ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Getting in the Christmas spirit is one thing, but there's always a line to draw, especially when you're giving away more than you can afford.
That's exactly what the Cowboys fell into Sunday in Buffalo. They just kept giving. The Bills kept taking. And by the end of the day, the Cowboys found themselves completely dominated by a Bills team that looked quicker, stronger, hungrier and definitely ready to tear into their Christmas presents under the tree.
And lucky for them, they had plenty. There was definitely a theme to this game, and it wasn't the weather. It was more like:
To: Buffalo, From: Dallas
Man, the Cowboys were just giving things to the Bills left and right, usually in the form of a penalty. Hey, in no way am I saying that the Bills didn't completely dominate this game and whip the Cowboys up and down. They took full advantage of the opportunities provided to them.
They definitely ran the ball better. They stopped the ball better. They executed a little better in the passing game, and most importantly, they limited the penalties, only getting called for one.
Actually, looking at the final stat sheet, it's a little surprising to see just five penalties for 48 yards against the Cowboys. The flags felt more like 10-12, but that's just because the ones called on Dallas were definitely game-changers.
Forget five penalties for 48 yards. More like five penalties for 21 points. That's not as easy to equate, but it's probably pretty close.
On the first drive of the game, the Bills are marching down the field, but on third down, Josh Allen gets pressured, rolls to his right and heaves the ball to the guy in the first row. But no, forget the field-goal unit because DeMarcus Lawrence is flagged for a personal foul for shoving Allen in the chest after the play. Allen might be ready for Hollywood after the way he fell to the ground, but it worked. Personal foul on "Tank" and the Bills get a first down and eventually score for a 7-0 lead. We'll give that penalty four points.
On the next drive, the Cowboys were finally on the move and Dak Prescott was hit after he slid to the ground, drawing a personal foul on the Bills. But instead of moving it 15 yards down the field, Zack Martin came in to "protect" his quarterback and shoved the guy to the ground. That just completely wiped out that set of 15 yards. And even though CeeDee Lamb got a 15-yard reception on the very next play, perhaps the Cowboys would've still had that gain and gotten themselves in range to score.
If we're not going to count Martin's penalty, then what about the holding call on Tyler Smith a few plays later after a big run by Tony Pollard? Either way, those penalties at least cost the Cowboys a field goal. Let's say three more points now because of penalties, and we're up to seven.
Later in the first, Sam Williams might have had his eyes closed when he tried to block a punt because he was there in time but just missed the kick. But he didn't miss punter Sam Martin, slamming into him for a 15-yard penalty that put Buffalo's offense back on the field. The Bills drove down for a touchdown – so that's definitely a seven-point penalty.
And then later in the first half, after the Cowboys had seemingly forced a fumble that was never challenged because Mike McCarthy said they didn't get a replay before the Bills rushed to the line. And then right after that, it was about to be third-and-19 after an incomplete pass but Jayron Kearse was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he hit the receiver in the back just a millisecond after he dropped the ball.
I must say, Lawrence and Martin have to be smarter than that. But Kearse? Come on, that was a tough call on him because if he catches the ball you must hit him as hard as you can to try and jar the ball loose. So he drops it first, and now you have to not hit him? That was a tough call against Kearse, but it was a first down, wiping out a third-and-long and, of course, the Bills go down and score a touchdown.
Once again, a seven-point penalty. And if you're still reading, and scoring from home, that's 21 points in gift-penalties from the ever-giving Cowboys, who should've had a banner that read, "From our sideline to yours, Merry Christmas."
Again, I must reiterate that I'm not suggesting the Cowboys were the better team and only lost because of the penalties. I'm saying they didn't play with the same kind of fire and intensity, plus they couldn't tackle for anything and definitely couldn't run the ball themselves. And then, throw in the fact they gave Buffalo too many extra chances to score. Add it all up and you get a 21-point loss that didn't even seem that close.
The message should be simple: Save the gifts for under the tree, but when it comes to the field, the Cowboys need to get their Scrooge on.
Sure, the Cowboys technically locked up a playoff berth on Sunday before the game, but just getting in isn't what this team has in mind.
But either way, if they play like this in the playoffs, they won't be in the playoffs for long.