As things have soured for the Dallas Cowboys in these past three weeks, it’s almost as if they are waiting for something bad to happen.
More often than not, it did.
Before Philip Rivers lit up the Cowboys for 434 yards and threw three touchdown passes, he should have had a pass intercepted by cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the second quarter. Of course, the sun might have played an issue with Lewis dropping what should have been the second interception of his career. But Jerry Jones will say the sun doesn’t play an issue in late afternoon games at AT&T Stadium. Hey, the aesthetics of the place are great.
Trailing 9-0 in the third quarter, the Cowboys nearly had their first touchdown since the first quarter of their loss to the Atlanta Falcons when Dak Prescott ran 34 yards. But left tackle Tyron Smith was flagged for a holding penalty, negating the score. On the next play, Prescott was pressured and forced to throw the ball away, leading to a punt. Los Angeles scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and a 16-0 lead was insurmountable.
The Cowboys’ margin for error is infinitesimal at this point.
“You have to focus on doing your job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You have to focus on making good things happen for you, and when we play our best we do that.”
The Cowboys’ past three losses have followed a similar script. They trailed 10-7 at halftime against the Atlanta Falcons and lost 27-7. They led the Philadelphia Eagles 9-7 at halftime and lost 37-9. They trailed the Los Angeles Chargers 3-0 at halftime and lost 28-6.
The redundancy is stunning. The Falcons, Eagles and Chargers all scored on the first drive of the second half. In the past three games, the defense has given up eight touchdowns and a field goal in 14 possessions. Two of those possessions ended with the opponent taking a knee. Atlanta had a touchdown wiped out by a penalty on its final drive and gave the ball up on downs at the Dallas 26.
Offensively, the Cowboys have had 13 second-half possessions in their three-game losing streak and scored one touchdown. Five possessions have ended in turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) and five have ended in punts.
“We come out, it’s still a game in the second half and we can’t figure out how to put points on the board,” running back Alfred Morris said. “Then we turn around and before we know it we’ve put our defense in a bad spot. The defense is getting tired. We’re keeping them out on the field too much. Too many three-and-outs. We’re not converting on third down. … I really don’t have an answer. I wish I did because then maybe we’d find a solution. It sucks and we’re better than this. We’re better than this these last three games. But it seems like the same old, same old these past few weeks. We can’t do this another week.”
A year ago, the inverse was happening for the Cowboys. Everything that could go right, did go right. One win turned into two and then 11 in a row. Confidence swelled so much that when something would go wrong, they believed it would eventually go right again. It’s what happened in an overtime win against the Eagles after Prescott struggled for three-plus quarters. It happened again in Minnesota when they recovered a fumbled punt in the fourth quarter that set up their winning touchdown.
“We just have to sit here, grab ahold, get back and see if we can do better to win some games,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
If teams can make their own good fortune, the opposite is also true. That’s the vortex the Cowboys can’t seem to escape.
“How we’re playing is who we are,” defensive end David Irving said. “We are what we repeatedly do. And if we don’t fix it — and fast — then, yeah, this is who we are.”