SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Anything that could've gone wrong for the Dallas Cowboys in their primetime matchup against the San Francisco 49ers likely did, as the hunter became the hunted. Micah Parsons and the defense found themselves victimized as the game rolled along, largely due to a wildly lopsided time of possession fueled largely by the continued offensive struggles.
By the time it was all said-and-done, Mike McCarthy had suffered the worst loss of his NFL career (only one week after handing Bill Belchick his) with a 42-10 thumping by the 49ers.
"There was a lot that happened, and I feel like there were several times when we could've gotten off of the field and just didn't," said Parsons. "I really feel like we weren't in the best position to succeed tonight."
Parsons and the Cowboys have mostly suffocated their opposition through the first four weeks, the Arizona Cardinals notwithstanding, but early penalties in Week 5 extended drives for Brock Purdy and he routinely made them pay for their mistakes.
On the first offensive drive alone by San Francisco, a facemask penalty by Donovan Wilson and an offsides by Parsons ultimately led to the first of three touchdowns on the evening by tight end George Kittle.
In the second quarter, with the 49ers nursing a 14-7 lead, the Cowboys' defense successfully halted Christian McCaffrey on 3rd-and-4, only they didn't, because a flag was thrown — unnecessary roughness on Jayron Kearse.
McCaffrey would later score on that drive on a one-yard run to make it a 21-7 contest.
They never looked back from there, including forcing three interceptions from Dak Prescott as he attempted to heave the Cowboys back into the game in the fourth quarter.
"I feel like there's nothing they did — [we] beat ourselves," Parsons said. "Look at the third downs. I jumped offsides and then they get seven [points] five plays later. Then on third down, Juanyeh [Thomas] makes a great hit on Christian McCaffrey, but somehow it's a [penalty]. That drive goes on and they score. Good teams like [the 49ers], you beat yourselves and it shows in multitude.
"Today, we were the four-turnover team. We were the team that couldn't get off of the field on third down. I don't think we're not the same caliber, at all."
The matchup was dubbed as the biggest test for the Cowboys thus far, and rightfully so, but it ended with a failing grade in all categories.
"I don't think there's a person not frustrated in this locker room, but we need to change some things," Parsons added. "I've never seen a champion not be battle tested. … We're just getting tested early. … We've been in some games we should've won but beat ourselves with the penalties.
"We're just getting tested right now."
And in a major way.
The team's offense remains mostly on the tarmac entering Week 6, and the defense — who kept the Cowboys in the game for as long as they could (e.g., Jourdan Lewis' forced and recovered fumble on McCaffrey at the one-yard line that gave way for a three-and-out by the offense) — before finally being unable to take any more punches.
Problem was the 49ers weren't done throwing them. And for the first time this season, it was the Cowboys who were victimized by the Mamba Mentality.
"You gotta learn how to take a punch," said Parsons. "We got punched in the face tonight, and that's the reality of it. I'm not shying away from it. We got beat up in all phases. The psyche can't really drop because no champion hasn't been battle tested.
"Sometimes, you get knocked down. Sometimes, you lose a couple rounds. Sometimes, you lose a fight. But it's about how you return after, how you face adversity, how you get better and not let this control you.
"That's the thing: I get tomorrow. Tomorrow's a new day. I'm going to get better tomorrow."
While that's true, yesterday's bloodbath is as well, and how the Cowboys respond going forward will tell the tale of this season, for better or for worse.
Parsons believes it'll be the former, but the lion must first rebuild he pride … for his pride.
"It's still early in the season," he said. "I need to help bring these guys together, and we just need to get better."