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Spagnola: Cowboys Becoming Own Worst Enemy


ARLINGTON, Texas – This is a trend. A really, really, really bad one at that.


As in self-inflicted wounds.

Why, with 93,024 their witness at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys shot themselves in the foot – no make that the feet – so many times not sure they had any toes left to walk home Sunday night.

Packers 31, Cowboys 3, after 41 minutes, 30 seconds.

Cowboys 21, Packers 3, the final 18:30.

That does not compute into victory, Packers 34, Cowboys 24.

Packers 4-1, first place in the NFC North. Cowboys 3-2, saddled with a two-game losing streak, tied for first in the NFC East with Philadelphia, and just one game ahead of the Giants.

This the result of insisting on shooting themselves in the foot, too, beginning last Sunday in New Orleans, losing two fumbles while crossing the 50-yard line, settling for a field goal after sitting first-and-10 at the New Orleans' 11-yard line thanks in part to Dak Prescott missing a throw to an open Randall Cobb in the end zone and then Dak missing a third-down throw to Cobb while on the move. And that doesn't even account for Brett Maher missing on a 55-yard field-goal attempt.

Oh, not to mention rushing for just 45 yards.

Result: Two-point loss, 12-10, on the road.

Now this, turning the ball over another three times, ruining what could very well have been a celebration of finally beating the Packers at home for the first time since 2007, the Cowboys now oh for their last four tries, and stretching this dry spell against the Packers over these past two decades, losing eight of the last nine meetings.

"We have to rectify that," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett would say of the self-infliction.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper should have been celebrating a career-high 226-yard receiving performance, fourth most in franchise history – most since 2012 – that also included a brilliant 53-yard touchdown reception.

Michael Gallup should have been celebrating a 113-yard receiving performance, his second-100-yarder in the three games he's played this season, including his amazing 40-yard touchdown grab.

Dak should have been celebrating his career-high 463-yard, two-touchdown passing performance, the second-most passing yards in franchise history to only Tony Romo's 506 in 2013.

And this Cowboys offense should have been patting itself on the back for piling up a season-high 563 yards, fifth most in franchise history, along with 32 first downs, tying for second most in franchise history.

But oh, no. The Cowboys once again were their own worst enemy.

Cooper was left with a sour look on his face afterward, only able to think of the ball he dropped into an interception on the Cowboys' first series of the game, now left to only bemoan, "The only thing that's really on my mind is the dropped ball and the turnover it created. … It was an easy catch, took my eyes of it because I was focused on the touchdown."

A Cowboys defense that held Aaron Rodgers to 238 yards offense, somewhat of an accomplishment, sacking him twice and leaving him with an 85.2 passer rating, let another Aaron do them in. As in El Paso's own Aaron Jones, rushing for 107 yards while scoring a career-high four touchdowns, tying the Green Bay franchise, single-game record, along with catching a career-high seven passes for an equally career-high 75 yards. No other running back in the 60-year history of the Dallas Cowboys has every scored more than three touchdowns against them in a game. Now Jones puts his name right up there with Packers great Jim Taylor.

With the Cowboys earning a chance to pull within seven points with 1:41 left to play, Maher, after earlier in the game missing a 54-yard field-goal wide right, missed from 33 yards out, again wide right, essentially an extra point, denying the Cowboys an opportunity to attempt an onside kick down just seven instead of the game-finishing 10. Even that came with another toe shot off, since Maher initially made the 27-yard attempt, only to have offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo flagged for a false start.

Then there is Dak, officially charged with three interceptions, but in reality only one was his fault, the second one with the Cowboys still only trailing 14-0, forcing the ball into nearly triple coverage. The first one was dropped and the third one had Dak thinking Packers defensive back Kevin King was going to get called for holding Gallup, nearly yanking his head off, and causing Fox officiating analyst Mike Pereira to say that should have been pass interference.

"I think I saw what everyone saw," Prescott said. "They got very handsy, mugging."

Yep, King yanking Gallup's head down, and when he came out of his break off-balance, falling off to the left, Dak's pass, anticipating Gallup simply turning in, went right to King.

Challenge the defensive P.I.?

One problem. Garrett was forced to use up his second and last challenge on the previous possession with the Cowboys still down, 31-10. Cooper made a brilliant toe-tapping, sideline catch right in front of the Cowboys bench that was called incomplete by side judge Scott Edwards. Garrett won the challenge but lost the war when he vehemently spiked the challenge flag at the feet of Edwards, who reported Garrett to the principal, head referee Ron Tolbert, after flagging him "for abusive language toward an official," Tolbert said, costing the Cowboys 15 yards.

But having to challenge Edwards' call of incomplete cost the Cowboys more dearly in the end. Garrett already had used up his first challenge when Edwards called Anthony Brown for a ticky-tack interference earlier in the game, and when Garrett argued with him over the call, the side judge basically told him if you don't like the call challenge it. Garrett did, and the 39-yared penalty was upheld, leading ultimately to a Packers field goal.

"We had to use it in that particular situation to correct the mistake they made," Garrett said of Edwards missing Cooper's two feet coming down inbounds on what turned out to be a 27-yard completion on the drive cutting the Packers' lead to 31-17.

So Garrett wasn't then able to challenge the "mugging."

The Cowboys also shot a toe off not doing a good enough job compensating for the injury loss of Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith. His replacement, Cam Fleming, struggled mightily on the left side. Dak was sacked three times. Za'Darius Smith beat Fleming twice for his two sacks. And too many times the Packers outside linebacker ruined plays with pressures, credited with four and two tackles for losses, too. Preston Smith had Green Bay's other sack.

Za'Darius Smith's second sack was critical. The Cowboys, down 24-0, drove to a first-and-goal at the Packers 7-yard line. But on first down, Ezekiel Elliott, 62 yards rushing on just 12 carries, lost two on a pitch out. Then Smith sacked Dak for minus-9. And on third down, with Smith and Kyler Frackrell in his face, Dak threw incomplete into the end zone, the Cowboys ending up losing 11 yards in three downs and settling for Maher's 36-yard field goal.

To make matters worse, on the play getting the Cowboys down to the 7-yard line midway through the third quarter, the Cowboys lost their starting right tackle La'el Collins to a sprained knee, replacing him with rookie Brandon Knight, making his NFL debut after having been moved to guard in training camp.

So big picture on the offensive line? The Packers not only totaled those three interceptions and three sacks, but hit Dak in the act of throwing eight other times.

And all that, all of it, in a coconut shell, left the Cowboys bemoaning their own play.

"It's on us, and I'm not going to give them the benefit on that," said veteran defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, playing in his first game in three weeks (hip injury). "We messed up and we have to fix that."

And as for the Cowboys taking aim at their own two feet?

"Just shooting ourselves in the foot," Zeke appropriately said. "A lot of penalties (and) we didn't protect the ball again."

That now gives the Cowboys five turnovers in the past two games, both losses, both hard to swallow.

"At the end of the day, we've got to look in the mirror as a team and realize that we shot ourselves in the foot too many times," Zeke continued. "(Rodgers) is a great player. He's one of the best players in the league. But today, we beat ourselves."

And that self-abuse is the shame of this matter, two weeks running.