ARLINGTON, Texas – In his first start for an injured Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton found himself in a situation all-too-similar to the Cowboys' first five games.
Playing from behind. Way behind.
Dalton's 54 pass attempts tied for the second-highest total in his 134 career starts. He went 34-of-54 for 266 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, both leading to Cardinals touchdowns in Monday's 38-10 loss to Arizona at AT&T Stadium.
Pass-heavy catch-up mode wasn't the plan for the Cowboys without Prescott, who faces a tentative four-to-six-month recovery after recent surgery for a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle suffered in Week 5 against the Giants. But two fumbles by Ezekiel Elliott on Monday resulted in a pair of Cardinals touchdowns and a 21-0 Arizona lead late in the first half.
Dalton's two turnovers also led to Arizona points, though the offense wanted a defensive pass interference penalty that wasn't called during his first interception on the opening drive of the second half.
"You want to start early and get into a rhythm," Dalton said. "We had a couple three-and-outs and we had a good drive together, but unfortunately we had a turnover there. I felt like we moved the ball and did some good things early on. We just kept handing it to them, and the start of the second half, same thing.
"There's some good things that we can take away, but there's a lot of areas that we need to improve. I think it's one of those things where everybody has to look at themselves. I've got to be better. I've got to do a better job out there and giving our guys chances."
Turnovers have been a major problem for Dallas all season. So have injuries. All-Pro guard Zack Martin suffered a concussion in the first half and did not return, leaving left guard Connor Williams as the only experienced starting offensive lineman.
The young and depleted line battled all game through an unexpected 54 dropbacks, a direct result of the deficit. But Dalton was sacked three times, hit eight times, and didn't look comfortable for most of the night against Arizona's blitzing defense.
Asked to assess Dalton's game, head coach Mike McCarthy focused on the team's collective struggles.
"I think we all understand what the score is. We didn't play very well on offense, defense or special teams and most importantly, I didn't coach very well," McCarthy said.
At 2-4, the Cowboys still have a half-game lead in the NFC East. They will press forward with Dalton, who has more experience than any NFL backup quarterback this year.
He has been in this position before, and he plans to adjust.
"There's things that I could do better, and I know that," he said. "It's one of those things where I'm always going to be my worst critic. I'm going to go watch the film and see what I can do to help this team. At the end of the day, everyone has to do the same thing. We have to look at ourselves and say, 'What can I do to make me a better player that will help us win these games and give us a chance.'"