FRISCO, Texas – Here is a case of art imitating life in the NFL.
Like 45 years ago, in the early years of Saturday Night Live, the late Gilda Radner's character Roseanne Roseannadanna became famous for saying, "Well, Jane, it just goes to show you, it's always something! If it's not one thing, it's another!"
Take these Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday. Bad enough their six-game winning streak came crashing to a halt on Sunday, losing badly to the Denver Broncos, 30-16, in a game that wasn't even that close. Nothing went right after Tony Pollard's game-opening 54-yard kickoff return. Not on offense and not on defense. Heck, not even on special teams after blocking a punt.
Well, if recovering from that loss is not one thing, _another_ has struck: On Tuesday veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein tests positive for COVID-19, causing the Cowboys on Wednesday to refer to their emergency kicker list, bringing in for a kick off after practice former Cowboys kicker Brett Maher, along with CFL veteran Lirim Hajrullahu, who spent a week with the Cowboys during training camp this summer and then another week on the practice squad a week into the season before being released.
Maher last made a regular-season NFL field goal on Dec. 5, 2019, going one for two that day for the Cowboys in a loss at Chicago.
As for Hajrullahu, while he spent six seasons in the CFL kicking for Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton, and while he has spent time in either training camp or on practice squads with the Rams, Panthers and the Cowboys, he has never made an NFL field goal.
But the winner is … Hajrullahu. And practice it, Hy-roo-la-hu.
But doggone it, Lirim still isn't on an NFL 53-man roster. The savvy Cowboys signed him to the practice squad, and assuming he performs well in practice over the next three days, he can be elevated to the game-day roster as a COVID replacement for Zuerlein.
Yep, always shots just around the corner.
- Still Real: Meaning, COVID-19 and its delta variant. See Minnesota, head coach Mike Zimmer pointing out with five players on COVID/Reserve, one of those, guard Dakota Dozier, having been hospitalized with breathing issues. He along with 28 other players are being tested for close contact precautions. See Green Bay, the Packers, along with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Allen Lazard, being fined by the NFL for COVID protocol violations. That is why with Zuerlein testing positive the Cowboys didn't want to take any chances with punter Bryan Anger and deep snapper Jake McQuaide testing positive for close contacts and held them out of practice out of an abundance of caution just in case.
- No Line Dancing: At least not on Wednesday. The Cowboys still are without left tackle Tyron Smith in practice, spending his time doing rehab work for those aggravating bones spurs in his ankle. As for the offensive line without him, in the portion of practice open to the media, when the O-Line was doing three-man drills, to the right side was center Tyler Biadasz, guard Zack Martin and tackle La'el Collins. And to the left was Biadasz, guard Connor Williams and tackle Terence Steele. As Mike McCarthy said during his press conference when asked about any changes on the offensive line, he said while not wanting to divulge any scouting reports for the Falcons, "We know how we played the game, how we finished it, that's our starting point." But without naming names, McCarthy said of Sunday's tackle play, "Both players can do better."
- Gallup-ing Back: Technically, the Cowboys don't have to remove wide receiver Michael Gallup from IR-Return until Monday when his three-week practice window expires, but chances are with room on the 53-man roster he'll be brought up this week, especially now with wide receiver Cedrick Wilson missing practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury. Plus, as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said earlier in the week about Gallup's impending return, "He'll bring some juice, more energy. Excited to have him back." And in the nick of time.
- Third Downers: The Cowboys offense and defense had been very efficient on third downs, the offense converting and the defense getting off the field. Not so much on Sunday. In five of the previous seven games, the defense held opponents to no more than a 33-percent conversion rate on third down, only Tampa Bay in the opener (45.5 percent) and the Charges in Game 2 (41.7 percent) higher. But the Broncos converted eight of 15 attempts on third down against the Cowboys, a season-high 53.3 percent for Cowboys opponents. And offensively, after the first seven games, the Cowboys were second in the NFL converting 47.2 percent of their third-down attempts (42 of 89). Only twice all season had the Cowboys converted less than 50 percent of their attempts. But in Sunday's offensive brownout, the Cowboys were five of 13, just 38.5 percent, a big reason for being shut out for like 55 minutes in the game.
- Watch The Tape: The Broncos sure beat their defensive chests after the game, claiming they discovered the secret to stopping the NFL's still No. 1-ranked offense. But if you go watch the video, the Cowboys have several chances to make the huge plays they had been making all season long. Just didn't in this game. An outlier? Well, we'll find out soon, but as Moore said, politely I might add, "We didn't take advantage of some opportunities." There were plenty, especially if you consider, as Moore points out, they only converted two of seven opportunities on combined third and fourth downs with no more than two yards to gain.
- Matter Of Time: Was only a matter time before Sean Lee found his way back into the building. You just knew he couldn't stay away from football after retiring following the 2020 season. And there he was on Monday at The Star, having attended the game on Sunday but pointed out he's been doing some pro scouting work from home for Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay. Says he loves it. Just knew he'd get the itch, which might lead to a scratch sometime soon.
- Shorties: Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was back to harping on the number of big plays this defense reverted back to giving up against the Broncos, who totaled seven of those suckers for at least 19 yards, two of those runs by Javonte Williams for 30 and 20 yards, along with a 17-yarder, saying. "The big plays got us." Got 'em but good … Sure took a while for the NFL to levy fines against the Packers for COVID-related violations, pinching the pocketbooks of the team, Rodgers and Lazard … So hearing a lot of criticism for McCarthy leaving Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the game after trailing 30-0. But did anyone notice Denver coach Vic Fangio, up 30-0, didn't call off the dogs, several of his defensive starters playing 100 percent of the plays and seven of them at least 89 percent of the plays, meaning out there for those final two series? Wonder why?
And the last words go to safety Demontae Kazee, unwilling to talk about his days with Atlanta with the Falcons coming up next, obviously focusing on the upcoming game instead.
"We just need to worry about us over here," Kazee began, still perturbed over Sunday's loss. "The only people in front of us that can beat us is us, so that's all we need to worry about."
That what happened on Sunday?
"Yeah, we beat ourselves," he said.
Were you flat? What do you think happened in the last game?
"Um, I would say just, I, I couldn't even explain what happened last week, but we weren't ourselves out there."
Say no more.