Desperation can oftentimes play a major factor in the NFL games. The Cowboys saw that last Sunday as the Cardinals staved off starting 0-3 by outplaying Dallas from start to finish on Sunday. The loss dropped the Cowboys to 2-1 on the season. Now, let's see where they are this week, playing a Patriots team that also avoided an 0-3 start by beating the Jets.
New England not only brings in one of the greatest NFL coaches ever in Bill Belichick, but a familiar face in Ezekiel Elliott, who signed with the Pats before the season.
As we get ready for Sunday's game at AT&T Stadium (3:25 p.m. kickoff), here are the 10 big storylines for the week, with five for the Patriots and five for the Cowboys.
- Patriots avoid 0-3 start – After two losses to begin the season, the Patriots were able to control the Jets for most of the game, and then hold on to a dramatic 15-10 win over their AFC East rivals on the road. The game was ugly, not just with the rainy conditions, but sloppy play that resulted in a lot of mistakes. The Patriots were able to get the win, heading into Dallas with a chance to get back to. 500.
- Zeke's return – One of the more polarizing players in Cowboys history – Ezekiel Elliott – returns to face his former team this Sunday. Not only will it be the first meeting for Zeke against the Cowboys, but he comes back fresh off his best game of the season. Against the Jets, the Patriots found some room to run, led by Zeke's 80 yards on 16 carries. That was against a Jets defense that allowed 134 yards to the Cowboys, but held Tony Pollard to 72 yards on 25 carries.
- Rallying behind Mac Jones – In his third year as the starter for the Patriots, Jones has yet to find some consistency the Patriots would've hoped. Then again, replacing one of the most consistent/productive quarterbacks in NFL history in Tom Brady is nearly impossible for anyone. Right now, Jones at least led the Patriots to a win, but it didn't come without some controversy as a low-blow hit on Jets CB Sauce Gardner could result in a fine, but the NFL has said there will not be a suspension.
- Judon on Micah's level? – Although Matthew Judon doesn't get the same attention of Micah Parsons, he's tied with the Cowboys pass-rusher for fourth in the NFL with four sacks after three games. Since signing with the Patriots in 2021, Judon has accumulated 32 sacks in 37 games played with the Patriots. Parsons has 30.5 career sacks in 36 games with the Cowboys.
- Hanging onto the ball – Like just about every team in the NFL, turnovers can be problematic for the Patriots, resulting directly in the Win-Loss column. In New England's two home losses to the Eagles and Dolphins, they turned the ball over four times, including one pick-six against the Eagles' Darius Slay. Last week against the Jets, despite the sloppy conditions, they did not turn the ball over once, and were able to sneak away with a much-needed win.
- Shoring up run defense … again – This was a problem last year for the Cowboys, who made sure to re-sign veteran DT Johnathan Hankins in the offseason and draft Mazi Smith as well. But after two good weeks of stopping the run, the Cowboys struggled mightily against the Cardinals, who racked up 222 yards on the ground, including a startling 182 yards in the first half alone. The Cowboys now face a Patriots-team that rushed for over 150 yards last week, 80 of that coming from Ezekiel Elliott, who undoubtedly will be chomping at the bit to play well against his former team.
- Red-zone struggles continue – The Cowboys had little problems scoring against the Giants in Week 1, but in the last weeks, finding the end zone has been an issue, especially in the red zone. The Cowboys were 2-of-6 against the Jets, settling for four field goals. Last week, the Cowboys were just 1-of-5, including two turnovers. When they get inside the 20, the Cowboys have to figure out how to either be more creative in the passing game, or get some consistency in the running game.
- Getting healthy on O-line? – Losing a starter on the offensive line is part of football. Losing two at one time can be a problem, but three for one week? That proved to be too much for the Cowboys to handle, especially with the red-zone issues in the running game. It's not like it was any three players, but three Pro Bowl caliber guys, including a pair of future Hall of Famers in Zack Martin and Tyron Smith. All three were listed as questionable to play on the final injury report, meaning they have a decent shot of returning this week against the Patriots.
- Getting Dak on track again – After leading the NFL in interceptions last season with 15, Prescott had not thrown a pick in the first two games or first 11 quarters to be exact. But needing two scores late in the fourth quarter Sunday in Arizona, Prescott forced the ball into triple-coverage and was intercepted by the Cardinals to seal the game. That of course, has brought back the chatter of the offseason regarding Dak's interceptions. But more than the lone interception, Prescott has not thrown a TD pass to a wide receiver this year, only finding tight ends twice and a running back.
- Bounce-back games – At this point in the season, you can still look back at last year for a point of reference. The Cowboys at least hope the trend continues from 2022, where they were able to avenge a loss the following week every time. In fact, of the five losses, the Cowboys not only won the next game, but all of them were against teams with winning records. Some of their best games of the season –winning at Minnesota, outlasting the Eagles at home and beating the Bucs in the playoffs on the road – all came directly after a loss the previous week.