GLENDALE, Ariz. — It's something that plagued the Dallas Cowboys in 2022, but they were able to mostly get a handle on and, to begin the 2023 season, a category that they've performed well in through the first two weeks of football. But in their third contest, a matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, the wheels came off in a big way; and yes, it's a discussion about penalties.
In the 28-16 loss to the Cardinals, the Cowboys logged 13 enforced penalties for a total of 107 yards, flagged for several more that were not enforced/accepted by the Cardinals, in what became a laundromat of a game between the two clubs.
"We've got to be disciplined," said running back Tony Pollard. "It's hard to beat teams when you're beating yourself like that, with so many penalties. We've just got to be better."
In comparison, the Cowboys had only 11 total penalties in the first two games combined.
This at least provides optimism that it was simply a bad day all-around — defensively, offensive red zone execution, etc. — that can be cleaned up going forward. But in a league where every win matters, it feels as if the Cowboys let one get away in the desert and that was fueled largely by flags that killed drives entirely or held Dallas to field goal attempts.
"It was tough," said quarterback Dak Prescott. "Penalties plus being on the road, it's never easy. We dug ourselves into some holes on different drives. We were able to overcome some of them, but even when you're able to overcome them, you're making it harder on yourself and you're taking yourself out of rhythm.
"It was tough and we didn't come away with what we wanted to."
It's a sentiment that head coach Mike McCarthy agrees with.
"We didn't have enough today," he said. "The discipline and the penalties, it was difficult to deal with."
And as it literally often goes in the desert: when it rains, it pours.
Not only did the Cowboys find themselves heavily penalized, but when they needed the flags to fly in their favor the most, they didn't. One example being a target from Prescott to CeeDee Lamb on third down to the right side of the end zone that the team argued was defensive pass interference, but the officials disagreed.
So instead of being awarded 1st-and-goal from the Cardinals' one-yard line, they were forced to settle for one of Brandon Aubrey's three field goals on the day.
In the fourth quarter, trailing 28-16 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation and operating from the Cardinals' 18-yard line, Prescott dropped back and targeted Michael Gallup in the same spot of the end zone and a flag was thrown for defensive pass interference.
It was then picked up, and no penalty was assessed. Prescott would go on to throw his first interception of the season, and the Cardinals proceeded to put the game away thereafter.
Asked about the two no-calls, McCarthy opted to not weigh in publicly.
"I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to speak on it, but I'm not going to," he said.
It's a game that was not lost simply due to the rash of penalties, seeing as they also allowed several big plays on defense as well as 222 rushing yards, but it's also true that the pile of laundry thrown their way made climbing out of the hole that much more difficult.
There's plenty for the Cowboys to sort through, and after seeing so much yellow, it's understandable why the coaching staff would be seeing red this week.