Might the result of Dallas' defeat to Seattle on Sunday night have been different if Earl Thomas had been wearing a Cowboys jersey instead of a Seahawks one? Maybe. But conversely, the Cowboys' problems might be bigger than one All-Pro free safety could begin to fix.
The original plan at CenturyLink Field on a spectacular afternoon, before it all went to hell, was to write for the seventh and possibly world-record time, “Why Earl Thomas Should Be a Cowboy.” Then came a vision, and, lo, it was terrible.
Even Earl Thomas couldn’t fix what’s the matter with this team, every flaw of which was on display in a 24-13 loss to the Seahawks before 69,047.
This looked like more than just another bad loss. It looked like the beginning of the end.
You may be thinking: Typical overreaction. Every NFL team has this kind of game. Just Sunday, the Vikings lost at home to the Bills, a 17-point dog, in the biggest NFL upset in 23 years. In other freakish news Sunday, Washington stomped the Packers, the Titans beat the Jaguars in a game without a touchdown and Eli Manning rose from the dead in Houston.
The problem is, this pitiful performance by the Cowboys wasn’t exactly an anomaly. We saw essentially the same thing in Carolina, and it’s been a recurring symptom since last year.
Frankly, if you’re looking for a fluke, last week’s win over the Giants feels more like it.
By the numbers, anyway, Jason Garrett had never been 1-2 before Sunday, not even in the 8-8 years.
Not even when he went 4-12.
No, I don’t think this season will sink as low as it did in 2015, when Jordan Hicks broke Tony Romo’s collarbone in Game 3. But 8-8 looks fairly optimistic now. So how does Jerry Jones keep Garrett if it comes to that again? How does an offense go from dominant to defunct?
How does Dak Prescott devolve from his rookie season to this?
Seems safe to say at this point in his career that Dak is routinely inaccurate under duress, a problem for the “world’s greatest offensive line,” which can’t keep him clean. Dak was sacked five times by the Seahawks and six by the Panthers. Neither game result was good. This has all the earmarks of a trend.
The zone read option that worked so well against the Giants? Dak ran twice for 21 yards Sunday.
Let’s hear no more comparisons with Russell Wilson, either. We saw Wilson up close Sunday. Saw him face pressure. Saw Wilson put a ball on Brandon Marshall’s wing that couldn’t have been better placed in a power-point presentation.
Bottom line: I have seen Dak Prescott, and he is no Russell Wilson.
As a result, the offense was once again meager. “Disjointed,” as Jerry put it. Especially in the first half, when the tone was set. Dak threw for 40 yards while the Seahawks took a 17-3 lead that seemed insurmountable.
Asked if the offense’s continuing problems concerned him going forward, Jerry called it “a good question.” Unfortunately, he offered only hollow assurances about getting it “on the right track.”
What makes him think they can do that now?
“I’ve seen the makeup of this group,” Jerry said. “I’ve seen the talent level.”
Me, too, only I’m not feeling so chipper.
Even when the Cowboys got a little fancy, at least for Scott Linehan, it didn’t work. Zeke Elliott dropped one pass and screwed up Dak’s best play by stepping out of bounds before catching what would have been a much-needed touchdown.
And on a day when Zeke went for 127 yards on just 16 carries, the Cowboys lost by 11. Going into Sunday, the Cowboys were 10-2 when Zeke broke 100. Even when he got loose against the Seahawks, the results weren’t always good. A 26-yard run late resulted in a fumble and the end of the Cowboys’ chances, such as they were.
Used to be, when the running game worked, the Cowboys won. But that’s not enough anymore. It wasn’t enough Sunday because the defense broke after setting a formidable standard in the first two games.
Unfair or not, here’s a snapshot hard to forget: Randy Gregory, a player the Cowboys have coddled, as is their nature, takes a shot at a Seahawk directly in front of an official. The subsequent 15-yard penalty gave Sebastian Janikowski enough room to kick a 47-yard field goal before the half.
“That,” Garrett said, “was a poor play.”
When the Cowboys weren’t being stupid, they looked inept far too often. A depleted secondary couldn’t hang with Wilson. On a second-quarter touchdown, Kavon Frazier, one of several young safeties trying to make do, lost Tyler Lockett, who went 52 yards for a touchdown.
Let me ask: Do you think Earl Thomas would have diagnosed that play?
Don’t bother answering. I give up. No more Earl columns. Promise.
Just the same, did you notice he had two picks Sunday, which is two more than the Cowboys have for the season? Did you see after the second one, when he walked toward the Cowboys bench and bowed?
Last time he played the Cowboys, he begged them to come get him. This time, he showed them what they missed.
True enough, Earl. As your quarterback said, you’re the greatest. And it still wouldn’t be enough.