Dallas Cowboys believe they still have hope

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Dallas Cowboys led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were looking forward to a better season in 2018. So far it is not working out that way (Image via Flickr Keith Ellison CC 2.0)

By Dwain Price

ARLINGTON – With an excellent chance to inch closer to the mountain top spot in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys fell like a rock. A very hard rock.

Coming off a bye week and playing at home on Monday Night Football while having two weeks to prepare to play a below average Tennessee football team, the Cowboys stumbled their way to an embarrassing 28-14 loss to the Titans before a stunned crowd of 90,466 at AT&T Stadium. The loss dropped the Cowboys to 3-5 at the season’s midway point and put them two games behind the Washington Redskins (5-3) in the heated race for first place in the NFC East.

Actually, Dallas was in prime position to possibly put the game against the Titans away in the first quarter. The Cowboys were nestled in the red zone three times in the opening quarter, but the only thing they had to show for it was a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dak Prescott to new wide receiver Amari Cooper.

On the Cowboys’ two other first-quarter possessions in the red zone, Brett Maher missed a 38-yard field goal and Prescott inexplicably tossed an interception in the end zone. Those pair of missteps gave the Titans new life.

“I think the main thing is we had two no-scores in the red zone,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said, while summing up this devastating loss. “It’s hard to win a game in the NFL if you have two no-scores (in the red zone).

“We can’t leave points on the field. We came out hot, but we didn’t finish.”

The team that did finish – the Titans – broke loose from a 14-14 tie at intermission by scoring twice in the second half while turning the Cowboys’ life completely upside down.

“No one wants to come out of the bye week or any week with a loss,” defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. “So the frustration is high.

“So we’ve got to go into the lab, see what we did wrong and fix it going into next week.”

It was obviously mind-boggling to see the Cowboys fall flat with so much at stake.

“It’s shocking,” Crawford said. “We started off fast, we (forced) some turnovers and we were excited.”

But that excitement was tempered by the fact the Cowboys couldn’t seize the moment, couldn’t find the end zone and couldn’t put away a Tennessee team that entered the game sporting a three-game losing streak.

“On the defensive side of the ball we don’t worry about that,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said in reference to the missed scoring opportunities. “All we do is control what we can control, and that’s getting turnovers, getting off the field.

“We didn’t get off the field on third downs (Monday) and that’s something that we prided ourselves on, but we were unsuccessful.”

Tennessee was a remarkable 11-of-14 on third down situations and rode that efficiency all the way to the winner’s circle.

The Titans staggered the Cowboys’ defense with a textbook 15-play, 80-yard drive that consumed nearly nine minutes in the first half to tie the game at 7-7. And Tennessee sealed this one with 4:38 remaining when quarterback Marcus Mariota scrambled nine yards to paydirt to complete an eight-play, 64-yard drive.

“I thought we did some good things in this game, really in all three phases of our team,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It was certainly not good enough.

“We had some early opportunities that we didn’t cash in on, got some takeaways. Over the course of the game they just did a much better job on third down, they were able to stay on the field repeatedly on third down and some long down-and-distance situations.”

The Cowboys’ newest wide receiver, Cooper, finished the game with five receptions for 58 yards and that short TD catch. Elliott, meanwhile, was held to 61 yards on 17 carries.

Also, Prescott was 21-of-31 for 243 yards, a pair of touchdowns and that critical interception in the end zone when he threw into double-coverage while trying to locate Cooper.

“It’s just as simple as I tried to force the ball,” Prescott said. “They added in guys in my face and I just have to throw the ball out the back of the end zone at that point. I just forced it.

“Our defense got us a turnover there, we’re up seven points. I go down there and try to force that ball and give it right back to them. It’s a 14-point swing. They go down there and get a touchdown and tie it up. That’s the difference right there — 14 points.”

To a man, the Cowboys know they can’t keep blowing games if they have designs on winning the NFC East.

“We were in a rhythm early and for whatever reason we couldn’t get into that rhythm in the second half,” right guard Zack Martin said. “But we’re only two games back with eight games to play.

“There’s a lot of football left. That’s what we’ve got to focus on. One week at a time and chip away at this thing and we’ll have a shot at it.”

While that may be true, the Cowboys hit the road to play the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at 7:20 p.m. in a contest that classifies as a must-win game.

“We’re not out of it,” Elliott said. “We’re only two games behind the division.

“We have a lot of ball left. We just got to figure out fast how to get things right.”

A trip to the lab – as Crawford suggested — just may do the trick.

“I didn’t expect to be here with a 3-5 record, so it’s very tough,” Prescott said. “We’ve got to do better and it starts with me. It starts with me first all the way.

“I’m very disappointed coming off the bye week cleaning things up. I felt good going into this one, and to come out with this loss and be 3-5 is very disappointing.”