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Spagnola: Can't let one loss become devastating


FRISCO, Texas – Just one week ago, one week now, we began this discussion, me trying to be really cute in great anticipation of a head-to- head collision with what was thought to be two of the top teams in the NFL, Cowboys-49ers, Sunday night in Santa Clara, Calif., with "Here We Go."

Well, not so much, the Cowboys definitely not going anywhere, failing to hold up their end of this top-billing bargain. Instead, they got blasted 42-10 by the Niners, their worst loss in 13 years. A quite sobering defeat.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called the loss "a stunner."

Head coach Mike McCarthy called this second loss of the 2023 season "a kick in the ass."

Quarterback Dak Prescott classified this third consecutive loss to San Francisco "the most humbling" defeat he's ever experienced.

Well today, again still stuck in my head is "Here We Go" but in a completely different vein. More of an "uh-oh," laced with great trepidation heading into another game attracting national attention, Monday night in Los Angeles against the 2-2 Chargers. As if tippy-toeing in on a recently frozen lake with great anxiety.

Like just six days ago thinking we knew for sure about this Cowboys team then 3-1, writing off that lone loss to Arizona as an anomaly, to now wondering about the 3-2 Cowboys with somewhat of a worried spirit.

Well, we are about to find out.

Now, we all should be a proponent of what veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks cautioned with "it's a long season," knowing the Cowboys still must play 12 more games. We should take solace in that encouraging fact spread just three weeks ago after the 28-16 loss to the Cardinals that the Cowboys are now 10-1 after a loss since the start of the 2021 season, only once losing back-to-back games. Now that streak is on the line again, a second time this season.

And the Cowboys are all saying the right things about pulling up their boots, learning from this defeat but flushing this loss away and making sure this discouraging moment doesn't bleed into another loss because of a hemorrhaging mentality.

"The only way to get the bad taste out of your mouth is to go kick someone else's ass," says Damone Clark.

Or this from Osa Odighizuwa, "Can't get caught up on one week, win or lose. That's part of the game."

And this from defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, "Not going to let this game beat us again."

Fine and great.

But now having to deal with a few road spikes.

First at least facing a four-game loss of your leading tackler and ostensibly defensive captain Leighton Vander Esch with that serious stinger sustained in the San Francisco game, likely being placed on IR. Not good when the depth at linebacker is razor thin, and why at least my solution is playing Micah Parsons more at linebacker alongside Clark, highly capable of taking on more defensive snaps and responsibility while forsaking those special teams ones to keep him fresh.

"He's close to my heart," Clark says of LVE. "I know he wants me to go out there and ball and take care of the defense."

Likely means more linebacker type snaps for Markquese Bell and another practice squad elevation for Malik Jefferson.

And yes, the Cowboys did sign veteran linebacker Rashaan Evans to the practice squad, and even though the former Tennessee first-round draft choice in 2018 insists he can "get off his couch" and play Monday night, today was his first practice in pads since the final week of the 2022 season with Atlanta. I'm told he's not near ready to play in a game. That this will be "a process" getting him ramped up.

Plus, if Clark must forego special teams snaps, and now also without special teams ace C.J. Goodwin (torn pec muscle), the Cowboys will need help there. Have heard the name of linebacker Tyrus Wheat being thrown around for potential help, no more than a rookie on the practice squad.

On top of that, Pro Bowl returner KaVontae Turpin, also the capable wide receiver who scored the Cowboys' only touchdown in the San Francisco game, has spent time this week on the resistance cords rehabbing a sprained ankle. However, he did practice in pads on Friday and had has gone from Did Not Practice on Thursday's injury report to Fully practicing on Friday. At least some good news.

Then there is this once thought to be impenetrable defense just penetrated for 42 points by the Niners, the most points the Cowboys have given up in 52 games, having to go back to a 49-38 loss to Cleveland in the fourth game of the 2020 season to find more. Plus, this is only the fourth time the Cowboys have given up as many as 40 during that span and having to go back to a 42-17 loss to Denver in the second game of the 2017 season to find another 40-burger.

Better hope those proud dudes haven't lost confidence with the Niners scoring points on six of 12 full possessions, having also totaled 421 yards and 170 rushing. The six touchdowns were just one shy of tying the Cowboys franchise record for most single-game TDs by an opponent (7), New Orleans the last of five to do so, this during the 2013 season in a 49-17 loss.

And now the offense. Just 10 points, and granted the Niners are stout defensively, but come on, not even 200 yards of offense (197). Just 57 rushing. Four turnovers. And after five games, wide receivers with just two touchdown receptions, one apiece for CeeDee Lamb and Turpin, and Prescott's QB rating dropping to only 87.5.

Previously when the offense seemed to struggle, especially in the red zone, there has been some "wells," as in, well, was raining cats and dogs in the opener against the Giants. Well, no need pushing it aggressively against the offensively challenged Jets. Well, was just one of those things in the Arizona loss. Well, they were up 28-3 against New England by halftime since the defense scored more touchdowns in the first half against a now 1-4 team (2) than the offense (1).

See there, concerns they have a few.

Plus, the 2-2 Chargers come into this game having won their past two games, plus losing the first two by a grand total of five points, one of those in overtime to Tennessee. And while they are the 31st ranked defense, 24th in points per game (26) and 32nd in passing yards allowed, they also are coming off their bye with the No. 5 offense now being coordinated by former Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, with former Cowboys staffer Doug Nussmeier the quarterbacks coach.

On top of that comes the return of Chargers all-purpose back Austin Ekeler, out since the season opener after having sustained a high-ankle sprain in the 36-34 loss to Miami, but having rushed for 117 yards in that game before missing the next three.

These Chargers are no pushovers. Quarterback Justin Herbert is a load. So are pass rushers Nick Bosa and Khalil Mack, totaling nine of the Chargers' 16 sacks in just four games, an average right at four a game.

This all would be load enough to deal with Monday night at SoFi Stadium, but then there also is the anvil of this past loss hanging over these Cowboys heads. Not just the players, but the coaching staff, too.

Yep, must overcome.

"You can't be shaken by (the loss)," Prescott says. "You can't change your preparation, you can't change anything you've done because that happened. Bad night, bad timing. … As I said, it's a turn the page, move forward, or you know, it's going to be a landslide. And that's absolutely the last thing that is going to happen."

That's absolutely right. No landslides.

So, get ready, because, uh, here … they … go.

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