SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There's no way to spin what happened to the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, nor should anyone be willing to try.
As head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott made clear following the 42-10 dismantling at the hands of their longtime rival and a team the Cowboys were hoping to use as a measuring stick for their young 2023 season, it's all about accountability.
"A very humbling loss, clearly, and that's stating the obvious," said McCarthy. "I think the biggest thing is that I just had a reflection on the five games we've played, and it's been a wide range of performance — as wide of a range as I can recall in a five-week period. The biggest thing is for us to be accountable."
The most frustrating thing at the moment for McCarthy is the lack of consistency being shown by the Cowboys this season, a team that defeated their first two opponents by a margin of 70-10 before being defeated by Josh Dobbs and the Arizona Cardinals.
They'd then bounce back to hand Bill Belichick the worst loss of his illustrious NFL career in Week 4, but they only enjoyed that for a few days before running into a buzzsaw at Levi's Stadium.
"It's clearly humbling," McCarthy added. "But it is one game —I expressed that coming into that. They were playing very well coming into [this game], and I thought our defense was in for a big challenge. Frankly, it starts with me. I didn't do a good enough job tonight. … It clearly just shows where we are at 3-2. It's [lack of] consistency. Even when we're playing really well, look at those three games that we've won by a big margin, it's pre-snap penalties that showed up again tonight."
But before they move on to their next opponent in Los Angeles, an offense led by former Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, the Cowboys will have to take a long, hard look in a mirror that's suddenly got a lot of cracks in it.
"It's a punch in the gut," said McCarthy. "It's a kick in the ass — whatever phrase you wanna put on it. You look at how this season has gone. We've been knocked down.
"They beat us in all three phases and we've got to acknowledge it. I'm not a burn-the-tape guy. I think that's a crock of shi-t. We're going to go through it and make sure we're clear on exactly what the expectations are.
" … I didn't see this coming. … We did not hit the mark at all today. Me, everybody, I don't see a whole lot of winning grades coming out of this performance. The important thing for all of us is to be accountable.
"Be accountable for what you did tonight and how you played tonight."
For his part, Prescott says he was also blindsided by not only the loss, but by just how lopsided it was. In his eight-year NFL career, Prescott was open and honest in describing this loss as the biggest gut check he's come across.
"Didn't see it coming," he said. "Put everything into this and got punched in the mouth. Only a couple weeks ago, it was humbling against Arizona, but this may be the most humbling game I've ever been a part of."
Fact is, the Cowboys were never truly in the contest, at least not offensively, and continually struggled to find a rhythm before things got wildly out of hand.
It led to the 49ers winning the time of possession battle by more than 14 minutes, and four early penalties helped extend drives for Brock Purdy and Co. that they took full advantage of. There will be no shortage of items to point at in team meetings this week in the hopes of righting the ship going forward, and especially if they're to return to form in short order.
The points allowed to the 49ers were second-most of the McCarthy era — runner-up to only the loss to the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 4, 2020, that resulted in a 49-38 final score. It's a defense that was league-best ahead of Week 5, allowing only 10.3 points per game.
They suffered four turnovers, a lost fumble by Tony Pollard deep in the 49ers' territory and three interceptions in the fourth quarter as Prescott attempted to throw Dallas back into the game, but it was all too little, too late and Shanahan was ready for it all.
There's a standard the Cowboys hold themselves to on a weekly basis, one that wasn't present against the 49ers on Sunday evening.
"We've got work to do," said McCarthy. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we've got a game in eight days. We'll spend a lot of time on this one and then we'll move on to the Chargers."