Make no mistake: it's panic time for the free-falling Dallas Cowboys

Hunter Felt
<span>Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP</span>
Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP

After a 3-0 start to the season, the Dallas Cowboys stumbled in their next two games with losses to the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. Yet there was no reason to overreact. After all, their opponents on Sunday were going to be the 0-4 New York Jets and starting quarterback Sam Darnold fresh off a month-long bout with mononucleosis. This would be the perfect chance for Dallas to get back into the win column, right?

Well, as it turns out, not necessarily. Even before the start of Sunday’s game, there were factors working against the Cowboys. They began without many of their key players, most notably tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and receiver Randall Cobb. During the game itself, quarterback Dak Prescott lost one of his most reliable weapons when wide receiver Amari Cooper exited the game with a quad injury. The Cowboys were playing at some disadvantage and on the road.

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Related: NFL: Sam Darnold pilots Jets to upset of Cowboys while 49ers stay undefeated

Still, no one could have expected that halftime score. The Jets were not just ahead but they were ahead 21-6. Darnold, wearing protective gear to protect his possibly enlarged spleen, had thrown for two touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell had rushed for a third. Meanwhile, the only offense the Cowboys were able to muster came courtesy of kicker Brett Maher. Not only were the Cowboys losing, they were on the verge of being blown out.

In the second half, however, the Jets looked more like the team that couldn’t sniff a win in their first four attempts. After the break, New York were only able to add a field goal to their total while Ezekiel Elliott was able to rush for a touchdown to make it a one-score game. At this point, it felt like both the Cowboys and the Jets were working toward an outcome where somehow could both lose.

Perhaps it was fitting such a bizarre game would end with a comedy of errors. During the final minutes, officials called penalties on six straight plays, something which helped keep the Cowboys chances alive long enough for them to score a touchdown to pull within 24-22. To the Cowboys’ credit, they’f worked their way back from a 15-point deficit to a place where they could have forced overtime with a successful two-point conversion. To their detriment, they couldn’t pull it off. The Jets held on for their first win of the season as the skidding Cowboys fell to .500.

Dallas opened the season tagged as potential Super Bowl contenders and after their fast start, the hype seemed legitimate. There’s no shame in being beaten by the likes of the Saints or the Packers, even if back-to-back losses are not exactly ideal for a team with championship aspirations. Now that they have lost a third straight game, this time in listless and depressing fashion to a winless team starting a quarterback recovering from a significant illness ... well, now it’s panic time, no matter what the team’s injury situation happened to be.

Cowboys fans who are now openly questioning whether the team needs to part ways with head coach Jason Garrett if they want to save the season. It’s not a random coincidence that a clip of Garrett’s players refusing to high-five him during the last few minutes of the fourth quarter immediately went viral after the loss. Owner Jerry Jones responded to the debacle by making the inarguable declaration that Dallas was not one of the NFL’s “top teams”.

What about the legion of Cowboys haters? Well, they have a week to enjoy some good old fashioned schadenfreude. For them, the only thing that would have made this loss funnier would be if it had happened on Jones’s birthday. Which it totally did.

Stat of the week

Six. That’s the number of turnovers committed by quarterback Jameis Winston in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 37-26 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s London game. Winston began his day by throwing his first interception and, fittingly enough, ended it with his fifth. In between, he also lost a fumble after a strip sack. Winston’s six turnovers were the most committed by a player since Ryan Fitzpatrick, then with the New York Jets, threw six interceptions against the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2013. Winston has struggled with taking care of the ball since the Buccaneers took him with the first overall pick in 2015 and his lack of development in that area might force Tampa Bay to move on.

MVP of the week

Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings. Minnesota improved to 4-2 after routing the Philadelphia Eagles 38-20. A huge reason was that Diggs ended up scoring three touchdowns, picking up 167 yards on seven receptions. To be fair, he couldn’t have piled up these numbers if journeyman quarterback Kirk Cousins wasn’t playing on a high level as well. Cousins went 22-for-29, accumulating 333 passing yards and an additional touchdown pss to Adam Thielen. At this point in the season, the Vikings very much look like they will be challenging the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title.

Quote of the week

“Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new #Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession.” – Pope Francis, tweeting what would have been, on any other website, a Sunday message to his followers with zero connection to sports

Whoever happens to be tweeting for Pope Francis – and let’s assume that His Holiness isn’t spending all his free time on social media like the rest of us – was understandably unaware that using the #Saints hashtag on Twitter would auto-populate the logo for the New Orleans Saints. Thanks to this quirk, it looked for all the world like the pope was suggesting that God would be favoring New Orleans over the Jacksonville Jaguars in their game on Sunday, when the tweet was actually referring to the canonization of five new saints by the Catholic Church. While it’s not for us to say whether that had anything to do with the Saints beating the Jaguars later that afternoon, it would be blasphemous to say that it could have hurt.

Video of the week

The Seattle Seahawks’ 32-28 win over the still-struggling Cleveland Browns gave us what could end up being the best endzone celebration of the season. After catching a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks’ Jaron Brown waved over his fellow wide receivers and the group immediately broke out into a fully choreographed dance to N’Sync’s Bye Bye Bye.

Elsewhere around the league

<span class="element-image__caption">Marcus Mariota was drafted as the No2 overall pick in 2015 but has never broken through into the top tier of quarterbacks.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP</span>
Marcus Mariota was drafted as the No2 overall pick in 2015 but has never broken through into the top tier of quarterbacks. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

* Is the Marcus Mariota era over in Tennessee? After going just 7-for-18 with two interceptions, the Tennessee Titans benched the second overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft for former Miami Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill. The move wasn’t enough to prevent the Titans from being shutout by the Denver Broncos, but Tannehill’s 13-for-16, 144-yard performance in the 16-0 loss looked like vintage Peyton Manning compared to Mariota’s dreadful day.

• Before the start of this week there were two undefeated teams in the NFL. Now? Well, now, there are still two undefeated teams in the league. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots improved to 6-0 after their Thursday Night Football victory over the New York Giants. Meanwhile, Brady’s former backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, scored a rushing touchdown in the San Francisco 49ers’ 20-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to help improve their record to 5-0. While neither team looks like an invulnerable juggernaut, it’s impossible to quibble with their records so far.

• While the Patriots and the 49ers have cruised to start the season, a couple of teams have done the exact opposite. Sunday featured a rare midseason matchup between two teams with a combined winning percentage of .000 as the Miami Dolphins faced Washington in a battle to determine which team was willing to humiliate itself more to increase their odds of landing the top overall pick in the draft. While it looked like the Dolphins were going to stumble into an unwanted win thanks to a last-minute touchdown drive, a failed two-point conversion secured a much-needed 17-16 loss. Miami fell to 0-5 while Washington improved to 1-5.

• Alas, that wasn’t enough for the Dolphins to secure the worst record in the league. The Cincinnati Bengals fell to 0-6 after a 23-17 loss to Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. The way this NFL season has shaped up, the race to the bottom of the standings might end up being more entertaining than some of the playoff battles.

• Finally, some thoughts for Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who had an MVP of the Week caliber performance against the Arizona Cardinals with 356 yards on 30-for-36 passing and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Falcons dropped to 1-5 after losing to the Cardinals 34-33. The culprit? A missed extra point.

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