Andy Dalton, Ezekiel Elliott and Cowboys looked miserable in first full game without Dak Prescott

Andy Dalton wasn’t very good. Neither was his offensive line. Or the Dallas Cowboys’ defense. Add head coach Mike McCarthy to the list as well.

None were as bad as Ezekiel Elliott.

Arizona humiliated Dallas, 38-10, on national television Monday night. It was the Cowboys’ first full game since quarterback Dak Prescott was lost for the season to an ankle injury (and since he’s a free agent, potentially forever). All they managed to do was make Prescott’s value even more obvious.

Someone should take Jerry Jones’ phone away from him before he, like a lonely, desperate soul recently jilted from a relationship, dials up the Prescott camp and offers Dak half of Arlington to sign a long-term deal.

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (32) strips the ball from Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) in the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Ezekiel Elliott's two fumbles helped doom Dallas in a blowout loss to Arizona on Monday night. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The bargaining leverage is quickly headed in Dak’s direction. If Monday is what the Cowboys really are, then it’s clear Prescott solved problems both obvious and hidden. While the likelihood that he will play elsewhere next season has always been remote, Dallas may need reassurance (and a few more years) before the offseason arrives.

Dallas is 2-4 and it’s worth remembering that the two teams it beat – Atlanta and the New York Giants – are a combined 2-10. The Cowboys weren’t world beaters with Prescott. They never looked this bad though. Prescott was the glue. Now the team is rubble.

Only the ineptitude of the entire NFC East is keeping this season full of potential as Dallas is still, somehow, in first place. Even moderate competence will result in hosting a playoff game.

The Cowboys, however, don’t appear capable of moderate competence.

Dalton looked terrible. He arrived this year as a valued backup after nine seasons as a starter in Cincinnati. Presumably he could step in and provide average to above average play.

Instead he threw for 266 yards, one touchdown and two picks. His best moments were during garbage time. Mostly the offense ran poorly.

In fairness, he was rusty and running for his life behind a porous offensive line that yielded three sacks Monday. And there is time to improve.

This wasn’t all on Dalton. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals scorched the defense to the tune of 438 yards. Kliff Kingsbury completely outcoached McCarthy. At one point McCarthy looked up at a third quarter scoreboard that showed the Cowboys trailing 28-3 and thought attempting a 58-yard-field goal was a good idea.

The Cowboys missed it, of course.

“I didn't coach very well,” McCarthy said.

Then there was Elliott, who fumbled on consecutive possessions in the first half. That led to him being briefly benched. He wound up with 49 yards on 12 rushes.

If there was one player who needed to step up the most with Prescott gone, it was Elliott. So far, despite his enormous contract, he stepped back.

You aren’t going to win many games with four turnovers, but that has been the Cowboys’ curse all season.

"We are the worst in the league in taking care of the football," McCarthy said afterward. “It’s discouraging, period. Maybe we’re trying too hard, maybe we’re over-coaching.”

The only positive for Dallas is it gets divisional games against Washington and Philadelphia next. The Cowboys will have to play better to win those. Although not that much better.

This isn’t how Jones thought the season would play out. He slapped a franchise tag on Prescott after they couldn’t agree on the length of a contract extension. With big money doled out to Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper, the offense looked primed. McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay, was brought in to replace Jason Garrett and take the Boys to the next level.

This was supposed to be a big season.

It’s anything but, at least so far. And it was apparent on Monday that their most valuable player is gone for the year, yet he got even more valuable anyway.

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