ty this year has been. Yeah, just how bad this year has been. But we've still got time left. We've got a big division game next week [at the Philadelphia Eagles]. So, I mean, we've got to go out there and find a way to win."
But there was little hope the Cowboys (2-5) were going to come from behind to beat Washington with Dalton or without him.
Washington had more rushing yards on its first two series than it had averaged in the first six games. The Cowboys allowed three plays of more than 20 yards in the first half, pushing their total to 30 allowed for the season, including a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Allen to Terry McLaurin, who ran by rookie Trevon Diggs for the score that gave Washington a 22-3 lead after two quarters.
It was the fourth time the Cowboys trailed by at least 17 points at halftime this season.
Washington finished with 208 yards rushing, led by Antonio Gibson's 128 yards on 20 carries. It marked the third time in the past four games the Cowboys have allowed at least 200 yards on the ground.
"We're ticked off," Dallas defensive end Everson Griffen said. "I feel like everybody is tired of it. I feel like in order to do something about it, we have to do it as a team."
The Cowboys' offense also got little done, working with an offensive line in tatters with Tyron Smith and La'el Collins out for the year and Zack Martin missing Sunday's game because of a concussion. The Cowboys' starting line consisted of Cameron Erving, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Connor McGovern and Terence Steele, who had combined for just 35 starts with the team entering the game.
They could not hold up against Washington's formidable front, which kept Elliott in check, while Dalton was unable to get the ball downfield.
In two games without Prescott, the Cowboys have scored two field goals and one touchdown. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Sunday marked the first time the Cowboys had just one receiver catch a pass in a game since Sept. 27, 2015, when Cole Beasley had four receptions in a loss to Atlanta.
"We've got to be better," Elliott said.
When things are as bad as they have been, there needs to be some historical context.
The last time the Cowboys had to use three quarterbacks in a season because of injury came in 2015. Tony Romo, who suffered a twice-broken right collarbone, started and finished just two games. The Cowboys also had Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, their current offensive coordinator, start games in that 4-12 season.
If Dalton does not clear the concussion protocol, DiNucci would get the start, with Garrett Gilbert, who has been with the team for a week, as the backup.
In 2017, playing without Elliott as he served a six-game suspension to start the season, the Cowboys lost three straight games and scored just two touchdowns -- vs. Atlanta (27-7), Philadelphia (37-9) and San Diego Chargers (28-6) -- in a stretch that ultimately kept them from the playoffs.
Is this year as bad as those past stretches of poor play? It sure feels that way even in a division as bad as the NFC East.
And if it matters, the Cowboys' playoff chances dropped to 16% with the loss, according to ESPN's Playoff Predictor.