ARLINGTON, Texas – For a quarter Monday night, it looked like the Cowboys' defense had found the one missing piece in their push toward dominance.
For the first time all season, the defense forced two turnovers on the first two drives of the game – a pair of fumble recoveries by linebackers Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith – and nearly got a third straight takeaway on the next series against the Tennessee Titans before officials ruled the ball incomplete.
By the end of the night, it was Tennessee's struggling offense that found ways to stay on the field.
The Titans scored a season-high 28 points in Monday's road win at AT&T Stadium – the most the Dallas defense had given up all season – and converted a whopping 11 of 14 third down opportunities (78.6 percent).
Entering the game, opponents were converting only 39.4 percent on third down against the Cowboys' third-ranked defense.
"They converted on individual routes outside, they converted by the quarterback running, they converted on screen passes," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Ultimately, that was the key situation in the game for us."
When the Titans needed a big play, it seemed like they got it. Quarterback Marcus Mariota kept their first scoring drive alive with a 12-yard scramble on third-and-1. Next series, he threw a perfectly-placed pass to receiver Darius Jennings for a 36-yard gain on third-and-10. Tennessee scored one play later.
Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and the defense pressured Mariota at times, tallying four sacks. And the takeaways were encouraging. The Cowboys entered the game with only six in seven games, ranked near the bottom of the league. The offense lamented getting only seven points out of two short fields the defense provided.
But the defense expects more from themselves as the Cowboys hope to dig out of a 3-5 hole.
"It's just something that we have to pride ourselves on: execution, getting off the field, scoring points on defense," Smith said. "We got turnovers but we didn't score. We need to score."