INDIANAPOLIS – Dak Prescott can't recall ever being shut out in his football career, from Pop Warner on. The last time it happened to the Dallas Cowboys franchise was 2003, twice, in the middle of a playoff season.
A division title is still within reach for this 2018 team. But Sunday's 23-0 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts was one to forget.
For Prescott, the scoreless performance on offense boiled down to one simple fact.
"We never gave ourselves a chance," he said.
The Cowboys' starting quarterback repeated the phrase at least five times during his post-game interview. And he had a point.
The offense had three drives of at least 10 plays in the first half and came up empty:
- The Colts blocked Brett Maher's 48-yard field goal try on the opening possession.
- Next drive, Dallas drove inside the Colts' 10, but fullback Jamize Olawale dropped a pass from Prescott at the goal line on third down. Indianapolis stopped running back Ezekiel Elliott on fourth-and-1 from the 3.
- Just before halftime the offense reached the Colts' 37, but on third down Prescott took a sack for a 10-yard loss that knocked them out of long field goal range.
The Cowboys (8-6) dominated time of possession against the Colts (8-6) in the first half, 19:18 to 10:42. According to NFL Research, that's the longest a team has held the ball without scoring in the first half since Green Bay (20:14) in the 2017 season opener.
"We were moving the ball on offense," said Elliott, who rushed 18 times for 87 yards and had a team-best seven catches for 41 yards. "We didn't finish our drives."
The offense looked to be in business on the opening drive of the third quarter, too. On fourth-and-2, Prescott found wide receiver Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23. But a holding call on center Joe Looney wiped out the play and Dallas punted again.
The closest they got the rest of the game was the Colts' 29, where Prescott threw an interception with 3:23. By then the game was likely out of reach.
"A competitor never wants to get shut out," said Prescott, who completed 24 of 39 passes for 206 yards. "The shutout definitely hurts. The shutout pisses you off, especially when you're down there early in the red zone and you have opportunities to score and you don't."
The Cowboys' season-long inconsistency in the red zone continued even during their recent five-game win streak. They scored touchdowns on only eight of 17 trips in victories over the Eagles (twice), Falcons, Redskins and Saints.
"We've just got to find a way to get in the end zone," Prescott said. "And when you don't, you give a team like that momentum."
Complicating matters was yet another injury to the offensive line. Starting left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo injured his eye on the failed fourth-down attempt at the 3 and did not return. Adam Redmond replaced him. Rookie Connor Williams started at right guard for offensive captain Zack Martin (sprained knee).
The loss wasn't solely on the offense. Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts played balanced, efficient football: 192 passing yards from Luck, 178 rushing yards. The Cowboys' defense had allowed only 66 rushing yards per game during the five-game win streak.
But the offense was frustrated that they didn't do their part just a week after looking dominant in a 29-23 overtime win over the Eagles.
"The 'L' matters more than anything. But an offense like ours should never be shut out," Beasley said. "That's something we've got to go and look at and see what we can do better."