ARLINGTON, Texas – They tried their best, but the Cowboys didn't bite their tongues too much in the wake of Sunday's loss.
In a game that saw 10 costly penalties against them and an end-of-game fumble that went uncalled, the Cowboys made it clear how they felt about the officiating in this 25-22 defeat to Arizona.
"This crew is weekly high in officiating numbers and so we just tried to really illustrate that all week," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "But I think the timing of our penalties, for us personally, was something that was a challenge for us to overcome."
Credit to McCarthy, that was the diplomatic approach, though the frustration of his roster spilled over just a bit more. Asked after the game what McCarthy's message to his locker room was afterward, Leighton Vander Esch made it plain.
"We've got to keep battling with everybody, not just the other team – if you catch my drift," Vander Esch said.
This wasn't quite the 28-penalty debacle that played out on Thanksgiving, but it did feel familiar. In all, Scott Novak's officiating crew called 18 penalties on the day. Three of those came on Dallas offensive linemen on third downs in the first half, helping to stall Cowboys possessions. Another came on an Arizona 3rd-and-6, allowing the Cardinals to continue an eventual touchdown drive.
"We'll play against 11 and the others if we have to. I've become accustomed to it, honestly," said Dak Prescott. "I don't know if we ever get things to necessarily go our way, but we can't sit there and gripe about it and try to. You've just got to play the hand that you're dealt and try to overcome those things and don't put yourselves in those situations."
It's only fair to point out that some calls benefited the Cowboys, as well. Prescott had a bobbled ball get intercepted by Budda Baker, only for a defensive pass interference flag to call the play back. He would eventually find Michael Gallup for a touchdown six snaps later, cutting the score to 10-7.
Even still, the reaction of the Cowboys' locker room says plenty. Asked afterward about the message sent in a disappointing loss to a fellow playoff team, DeMarcus Lawrence's answer echoed Vander Esch's.
"I think the result said that we're still a good team, even though we was facing two teams tonight," he said. "The result ain't come out like we wanted it to."
His pass rush partner, Randy Gregory, had a similar comment.
"Playing against the refs again, like usual," he said. "It seems like an every week occurrence. We just have to tune that out and just deal with it."
Both of those things can be true. The Cowboys made it plain that they were frustrated with the way the game was called. It's still an example of an in-game obstacle that can be overcome, as Prescott said.
Perhaps it reads like an excuse, or perhaps it's simply players venting their frustrations in the wake of a disappointing loss. It is interesting, though, that the Cowboys – nearly to a man – didn't do much to mince words about the issue.
But again, to Prescott's point, all they can do is try to avoid a similar fate in the future.
"I think we've got to do a better job of trying to keep them out of it, but as I've said, I've become accustomed to it," Prescott said. "I understand wearing the star and what it means. Sometimes things don't go your way. That's alright, we're going to play the hand that we're dealt and try to overcome things.