Spagnola: Bad Wherever You Watched It From


FRISCO, Texas – On Sunday, for the first time since the end of the 1988 season, I was not at a Cowboys regular-season or playoff game.

That means for the first time since covering the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988, I watched a Cowboys game just like most of you do almost every week. On television.

Now I know what you guys go through watching on TV. Hard to tell who is in and who is out. Hard to tell when the offensive and defensive packages change. And certainly, can't see what's going on with the wide receivers/defensive backs until the ball comes into play.

That was my frustration on Sunday, not attending the Cowboys 2018 season opener against the Carolinas Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

But no matter I was watching from afar as most of you always do, the most incomprehensible part of that rainy day in the South was this:

The Cowboys only lost to the Panthers 16-8.

Seriously? By just eight points.

As horribly bad as they played?

Why, even Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett had to admit, "We need to score more than eight points."

Sure do.

"We need to run it better," he said, and guess we can insert "much" in there.

They'd better.

"We need to throw it better," he said, simply missing a "much, much right there."

For sure.

You know, I've seen the Cowboys whipped before in season openers. Remember them losing the season opener in 2001 to Tampa Bay, 10-6, in Quincy Carter's NFL debut.

There was the 2000 opening loss to Philadelphia, 41-14, in Dave Campo's head coaching debut.

But this one, this one goes back to when my streak of covering games began, the 1989 season opener, the first game in the Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson era, getting coldcocked 28-0 by the Saints in New Orleans, the forerunner to that gosh-awful 1-15 season.

The Cowboys only gained 20 yards rushing on 10 carries that day. Rookie quarterback Troy Aikman was intercepted twice, sacked twice and hit as if some birthday piñata. The Cowboys only gained 174 yards of offense.

And get this: In the 29 seasons of Cowboys history, under the jurisdiction of Tom Landry, the Cowboys had been shut out only once, that in 1970. Then there was this, 28-0, in the first game in Cowboys history coached by someone other than Landry.

You think the locals were howlin' mad?

So, my guess is you guys already have pulled out all your hair by Sunday night.

Now, sort of thought the Cowboys would struggle some on offense with No Travis Frederick; with rookie Connor Williams starting his first NFL game; with basically new tight ends and new wide receivers.

But not 60 yards total-offense bad in the first half. Not 23 yards rushing bad in the first half. Not just six completions and just four first downs bad in the first half.

The Cowboys acted as if they hadn't played a real football game in three weeks.

Come to think of it, they hadn't, and it showed, as it seemingly did for many a team in the NFL this opening weekend. I mean, I thought that Philly-Atlanta opener was putrid football. Then I watched all that Giants-Jaguars game. Awful.

But this one, my gosh, took the cake. Did not expect such offensive ineptitude. Just 232 yards of total offense. Zeke, just 69 yards rushing. Dak sacked six times. Just two third-down conversions, the first with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Now look, I'll concede this Panthers defense is pretty darn good, especially their front seven. And we knew not having Frederick out there could have catastrophic ramifications, not that Joe Looney couldn't do an average job backing up, but just not having him there to help out Williams.

But a lot of this misery was self-inflicted.

Who would have thought Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith would have two penalties called on him the first two series, a block in the back and an iffy hold, both costing the Cowboys 10 yards. Then there were the sacks in the third and fourth series. So if you add up those losses, the Cowboys were facing a third-and-26, a second-and-17, a second-and-17 and a third-and-11 over the first four series of the game.

Hard to climb out of those holes.

Then on top of that, when the Cowboys managed acceptable protection, Dak Prescott came up with lame throws, like the third-and-7 from their 36, way short-hopping a wide-open Blake Jarwin, or the time in the third quarter he was barely in Cole Beasley's area code.

Now I understand what's going to take place all this week. The Cowboys won't be able to throw the ball. And if they can't throw the ball, then Zeke won't be able to run the ball. And if Zeke can't run the ball, the Cowboys won't be able to protect. And if they can't protect Dak, then they'll never score enough points to win a game.


And you knew this was going to happen, didn't you, after the Cowboys decided to part ways with Dan Bailey. Brett Maher would miss his first – and – only attempt, brushing the right upright.

But if there is a consolation, the Cowboys' defense, with the exception of allowing Cam Newton to run for 58 yards and a touchdown, and the Panthers 142 total rushing yards, did show some encouraging signs. Despite that, the Panthers only gained 146 yards passing. They only converted 4 of 12 on third down. Newton only finished with an 82.4 QB rating, like 1.3 points better than the struggling Prescott.

Hey, you ought to win when your defense gives up no more than 17 points in a game.

And if you need another consolation, the Giants, next Sunday's opponent, only scored 15 points in their opening loss to Jacksonville. Eli Manning was sacked twice and hit another six times that seemed like 12. And the Eagles, why they scored all of 18 points.

So, let's see before we start jumping off the ledge one game into the season, no matter how pitiful this performance might have been. Let's not flame the narrative the Cowboys don't have any threats at wide receiver and Dak can't play and Zeke won't be able to run.

Despite how utterly bad this looked.

No matter where you watched the game from.