KANSAS CITY – It's obvious what kind of day it is offensively when the Cowboys fumble twice, Dez Bryant drops a deep ball on an otherwise superb day, the team averages 2.3 yards per carry and Tony Romo throws three straight incompletions on back-to-back possessions in the second half.
The majority of issues the Cowboys worked through in the offseason and preseason, including a lack of a running game, minus plays, turnovers and red zone mistakes, all popped back up Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium and forced the team into a tough spot in a 17-16 loss Sunday to the Chiefs.
"I don't think we had great rhythm on offense, didn't really have the balance that we wanted," said head coach Jason Garrett. "We weren't able to run the ball as well as we'd like to. They're a pressure oriented team that can challenge you a lot of different ways." [embedded_ad]
Fumbles completely shifted the momentum of the game in the second half, beginning when Lance Dunbar coughed the ball up as the Cowboys trailed, 14-13, with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. Dunbar rushed for a team-high 12-yard carry earlier in the day, but trouble followed on his second touch of the game as he tried to keep the play going near midfield.
Dunbar said he wasn't sure if he was down before the ball came out, but either way it completely shifted the momentum of the game and it can't happen.
"I was just trying to make a play, but I was going down," Dunbar said. "Right before I hit the ground, his hand hit the ball out."
The Cowboys fumbled again on their next possession, as quarterback Tony Romo rolled to his right and attempted to find a target on third down in Dallas territory but was caught from behind on a blitz. The defense held and the Chiefs' drive ended on Bruce Carter's second sack in as many games.
If it weren't for the first possession of each half, the Cowboys' defense would have been just about perfect. They allowed a touchdown to start the game and a touchdown on the Chiefs' first possession of the second half, but they also forced seven punts in the game and Orlando Scandrick blocked a field goal attempt.
It still wasn't enough, as the offense couldn't finish drives. They only reached the red zone twice and went 50 percent in red zone efficiency for the second straight week.
"It's penalties and sacks," Romo said. "Any time you have minus plays down there, it's very difficult, especially on the road. That hurt us today."
The Cowboys drove the distance of the field on their first possession out of the half. They got inside the Chiefs' 5-yard line while nursing a three-point lead, but immediately got pushed back on a false start by guard Ron Leary. A quick screen to Terrance Williams ensued, but he was taken down for a loss of three as the Cowboys settled for their second field goal of the day.
"We got behind the chains in that situation," Garrett said. "Hard to be third-and-goal from where we were third-and-goal. Those are hard plays to call. Sometimes those plays hit, sometimes they don't."
Two field goals, two fumbles and four punts resulted for the Cowboys after scoring on a field goal and a touchdown in the first quarter. The team also rushed for just 37 yards on 16 carries, including two from Romo. DeMarco Murray finished with just 25 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Even Bryant, who finished the day with a game-high nine catches for 141 yards and a touchdown after a quiet opener, dropped a deep ball that could have sprung him free. Bryant's frustration continued when he was called for a phantom offensive pass interference call on a deep ball he hauled in.
Romo said he could tell Bryant was as frustrated as anyone, and it's an anomaly any time his star receiver doesn't come up with a catch. Bryant offered no excuses. He just assumed he had the catch and didn't look it in.
"I knew I had it," Dez said of the drop. "That's what I was thinking. Took my eyes off of the ball and shouldn't have. That was a real bad mistake. That is not winning football."
Despite the offensive problems, the Cowboys still had a chance late. The Dallas defense halted running back Jamaal Charles the majority of the day and compiled four sacks, including two from DeMarcus Ware and another from Jason Hatcher, though they couldn't force a turnover after creating six in the opener.
The Cowboys were in position to take the lead late largely because of Dan Bailey, who was a perfect 3-for-3 on the day, including two field goals of more than 50 yards. A touchdown would have given the Cowboys the lead on any of their four possessions in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't reach the end zone.
After Romo's fumble, the offense stalled in their own territory on two incompletions to Bryant and another to Jason Witten, who surpassed Shannon Sharpe to move into second place all-time in career receptions by a tight end with 817.
The Cowboys' next drive was their last to cross midfield, but three short passes to the left all resulted in incompletions with 3:55 remaining in the game. Romo said his rib injury he sustained a week prior wasn't the problem.
"The last play we had a play that was designed to beat the coverage that they had been playing previously," Romo said. "They changed it up and they came after us. They were breaking our protection down. The guy was going to come free, so we threw a hot throw."
The defense had been stellar stopping the run throughout the game until the Chiefs' final drive. Kansas City got the ball with 3:48 remaining and drained all but 16 seconds of clock as Charles kept the chains moving, forcing the Cowboys to burn all three timeouts.
A pass interference call on Morris Claiborne was the dagger on that drive. When the Cowboys finally got the ball back, a screen pass in the middle of the field with no timeouts wasn't the answer, as they fell to 1-1 and lost momentum from an opening win against the Giants by losing on the road in Week 2 for the second straight year.
"The game came down to a possession here, a possession there," Romo said. "When a team can eat the clock the way they did, the game's going to come down to a few plays, whether you make them or you don't."