No comebacks, no upsets, no heroics. Sometimes, yes, the better team simply wins.
The Dallas Cowboys played host to the defending champs in front of a packed house of 93,054 at AT&T Stadium and saw firsthand in their 30-6 loss that the New England Patriots have every intention of returning to the Super Bowl again this season.
But while the stat sheet and the scoreboard will show that quarterback Tom Brady and Company had another standout day, the Cowboys defense actually kept Dallas in the game early on and showed that there may be good times ahead. The return of defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain from suspensions definitely provided a spark as each finished with a sack while the team as a whole recorded five sacks on the day, a single-game high for this season.
Despite the Cowboys providing pressure up front throughout the day, though, the back end of the defense struggled, especially with New England's patented pick plays. The secondary also displayed some particularly poor tackling at times. Brady finished with 275 yards passing, completing 20 of his 27 attempts with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and the Patriots overall totaled 356 yards of offense, which was actually down from their season average.
Unfortunately, although the Cowboys defense benefited from the return of two key starters, the offense showed once again that putting points on the board is going to be a struggle until the likes of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are back on the field. Quarterback Brandon Weeden couldn't get his team in the end zone, finishing with a paltry 188 passing yards while completing 26-of-39 passes with one interception. Dallas could only muster two field goals and 264 total yards of offense.
At least no one got hurt, which these days seems to be a small victory of sorts for the Cowboys.
The first quarter was just what everyone saw coming, right? A defensive struggle. Each side had trouble moving the ball with New England unsuccessful on its two third-down attempts and the Cowboys converting only one of four.
That led to a 3-3 tie after the first 15 minutes of play, the Patriots getting on the board first, thanks to a 49-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Dallas answered later, however, with Dan Bailey splitting the uprights from 51 yards out.
But there's a reason why the Patriots came into the game with the NFL's top-ranked offense, averaging 446.3 total yards per game. And while the Cowboys defense definitely took a step forward and showed improvement, in the end their opponent was just too much to overcome.
The tide began to turn with just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter, after New England first gained the field-position edge. Starting at his own 45-yard line following a Dallas punt, Brady took his team on a seven-play drive, using a hurry-up offense as the team got closer to the end zone. The quarterback then took the honors himself, sneaking in from the 1-yard line to put the visitors up, 10-3.
That field-position struggle continued for the remainder of the half, as Dallas started on its 14- and 13-yard lines on its next two possessions and was unable to move the chains either time. Conversely, the Patriots got the ball following those two series with starts on their 38- and 45-yard lines. The second of those resulted in a 57-yard field goal and a 13-3 lead at the break.
The third quarter was marked by long scoring drives for each side, with New England putting together an 8-play, 80-yard effort while Dallas drove 75 yards in 16 plays. But, the Patriots' effort ended with another seven points while the Cowboys had to settle for three points off a 23-yard field goal, the game heading into the final quarter with the Patriots in firm control, 20-6.
Once New England scored again in the fourth on a 59-yard bomb to Julian Edelman, which saw some ugly tackling attempts on the part of the Cowboys, there wasn't much left to do but await the final buzzer. Dallas was able to move the ball somewhat on each of its next two possessions, but a fumble by Jason Witten and a interception tossed by Weeden put an and to any hope of an upset.
New England tacked on a field goal and then watched as Weeden sailed one out of the end zone on fourth-and-goal with 1:26 remaining, the score a final 30-6 in favor of the visiting Patriots.
Now owning a 2-3 record – tied with both Philadelphia and Washington with the 2-2 Giants set to play Sunday night – the Cowboys will get a much-needed break. They'll head into their bye week with a chance to get healthier and hopefully see the return of players like Bryant and defensive end Randy Gregory in their next game, at the Giants on Oct. 25.