LANDOVER, Md. – If an apology is what you're after, look elsewhere.
In what is becoming a bit of a trend, the Cowboys' offense turned in a forgettable day of work in a winning effort Sunday against Washington. And while they might admit they've got a lot to work on, they balked at the notion that it was something to be sorry about.
"That's your narrative," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy afterward. "I think it's the reality of pro football, too. They have good players, too."
Therein lies the eternal debate of the NFL. On one hand, the Washington Football Team had won four-straight games heading into this matchup and employs its own roster of highly-talented football players.
On the other hand, the Dallas offense cruised to a 24-0 halftime lead with the help of a defensive touchdown and was never able to build on that momentum. The Cowboys sputtered in the second half, scoring a grand total of six points off two Greg Zuerlein field goals.
"It's frustrating. We've got high standards and high expectations for ourselves," said Dak Prescott. "So when you're not moving the ball and not scoring points – you're only scoring, what, six points in the second half – it's not acceptable."
To be frank, Prescott was at the center of several of those miscues. Miscommunication with receivers and inaccurate passes were a big part of the afternoon. Most egregious, though, was a late interception on a 2nd-and-7 with a 13-point lead and just 4:26 to play.
Prescott booted to his right, away from pressure and drifted out of the Cowboys' pocket. Looking for Dalton Schultz on a crossing route, he threw late. Rather than a big completion, the pass was intercepted by Cole Holcomb and returned for a touchdown – allowing Washington within one score of a lead that it hadn't been able to touch all day.
"At the end of the day, I've just got to take the sack," Prescott said. "Don't put the ball in harm's way. That's the bottom line, honestly. No excuse for that, period."
McCarthy noted that Washington game planned to take the deep passing game out of the Cowboys' repertoire. Across the afternoon, only a couple deep shots materialized – one of which was called back by an offensive holding flag, one of which drew a defensive pass interference penalty.
Otherwise, the Cowboys were left to drive the field with a serviceable running game and an intermediate passing game that showed flashed but was unable to capitalize.
As Amari Cooper pointed out, the Cowboys got the ball into Washington's red zone on six occasions. One of those led to the victory formation at the very end of the game. But among the other five, the Cowboys scored just one touchdown and settled for six field goals.
"We were moving the ball well, it's just we weren't getting seven," Cooper said. "That's what elite offenses do. It's just something we've got to clean up, something we've got to talk about and discuss if we really want to go to the next level."
Cooper's comments highlight the issue, though. For more than a month, the Cowboys have talked about cleaning things up. With the exception of one incredible half against Atlanta, it hasn't materialized with much consistency. The issues that plagued them Sunday afternoon have been there for much of the six weeks since they returned from their bye week.
However much that might frustrate outsiders, Prescott was confident the urgency is even stronger inside the locker room.
"I guarantee you we care a whole lot more than the outside world about what we're doing – I know I do," he said. "I know the guys on the field and the coaches do. As I said, all of this we can get better and we can learn from and it's much better to do that on the winning side."
So continues the delicate dance we've done this past month. The Cowboys' offense looks like a far cry from the fire breathing dragon of September and October. Having said that, for all the inconsistency, they're 9-4 with a stranglehold on their division. Even during this recent downturn, they've managed to win three of their last five and two in a row.
As the Cowboys repeatedly pointed out, these questions are easier to answer after a win. For all the bumps in the road through this season, they're on the path to a home playoff game.
And for all the questions and concern about their performance, Prescott knew exactly what gave him confidence it can be fixed.
"The people that we have and the fact that we've done it," he said. "Obviously, there's frustration but there's no doubt or, I would say, concern about where we are. We've just got to continue to get better."