This was not supposed to happen. The Dallas Cowboys came into their game against the New York Jets expecting to get back on track after consecutive losses to two of the NFL's better teams. They were, after all, facing a club that had yet to win a game this year.
Instead, the Cowboys saw their losing streak extend to three straight as they were upset by the supposedly hapless Jets, 24-22.
With both starting tackles as well as wide receiver Randall Cob all out due to injury, and then lead wideout Amari Cooper leaving the game after the Cowboys' first series with a quad injury, the Cowboys offense struggled to find any kind of momentum early on. Not until late in the game was the team finally able to get going, but in the end, the deficit was just too big to overcome.
The offense featured a balanced attack with Dak Prescott completing 70 percent of his passes for 277 yards and an 89.3 passer rating. Eight different players hauled in throws with four – Tavon Austin, Jason Witten, Ezekiel Elliott and Cedrick Wilson – each catching five.
And on the ground, Elliott led the way with his third 100-yard rushing effort on the season, finishing with 105 yards running and another 47 through the air. That's the kind of offensive effort that usually wins games for the Cowboys, but in this case, most of those fireworks came in the second half, after the team was already trailing by a wide margin.
The return of Sam Darnold, proved to be a huge difference maker for the Jets as the Cowboys defense struggled to slow down the quarterback. He threw for 338 yards, completing 71.9 percent of his passes with two touchdown tosses for a 113.8 passer rating.
Behind Darnold, the game certainly didn't get off to a good start for Dallas as on the Jets' second possession, they marched 83 yards on 14 plays while eating up 7:54 of clock. Even worse, the Cowboys helped the opponent's effort with four defensive penalties during the drive, including three inside the red zone. That led to Le'Veon Bell sneaking in from the 2-yard line, the first rushing touchdown by a New York running back this season.
Dallas got on the board on the first play of the second quarter thanks to Bret Maher splitting the uprights from 50 yards out to make the score 7-3. But their struggles came into full view when the Cowboys later worked their way down to a first-and-10 at the New York 15-yard line. On fourth-and-2 at the 7, the team decided to go for it, Prescott taking it himself off left tackle in an attempt to reach the marker. He never did, the Jets stuffing him for a 1-yard loss.
If the Cowboys weren't shell-shocked by this point, they were by the end of the first half. New York needed exactly one play to reach the end zone after taking over on downs, as Darnold lofted a deep pass to Robby Anderson, who got behind safety Jeff Heath and went the full 92-yard distance for the score.
That was then followed by the Jets quarterback picking apart the Dallas defense on New York's next possession, completing 4-of-5 passes for 61 yards, three of which went to tight end Ryan Griffin. That included Darnold's last attempt of the series, which found Griffin for a 5-yard touchdown catch and what turned out to be an insurmountable 21-3 advantage.
Dallas got a boost just before the second quarter ended, though, when Maher was good on a 62-yard field goal, tying his own Cowboys record. Still, the team went into the break having given up 21 points and 247 yards to a Jets squad that had been averaging just nine points and 179.5 yards per game this season.
However, the spark that Maher provided just before the half carried over into the third quarter, as the Cowboys turned to their workhorse running back, Elliott. He racked up 54 rushing yards in the frame, as well as another 13 yards receiving.
Dallas came out and quickly worked down the field to a first-and-goal at the Jets' 8-yard line. But Prescott's would-be touchdown pass to Jason Witten was called back due to questionable offensive pass interference penalty, leading the Cowboys to eventually settle for another field goal, this time Maher good from 32 yards.
That spark then got a little hotter when the Dallas defense ended a lengthy Jets drive thanks to cornerback Jourdan Lewis stepping in front of a Darnold pass for the team's second interception of the season. Unfortunately, the Cowboys couldn't take advantage of the gift, even though they were able to work into field goal range once again, as on the first play of the fourth quarter, Maher pushed his 40-yard attempt wide right.
Undeterred, finally the Cowboys reached pay dirt. Prescott drove his team 84 yards on 11 plays, completing 4-of-5 passes for 38 yards to the Jets' 13-yard line. That's where Elliott then took over, carrying the ball three straight times, the final one off right guard for 3 yards to the end zone. With that, the Cowboys had it down to a one-possession game, 21-16.
But desperately needing a stop, the team's defense allowed the Jets to get into field goal range where New York's Sam Ficken was good from 38 yards, their only points of the second half pushing the lead to eight with 3:24 remaining.
The finish was, to say the least, wild with penalties on both teams coming fast and furious. Helped by three pass interference flags, the Cowboys got down to the Jets' 4-yard line where Prescott took the ball himself, rushing up the middle for the score. But needing the two-point conversion simply to tie, Prescott had to get rid of the ball quickly because of the blitz, his pass to Witten falling incomplete. Game over, 24-22.
With the defeat, the Cowboys also lost a great opportunity to open up a little space in the NFC East race as Philadelphia lost earlier in the day. Now, these two 3-3 teams will face off in a huge showdown next Sunday night as the Eagles come to town in a battle for the division crown.
Meaning it's time for the Cowboys to get back on track.