FRISCO, Texas – It was a small moment in a flabbergasting game, but it was clearly something that stood out to Mike McCarthy.
Of all the wreckage he had to pick through in his team's 25-3 loss to Washington, the Cowboys' first-year head coach made sure to mention the tackle that ended Andy Dalton's afternoon.
Specifically, he talked about the aftermath of the tackle – or the lack thereof, as Jon Bostic's vicious hit on the Cowboys' quarterback didn't seem to elicit much of a response from his teammates.
"We speak all the time about playing for one another, protecting one another. Definitely, it was probably not the response you would expect," McCarthy said.
Perhaps it's unfair to harp on one moment from a three-hour football game. But for a team that has struggled to be competitive these last two weeks, it's understandable if it feels indicative.
Facing a 3rd-and-10 on his own three-yard line midway through the third quarter, Dalton scrambled out of the pocket and dashed for six yards before sliding down to avoid contact. And he would've avoided contact, had Bostic not lowered his shoulder to blast him in the head as he was in the process of sliding.
McCarthy's response summed the situation up when he was asked if he thought it was a dirty hit.
"The player was disqualified from the game, so I think we all understand clearly what a hit is categorized," he said.
It's a strange thing to say, because no one wants to advocate violence. But it did feel strange that, other than a couple of players jogging over to check on Dalton, Bostic didn't receive much in the way of pushback on his way off the field and out of the game.
And if it feels a bit unfair to make that judgment, talking to Cowboys' players after the game revealed that they agree with the assessment.
"I think you can say that's fair," said Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott did qualify with a worthwhile point – which is that the Cowboys weren't going to dig themselves out of a 22-3 hole by getting their own players ejected. Still, he allowed that there's probably a balance they could have struck in that situation.
"If you go in there and throw a punch and you get kicked out the game, you can't help the team from the sideline. You can't help the team from the locker room," he said. "So we've got to find a way to not cross that line, but we've still got to protect our guys."
It's not to suggest that this moment is why the Cowboys lost the game. There's a laundry list of reasons for why this game never truly seemed to be close, and why this team has now been outscored, 63-13, in the last two weeks.
But it's still a jarring example of the lack of cohesion the Cowboys seem to be playing with. To hear it from their team leaders, it's something that needs to be addressed as they look for a way forward from here.
"If we ain't in this all together as one band, s* creeps in like this," said DeMarcus Lawrence. "It's really all about us finding trust into each other, us believing the system, us fighting for each other as a brotherhood and really shaping some things up."
And if that sentiment doesn't clear things up, Lawrence's next one probably will. There are a lot of things that need to be improved, but to hear it from the Cowboys, it could stand to start with their own approach.
"We need more belief, more high spirits around this team and really more fight," Lawrence said. "That's really one of our weaknesses. We need to build a stronger backbone, fight and also make sure that we're doing everything possible to come out with a victory."