DETROIT – Style points don't matter in the NFL, but it's still fair to say they were missing at Ford Field.
Officially, this goes down as a win in the all-important standings – the only stat that truly matters. Still, it's hard not to peep the box score and see a defensive performance that allowed 121 rushing yards to the Lions' ground game, or an average of eight yards per attempt from a backup quarterback in Jeff Driskel.
"We were doing ok, but I think we just gave up a lot of explosive plays and they kind of took that momentum," said Robert Quinn.
Momentum feels like a fitting word for this occasion. Even with an early turnover leading to a Detroit touchdown, the Cowboys entered halftime with a 24-14 lead and seemed to have control of the outcome.
That's what made it so disconcerting when Driskel and the Lions came out of the locker room and opened the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to cut the lead to 24-21. It felt like an announcement that this would not be a stress-free day.
And stress-free it was not. Following an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown catch to extend the Dallas lead to 35-21, Driskel got back to work – and much more quickly. He burned the Cowboys with his legs, scrambling for 23 yards, then found Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones for gains of 21 yards and 25 yards – and all of a sudden the Lions had cut the lead to 35-27 in just five plays.
"Today was a bad explosive day for us, so we can't constantly go out there and do that and expect to win, week in and week out," Quinn said.
Quinn seemed to be the only Cowboy who could get to the elusive Driskel, right up until the end of the game. Driskel carried the ball eight times for 51 yards on the day, gashing the Cowboys on both improvised runs and designed ones.
"The biggest issue was the quarterback movement," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "He was extending plays, getting out of the pocket on designed plays, getting out of the pocket on some good north-south runs. When you play a quarterback like that, it's so critical to somehow, some way hem him in."
It's worth nothing that Driskel was brought down in the backfield by Maliek Collins and Michael Bennett to kill Detroit's final drive of the day. But it'll undoubtedly be a point of emphasis moving forward.
Despite a 509-yard day, the Dallas offense had a hand in this equation, as well. Slow starts continue to be a problem for this team, and that was the case here.
Ezekiel Elliott fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, gifting the Lions a possession that started on the Cowboys' 28-yard line. Five plays later, former Cowboys running back Bo Scarbrough scored from five yards out to give the Lions a 7-0 lead – another indicator that this would not be a lopsided game.
With the New England Patriots waiting next week, Elliott acknowledged it's got to improve as the level of competition increases.
"We've definitely got to play better football. We can't come out the way we did," he said. "It's a great team we're going to play next week, and the effort we gave today isn't going to get it done."