IRVING, Texas -- There's an optimistic way and a pessimistic way to view Lance Dunbar's emergence as a viable receiving threat in the Dallas offense.
On one hand, it's fantastic to see the Cowboys' fourth-year running back finally finding his way into the offense. Through three games Dunbar is tied for the team lead in receptions, with 21, and he's leading the team in receiving yards with 215.
A big chunk of that came Sunday against the Falcons, where Dunbar led all Dallas receivers with 10 catches for 100 yards.
"It feels good, but today – I'm all about winning," Dunbar said. "It's not about yards, I want to win the game. That's what this team is about. So, it's ok getting involved, but when you lose, none of that matters."
That ties into the pessimistic side of the story. As useful as Dunbar's skillset might be, it doesn't disguise the lack of production from the Cowboys' wide receivers. With Dez Bryant still recovering from foot surgery, Cole Beasley was the only Dallas receiver to log a catch on Sunday afternoon, as the Cowboys' other downfield options disappeared entirely.
"That's a little bit of their style," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "They're going to force you to throw underneath, and I thought Brandon did a good job of that."
At the very least, it's nice for the Cowboys to find another reliable safety net aside from the ever-present Jason Witten. For the time being, though, Dunbar would've been happier with a win.
"It happens sometimes – we've just got to go back and look at the film and see the things we can get better on," he said.
It took Jeremy Mincey several seconds to sum up his thoughts on watching his defense from the sidelines on Sunday.
"It was very frustrating," he said after a long pause. "The guys played really hard. I just wish we would've had more troops to send in. We got physically tired and mentally tired, and we let them off the hook. That was definitely tough watching."
Mincey was one of many Dallas defenders missing from the lineup against the Falcons, and it showed in the Cowboys' inability to create any pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.
"I thought a couple of times we moved him off his spot, but for the most part he was comfortable back there," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys will still be missing several key pieces – namely, Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain and likely Randy Gregory – when they travel to New Orleans next weekend. Mincey was confident he'd be able to feature in the Week 4 clash against the Saints, however.
"I've just got to get through the concussion protocol, and I'll be fine – starting tomorrow," he said. "Tomorrow, the day after – they just check you to make sure you're alright."
Mincey sat out of Thursday's practice with what was classified as an illness. He missed again on Friday, and the final injury report of the week clarified his illness as a concussion, forcing him out of the action.
"I think it was during the warmups the Philly game. I just toughed it out. I figured out a way to tough it out," he said. "I wish I had been a lot smarter. Trying to just get through it, not knowing what was going on. I'm here now, so hopefully get past the protocol and get this thing rolling."
Mincey will undoubtedly be under careful evaluation as the week goes along, but he said the time off paid dividends.
"I feel like a whole new person. I needed to revamp and get my body back together, get my mind back together," he said.
No Surprise: Witten Starts, Plays Well
Jason Witten made it abundantly clear during the week that he had no intention of missing Sunday's game with two sprained ankles and a sprained knee. The veteran tight end practiced all three days and, to virtually no one's surprise, started against Atlanta with six catches for 65 yards.
With quarterback Tony Romo (ribs) and receiver Dez Bryant (foot) out Sunday, the Cowboys needed Witten as much as ever as a security blanket for Brandon Weeden. James Hanna also returned from last week's knee scope to provide depth at tight end.
Witten still has missed one game in his 13-year NFL career – as a rookie in 2003 due to a broken jaw.
"I feel good," he said. "It's been a long week getting back. The guys did a great job helping me out. I felt confident and wanted to get myself in position to play well. I thought I was able to do that."
Stitching It Together
Linebacker Sean Lee briefly left for the locker room in the second half to receive stitches for a lower lip laceration. Lee returned after a few plays and finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles and his first career sack.
"Part of the game," Lee said. "We had to stitch it, obviously. But I'll be fine."
Lee wasn't the only Cowboys defender to require stitches on the afternoon. Barry Church left the field for several possessions in the first half after a collision in the Dallas secondary. Church required six stitches on his upper lip before returning to the action.
It's been quite a season so far for the back seven in the Cowboys' defense. J.J. Wilcox hurt his nose after colliding with Odell Beckham in Week 1 and required stitches afterward.
It was a disheartening loss, particularly given the 28-17 lead before halftime and the relative lack of positives afterward.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said he's not ready to worry about his team, however, as he coped with his first loss during an eight-week stretch of games without Tony Romo.
"No, not at all. I wish we had all of our players, but that's dreaming," he said. "I liked what we did out there today. I think Weeden played within himself. He made a bad decision on his interception. But in general, I bet, when we get together and look at it with everybody, that he stayed within himself the whole game. He's probably capable of getting downfield some if we had asked him to. But I'm not worried. We just have a lot of work to do to stay in the hunt."
The Cowboys have a chance to get back on track on the road against an 0-3 New Orleans Saints team next week, before they face the tall task of slowing down the 3-0, defending champion New England Patriots.