‘Definitely shocked:’ Dak Prescott looks for answers after Cowboys’ embarrassing no-show

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It will go down in the permanent record as a 30-16 loss. But to those who watched it unfold, it was never that close; Dallas had to scramble to post all of their points within the final five minutes just to avoid being shut out at home.

The 6-1 Cowboys came in to Sunday’s Week 9 game with an opportunity to get off to their best start since 2016 and stake a legitimate claim as a front-runner in the race to the NFC’s lone postseason bye. All they had to do was take of business against a weaker opponent in a matchup that everyone had them favored to win, most by a wide margin. Instead, for three hours in Arlington, it was the 4-4 Broncos who played like a well-oiled machine and looked like the class of their conference as they rolled to a blowout win.

Even while standing at the podium and wearing street clothes, Dak Prescott seemed at a total loss to explain what had just happened. The Cowboys quarterback played an uncharacteristically poor game, but so did nearly every other player wearing the star on Sunday afternoon.

“Definitely shocked,” Prescott said in his postgame press conference. “They whooped us in every aspect. They beat us. That’s not something you ever think about or ever envision happening. But it’s something we’ll learn from. And we’ll learn from every aspect of it: offense, defense, special teams. Situationally, especially. We’ve just got to be better. We’ve got to play a cleaner game. We’ve got to start faster in a noon game like this. They did a better job at it: got on us and got on us fast. We were playing from behind and we weren’t able to do anything.”

Prescott in particular was ineffective for most of the game. While he ended up with a seemingly-respectable two touchdown passes and 232 passing yards, he went into halftime having completed just five of 14 throws for 75 yards and only one third down conversion.

“We got thumped in every aspect of the game, especially on offense,” he said. “I never got going. I missed some throws. We didn’t throw and catch the ball as we normally do. Wasn’t our best performance by any means, obviously our worst of the year.”

Sunday marked Prescott’s first game action in 20 days- after straining a calf in Week 6 against New England, then taking the bye week off, and finally missing the Halloween night thriller in Minnesota as he fully recovered. But Prescott said he felt no ill effects from the injury on Sunday, despite looking rusty and inaccurate for most of the afternoon.

“Obviously, I wasn’t as clean as I normally am or as I have been. It’s tough to say and blame that. I spent a lot of time off and came back in the first game [versus Tampa Bay] different. So I’m not going to sit there and blame two weeks when I had a great week of practice that I had under my belt coming into this one. I just missed some throws, and we just weren’t our normal selves in the passing game when we needed to be. We didn’t execute.”

But it certainly wasn’t just Prescott. The Cowboys defense gave up 190 rushing yards, allowed Denver to convert more than half of their third-down attempts, and let the Broncos dominate time of possession by more than a two-to-one margin.

“The physicality was definitely not what I’m looking for,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters after the loss.

After ripping off six straight wins since the season opener, the Cowboys looked like a team who had perhaps started to believe their own hype. McCarthy even admitted that it had shown during the week leading up to Sunday’s debacle.

“Had concern on Wednesday, as far as the way we’ve come off some successful weeks,” McCarthy said. “The message was ‘Don’t take the cheese.’ And frankly, we were out-coached, we were out-played, all the way through. This is the first time I’ve felt clearly our energy didn’t exceed our opponent, and that’s disappointing.”

Prescott also hinted that maybe the Cowboys players were a little too full of themselves and looked past the Broncos.

“I don’t know,” Prescott began. “At this point- right after this game, when we started the way we did, we just weren’t able to get anything going, and got beat on all three phases- I would say maybe. When you win a game like we did last week, on the road in a tough environment with everything going against us, I think you sometimes think you can just roll out there and get it done, even when the adversity hits. I don’t think there was really ever a point until maybe the last few minutes in the game where we didn’t think that we were going to be able to get something going to win this game. Then when that sinks in, you just realize it’s the NFL. This is a tough business.”

Prescott was still out there in those last few minutes, despite being behind 30-0 late in the game. The Cowboys left all their starters in, risking exposure to injury in an attempt to make something positive happen before time expired.

“Frankly, the fourth quarter was a conscious effort to keep [Dak] in there for the two-minute work,” McCarthy explained. “That’s something that if I was looking at all the situational work that we’ve done and the commitment that you put to each situation, we needed that work. So I was happy to see us have some two-minute production, just because that’s something I think we definitely can carry forward out of this game.”

Prescott said he never considered that he wouldn’t finish the contest, regardless of the score or situation.

“I mean, there was game left out there to be played,” Prescott said. “I don’t think I ever– it never crossed my mind that I was coming out of the game. I think if somebody would have tried to make that decision, I would have told them I wasn’t. Yeah, we needed to get something going. We needed to get some energy, some momentum. We needed to show our fight, our resiliency, something that’s won us a lot of games. When you’re getting beat like that, you’ve got to show your character. I think that starts with all of us staying in the game and fighting ’til the end and trying to get some momentum or something going just to take from this game.”

What the Cowboys may have been able to take from the humiliating defeat remains to be seen. Prescott likened Sunday’s loss to a 23-0 drubbing at the hands of Indianapolis late in the 2018 season. Dallas had come in to that showdown on a five-game win streak; Indianapolis was just barely over .500 at the time.

The Cowboys came out the following week and beat Tampa Bay at AT&T Stadium to clinch the NFC East. This year’s crew will look to next week when they host Atlanta for their bounceback opportunity.

“I think everybody just has to be accountable for what just happened,” Prescott offered. “You win as a team, and you lose as a team. And it starts with the leaders; we’re not looking and asking the coaches to do something different. We’ve got to be more physical. We’ve got to take accountability in this loss and make sure that we come in tomorrow and make sure that we move forward from this, learn from it, and then in come in Wednesday and have a great day of practice and make sure that this is something we learn from. This feeling sucks and make sure we don’t feel this again.”

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