IRVING, Texas – The 24-hour rule is in effect. It simply has to be this week.
As frustrating as the Cowboys' 30-21 loss to the Chargers was on Sunday, it's time to move on – even if the task ahead is even more daunting.
Philip Rivers just torched the Cowboys for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Now comes arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and clearly the hottest passer in the NFL right now.
Enter Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos, who are steamrolling through the league right now with a 4-0 record after Sunday's 52-20 trouncing of the Eagles.
Manning has thrown 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
So what's the plan for a Cowboys defense that couldn't stop Rivers and a Chargers attack of Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen? Now come Manning, Wes Welker and a passing attack of Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.
"First things first … the first thing we have to do is clean up what happened in yesterday's game," head coach Jason Garrett said in Monday's press conference. "[The Chargers] did a lot of things in the game that were good. They run the ball effectively and they made some big-time plays in the game. We didn't keep up with them. We didn't play the way we've been playing. But now the next challenge is Peyton Manning, who has been on a roll for a long, long time. He might be playing as well as he's ever played. It'll be a great challenge for our team." [embedded_ad]
Garrett, who was still playing for the Cowboys when Manning entered the league in 1998, gave the Broncos passer the highest of praise Monday.
"He's playing quarterback at maybe the highest level it's ever been played," Garrett said. "He's been doing it for 15 years. He's a fantastic player. His understanding of the game is second to none; his command is second to none. His ability to positively impact the people around him is second to none, and physically, he's awfully good. He throws it where he wants to over and over and over again. He throws it on time, is accurate, and has an ability to make a ton of big plays and make very few bad plays. So, he's playing as high a level as the game's ever been played."
The Cowboys have faced Manning four times during his time with the Colts, posting a 2-2 record, including the last two victories in 2006 and 2010. The 2006 meeting at Texas Stadium saw Tony Romo in his fourth career start face a Manning-led Colts team that was 9-0. But Romo out-dueled Manning that day and led the Cowboys to a 21-14 win over the eventual Super Bowl champs.
In 2010, the Cowboys beat Manning and the Colts in overtime, 38-35 up in Indianapolis. Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick both had interceptions for touchdowns. Lee, who scored his second pick-six on Sunday in San Diego, also picked off Manning in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal.
Manning and the Colts beat the Cowboys in 1999 and 2002, with both games played in Indy.
But what Manning is doing in Denver is even better than anything he did through four games with the Colts. And it's much better than what the Cowboys faced Sunday in San Diego.
The Cowboys were coming off an impressive defensive performance against the Rams the previous game, limiting St. Louis to just seven points. And although Lee's touchdown return gave the Cowboys a 21-10 lead, the bottom fell out of the defense, which allowed 300 yards of offense over the Chargers' next four offensive possessions. The backbreaker was a 52-yard bomb from Rivers to Gates to put San Diego in front, 30-21, in the final minutes.
Now, Garrett's biggest challenge is getting his players to block out Sunday's loss and get ready for an even bigger task at hand.
"We like to be consistent in our approach, regardless of what happened the previous play, the previous series and the previous game," Garrett said. "That's what we preach as coaches – you're going to be challenged every time you break the huddle."
One of the players who struggled the most on Sunday was linebacker Bruce Carter, who allowed two touchdown passes to Woodhead out of the backfield. Carter was replaced by Ernie Sims in the nickel defense, a scheme the Cowboys played primarily in the second half. However, both Garrett and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said Carter was "not benched" and the club wanted to rotate Sims in the game for that defense.
Carter is expected to remain in the starting lineup although the Cowboys might indeed make more changes in the nickel defense and other sub-packages.
Whatever changes are made, the Cowboys will need to be at their best. As tough as last Sunday was, it's only the warm-up to the NFL's elite offense, which strolls into town this weekend.