EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Confounding as this defensive performance was, DeMarcus Lawrence seemed to think it was self-explanatory.
True to his personality, he was pretty blunt about it, too.
"We know what the hell happened today, we beat ourselves just like last week," he said.
All due credit to the New York Jets, but it sure felt that way. Even though Sam Darnold was absent for the last month, this was an offense that had scored just two touchdowns entering Week 6 – and they managed to top that before halftime of this game.
Some of that was Darnold's excellence, as the second-year signal-caller carved the Cowboys up for 338 yards. The Cowboys also did their best to help him out, as the Dallas defense accounted for six of the team's eight penalties – including four back-breakers on the Jets' first touchdown drive.
"Penalties, offsides – just giving up free yards," Lawrence said.
The list goes on and on. The Cowboys struggled to put pressure on Darnold, which is concerning given that the Jets had allowed a league-high 23 sacks coming into the game. Granted, he used a lot of quick throws, but Darnold was able to find seven different receivers at all levels of the defense.
The most damning of all those completions was obviously the second quarter throw to Jets receiver Robby Anderson – who beat the cornerback coverage, then evaded Jeff Heath's safety help en route to a gut punch of a 92-yard touchdown.
"That's not an elite defense," said Jaylon Smith. "We know what we want to be, we know what we're capable of. We've got to go out and do it on game day."
It was the longest play in the NFL this season, and, quite simply, it's the type of broken play we haven't seen often from Rod Marinelli's "bend, don't break" defenses. It took all of 12 seconds, and – at the risk of exaggerating – it felt like it may have swung the fortunes of the Cowboys' entire season.
If the Cowboys are going to prove that to be untrue, their response in the midst of a three-game losing streak is going to be important.
"Having been there before, it's the one thing that you learn about adversity and it's a message that we've already had the opportunity to share: adversity does not build character, it reveals character," said Kris Richard.
His players seem to agree with Richard's words of wisdom. Several Cowboys defenders were asked on Sunday if their lapses were a result of poor preparation on the coaches' parts. To a man, they disagreed.
"At the end of the day, we're the ones out there playing," Smith said. "The coaches, they prepare us the right way. For us it's just about going out on game day and actually putting it to work."
It's still fairly early in the season, but it's easy to call this a trend by now. The Cowboys have played some inspired defense at times. But with the lone exception of the Week 4 loss to the Saints, they've also shown alarming displays of ineptitude in every game this season.
"We've got three unacceptable losses, period," Lawrence said. "There ain't no answer for how we played out there, and we understand what we need to do."
As usual, delivers a pretty good point in a matter that only he could. The Cowboys have a lot of issues to sort out, and talking about it isn't going to soothe anyone's concerns. Richard called them a "work in progress," and it's on them to show that progress.
For the time being, it's another missed opportunity, as the Cowboys clearly possess plenty of talent, but have done little to meet that potential.
"We've got to start playing like it," Lawrence said. "Like I said earlier, we're beating ourselves. That's it. Last week, we beat ourselves, the week before we beat ourselves, this week we beat ourselves. Now it's time to buckle down and go to work."