Monday night’s win over the Giants emblematic of bigger issue for Cowboys – USA TODAY

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Monday night's win over the Giants emblematic of bigger issue for Cowboys - USA TODAY


Lorenzo Reyes


USA TODAY

Published 2:19 AM EST Nov 5, 2019

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Dak Prescott wore a smile and some swagger, clutched a personal pizza box, and dragged his wheel-away suitcase to the bus that would take the Dallas Cowboys to the airport.

There was one mistake, however, one blemish, that he lugged along, too.

On the very first play from scrimmage Monday night, Prescott fielded the snap and faked a handoff. New York Giants safety Antoine Bethea feigned as if he was going to shoot through an open gap in the Dallas offensive line. But Bethea stopped.

It was too late for Prescott, who had fired a pass left, intended for receiver Michael Gallup. Bethea plucked it out of the air. The Giants would get the ball at the Dallas 8-yard line just 11 seconds into the game.

“I seen him, I just thought he was going to keep coming down,” Prescott told USA TODAY Sports. “I should’ve handed the ball off to this (expletive) guy.”

Prescott tilted his head back, gesturing toward running back Ezekiel Elliott, who trailed two paces behind.

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The Dallas defense held and the Giants had to settle for a field goal. Eventually, the Cowboys settled, too. They went on to win the game, 37-18, after they scored 34 points in the final 30:52 of the game. But that turnover was emblematic of a larger problem facing the team.

Far too often, they have stumbled into slow starts. This marked the fifth time in eight games in which they have faced a deficit at any point in the second quarter. Against the Giants, who fell to 2-7, the early hole was surmountable. But as the Cowboys (5-3) launch their push to the postseason, and as their schedule tightens with tougher opponents, they might not be as fortunate.

“You saw the game,” Prescott continued. “Those guys weren’t beating us. It was us getting in our own damn way. When we’re rolling and doing what we do, there isn’t a team in the (expletive) league that can stop us. We just need to do what we did in the Eagles game, when we dominated from the opening snap because we didn’t commit no stupid turnovers or make any mistakes. We just took care of our own business and pounded them.”

The Cowboys committed 10 penalties for 104 yards. They converted just four of 11 (36.36%) third-down attempts. They scored touchdowns on just one of three trips inside the red zone.

Their first four possessions were the interception, a field goal, a missed field goal and a lost fumble.

Yet, they also outgained New York by a margin of 429-271. They sacked Giants rookie passer Daniel Jones five times. And they scored on five of their last seven drives.

“I don’t recommend it,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “But if you want a test of what your team is, see them not play well, make some mistakes, and if they can come from behind from that, that’ll tell you whether you’re a good or a bad team. I believe that.”

Jones is right. There is a certain measure of resiliency that can define a team when it shows an ability to come from behind to win games in which they trailed. And Dallas has plenty of stars to carry the team through their early malaises.

Prescott completed 22 of 35 passes for 257 yards and three scores, aside from the interception. He extended plays when he needed to, like when — in the face of the Giants pass rush late in the second quarter — he flushed right and gestured for tight end Blake Jarwin to cut upfield. Prescott wound up finding him for a 42-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

Elliott ran the ball 23 times for 139 yards with a steady barrage of chunk rushes. His longest attempt, despite the productive night, was only 19 yards. He flashed patience and waited for his offensive line to bore holes.

Receiver Amari Cooper caught four of seven targets for 80 yards and a score – a 45-yard grab that came on a 3rd-and-12 in the fourth quarter and sealed the game.

“We’ve got to get that cleaned up, absolutely,” tight end Jason Witten said. “It’s hard to win in this league, the margin is tight. And when you put yourself behind like that, it’s not as easy to overcome it. In a lot of ways, it shows the ability to handle adversity and regroup, but at the same time, we don’t have to start like that. I thought that was the best thing we did two weeks ago against the Eagles, but we still got to get that cleaned up. A lot of good things, but yeah, you’re right, we can’t do that as we move forward.”

The Cowboys now enter a stretch in which they host the 6-3 Minnesota Vikings next week, but then embark on a two-game road trip against the Detroit Lions (3-4-1) and the New England Patriots (8-1). Dallas, which holds a half-game lead on the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East, then hosts the 6-2 Buffalo Bills in Week 13.

It’s a stretch that could define the season.

“Some of those mistakes are ugly, yeah,” Prescott said. “But I will say this: these are things we can fix. We know how to play clean ball.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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