The Dallas Cowboys came into this game against the vaunted New England Patriots with something to prove: Could they take down a team with a winning record, on their home field no less, thus solidifying themselves as a true contender?
Unfortunately, the question remains. On a cold, windy and rainy afternoon, Dallas was unable to snap New England’s 20-game home winning streak, falling to the Patriots, 13-9.
Perhaps it was the weather, but the Cowboys were truly their own worst enemy on this day with New England taking advantage of Dallas mistakes. In particular was the play of the special teams with 10 of the Patriots’ points coming after Cowboys’ special teams miscues. The Patriots’ only other points followed a Dallas turnover.
Neither team could do much offensively, as the Cowboys were just 2-for-13 on third downs (15%) and 0-for-2 in the red zone. On the other side, New England wasn’t much better, going 3-for-14 on third downs and 1 for 3 in the red zone.
The Cowboys did outgain the Patriots with 321 yards of total offense to 282 and actually won the time of possession, 30:22 to 29:38. But in a game that needed touchdowns, Dallas only was able to muster field goals.
Given the conditions, the running games took center stage with the Cowboys rushing for 109 yards, including 86 by Ezekiel Elliott. New England nearly matched them, though, gaining 101 yards on the ground with 85 by Sony Michel. Both quarterbacks were held in check as the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 212 yards with Tom Brady earning 190 yards behind a 45.9 percent completion rate.
Not surprisingly, Mother Nature was a factor right from the start, making life miserable for both offenses. But it was the play of the special teams that resulted in the Patriots taking an early lead.
Football’s third phase has been a bit of a struggle for the Cowboys all season, and that facet of the game reared its ugly head in the first quarter of this one. The sequence began on Dallas’ second possession when the team’s drive stalled at the New England 28-yard line. Out came Brett Maher for a 46-yard field goal try, but his attempt hit the left upright, no good.
That was followed on the Cowboys’ very next possession by Chris Jones having his punt blocked by New England’s Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ recovering at the Dallas 12-yard line. Two plays later, the home side was on the scoreboard, Brady finding N’Keal Harry on the left side of the end zone for the initial lead, 7-0.
Things only went from bad to worse for the Cowboys as the clocked ticked over into the second quarter. The advantage soon increased to 10-0 after Prescott’s pass to Amari Cooper on the team’s next series was instead picked off by diving cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Set up once again deep in Dallas territory, this time at the 29-yard line, the Patriots were unable to move the chains, the Cowboys defense at least doing their part. But Nick Folk proved good on his 44-yard field goal, upping the advantage.
Finally, the visitors got on the board midway through the second frame. Starting at their own 25-yard line after the kickoff, the Cowboys ran the ball seven straight times to reach the Patriots’ 28. But on third-and-3, Prescott’s pass to Randall Cobb sailed wide, the team again bringing out Maher for a field goal try. This time his 46-yarder was good.
And that errant throw by Prescott led to the quarterback then wearing gloves to help handle the wet ball. The result was another three points on the Cowboys’ next drive.
After Folk missed his own 46-yard field goal, Dallas marched right back down the field, the big blow coming when Prescott found Michael Gallup over the middle for a 22-yard completion, another 15 yards added on for a roughing the passer penalty. The drive stalled there, but Maher was true on his 27-yarder, which after Folk missed his second field goal on the day as time expired in the first half, put Dallas down just 10-6 heading into the break.
With the steady rain continuing, the defenses reigned supreme in the second half, as it was a series of punts for both sides through the third quarter. But as the frame neared a close, the Cowboys’ special teams let them down again.
Lining up for a punt at their 40-yard line, Dallas appeared set to flip the field position in its favor. But when New England didn’t have a man back, loading up the line of scrimmage, the Cowboys seemed confused. They were then hit with a delay of game penalty, followed by an illegal motion flag, which instead had them punting from their 30-yard line. Jones’ ensuing punt into the wind gave the Patriots the ball at their own 38.
Given the gain in hidden yardage, Brady of course took advantage. He moved his team just 38 yards in 12 plays, but that was enough to get Folk into field goal range. This time his kick was good from 42 yards, the Patriots’ lead now, 13-6.
But it was still a one score game with plenty of time left on the fourth quarter clock. And when Prescott then threw a beauty of a pass to Cobb, who raced 59 yards down the left sideline to the New England 25-yard line, it looked like Dallas had something cooking.
The drive stalled at the Patriots’ 11-yard line, though, and while possibly four-down territory with 6:08 remaining, the Cowboys instead brought out Maher for a 29-yard field goal. His effort was good, Dallas again down by four.
Which meant the Cowboys still needed a touchdown. The defense did its part. Although the unit allowed the Patriots to cross midfield, the Cowboys did force a punt. That gave the ball back to Dallas with 2:38 remaining in the game. Unfortunately, the team would have to start from its own 8-yard line.
They couldn’t get it done. The Cowboys seemingly had converted a third-and-1 at their own 35-yard line to pick up the first down to keep the drive alive, only to have a questionable tripping penalty called on center Travis Frederick. Pushed back 10 yards, Prescott then appeared to have connected on fourth down with Cooper, who made a diving 20-yard reception.
But after review, the ball was determined to have hit the ground, no catch, Patriots’ possession, game over.
With the loss, the Cowboys fell to 6-5 on the season, but maintained their lead in the NFC East after the Philadelphia Eagles also lost earlier in the day. And first place in the division is where they’ll need to remain as that appears they’re only road to the playoffs after failing yet again to defeat a team with a winning record.