By Dwain Price
One-fourth of the way through the 2020 season, the Dallas Cowboys are setting some memorable franchise records. But unfortunately for the Cowboys, they’re the kind of records they would rather not be associated with.
Despite having their top rusher leave Sunday’s game in the first half for good with an injury, the Cleveland Browns rushed for a whopping 307 yards and went on to defeat the stunned Cowboys, 49-38, at AT&T Stadium. That’s the most yards rushing the Cowboys have ever allowed in a game.
With the loss, the Cowboys have now allowed 146 points in their first four games. That’s the most points they’ve ever allowed after the first four games of the season.
Also, the Cowboys have given up at least 38 points in each of the last three games. And that’s the first time that’s happened in franchise history.
“I’m disappointed,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “When your team performs and makes similar mistakes – four weeks is a pattern. So this pattern needs to stop and that starts with leadership.
“Now that we have four games under our belt, we need to start games better. I think we need to do a better job bringing our preparation to the performance, and that starts with me.”
At the end of the first quarter of Sunday’s game, the Cowboys led 14-7. But the Browns reeled off 34 unanswered points and assumed a massive 41-14 lead entering the fourth quarter before a late Cowboys’ rally fell short.
“This falls at my feet, it’s my responsibility,” McCarthy said. “The application to details did not exist (Sunday) in certain spots of the game.
“There was a lot of good football that will totally go unrecognized. That’s what happens when you lose. What I don’t like is I don’t like the pattern of the four games that we’ve played. The points are outrageous, the time of possession is totally lopsided.”
And that’s not all.
“We came out the gate soft,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “It’s just all about having some grit.
“We’ve got to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We’ve got to play together as one, and I don’t feel like we’re holding ourselves accountable, including myself. So, I call (the Cowboys’ performance)) soft and we’ll get better from it.”
The Browns led 31-14 at the half. That’s the most points the Cowboys have ever allowed in the first half of a game at AT&T Stadium, breaking the record 29 points they allowed the Atlanta Falcons to score on them in the first half just two weeks ago.
The loss dropped the Cowboys to 1-3, but just half-a-game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) for first place in the abysmal NFC East. It also over-shadowed another terrific performance from quarterback Dak Prescott, who completed 41 of 58 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns.
It’s the third straight game Prescott has passed for at least 450 yards in a game, as he became the first quarterback in NFL history to accomplish this feat.
“I’d give all those yards back for a different record,” Prescott said. “I care about one stat — and that’s to win. When we don’t do that, no other stats matter.”
What also matters to Prescott is the inordinate amount of turnovers the Cowboys are committing that puts the defense in an uncompromised position. It happened again Sunday when fumbles by Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott on consecutive plays quickly shifted the game’s momentum and led to a pair of first-half touchdowns by the Browns.
“We keep hurting ourselves on offense, putting our defense in a bad spot, and not starting fast enough, and that’s what’s been killing us over the past few games, and once again it’s what hurt us (Sunday),” Prescott said. “That’s definitely frustrating. We’re just making mistakes over and over again.”
And they wind up being extremely costly mistakes.
“That’s the frustrating part, just how we’re starting and then just seeing how well we’re playing towards the end,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to come out from the jump. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Because the Cowboys repeatedly fall so far behind, they wind up attempting more passes and thus don’t get many chances to utilize Elliott’s abilities to rush the ball, work the clock and kept their anemic defense off the field. Elliott had just 12 carries for 54 yards, and also collected eight receptions for 71 yards.
“If we stay up in the game and we get the game in our hands, we’re going to feed Zeke,” Prescott said. “We’re going to allow him to run the ball and do what he does best and show that he’s one of the best backs in the NFL.
“But when you get down, you’ve got to work against the time, and that usually calls for you to throw the ball. With the receivers and playmakers we have, it just takes the ball out of his hands.”
On the other side, the Browns averaged an amazing 7.7 yards per rushing attempt and racked up 509 total yards.
“We did not stop the run,” McCarthy said. “You give up 300 yards rushing, that’s just poor run defense. There’s no way around it.
“We have a defense that fits our players. Communication needs to be cleaner. We need to get set cleaner and we’ve got to tackle.”
The Cowboys will try and tackle their issues head-on and turn their season around this Sunday when they host the New York Giants at 3:25 p.m.
“We’ve got great leaders, and that starts with coach McCarthy,” Prescott said. “He’s one of those coaches that it hurts when you lose a game like this. It hurts that you let him down.
“You’re more hurt that you disappointed him, and you’d rather him be mad at you. He comes in each and every day and leads the right way, and we have to be better executing on the field for him and the rest of the coaches.”