ARLINGTON, Texas — Name a problem, the Cowboys had it.
Dropped passes. Overthrown balls. Penalties. A leaky run defense. Big plays allowed. A muffed blocked punt. The list continues.
Sunday brought a harsh return to reality for a Cowboys team entering the contest on a six-game win streak. Fans would have been hard-pressed to remember that it was the Cowboys returning their most valuable player, Dak Prescott, from a one-game calf strain absence, not the Broncos, who were just days removed from trading away star pass rusher Von Miller.
Because despite playing at home and the dominant offense the Cowboys had manhandled opponents with across 2021, the Broncos defense shut out Dallas for a full 55 minutes of game play in a 30-16 loss. Not until the Cowboys’ ninth possession of the game, with fewer than 5 minutes on the clock, did Dallas manage to score.
And by then, it was far too late—and arguably dangerous, the Cowboys’ $160 million quarterback keeping a 2-point conversion despite prior insistence from him and the franchise that risks would reflect their rewards after a recent injury slew.
Was this overconfidence by the Cowboys, a message sent to ownership by a feisty Broncos squad, or simply just the reminder that the NFL-beloved cliché of “on any given Sunday” still rings true?
The Broncos travel home 5-4, while the Cowboys will have ample chance to reflect on the weaknesses the game exposed.
To chase the postseason goals the team has repeatedly stated, 6-2 Dallas must find a way to win without the pass protection of left tackle Tyron Smith, who missed the contest with a bum ankle. The offense must sustain drives more effectively than their 5-of-13 third-down, 0-of-3 fourth-down performance.
Prescott and his receivers will ask themselves: Where is the chemistry that had previously been illustrated with Prescott’s league-best 73.1% completion rate, the Cowboys’ league-high offensive yardage and an average of 32.1 points per game that ranked third?
Against the Broncos, Prescott completed just 48.7% of passes—and just 31.6% through the first three quarters.
Defensively, a Cowboys team allowing just 88.3 rushing yards per game ceded 190. Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 19 of 28 passes for 249 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown to receiver Tim Patrick. Patrick caught the touchdown over Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who also drew two costly interceptions. Despite 10 tackles for loss, including three from rookie Micah Parsons, the Cowboys defense couldn’t sufficiently answer to a sharp day from the Broncos' attack.
Dallas hosts the Falcons next week before traveling to Kansas City. The Cowboys remain atop the NFC East.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dallas Cowboys sputter as Denver Broncos snap six-game win streak