FRISCO, Texas – Try, try, try as hard as they could, and good gosh they tried for nearly 59 minutes and 40 seconds of regulation, the Cowboys just could not beat themselves on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.
Why, they were flagged a season-high 12 times, totaling a whopping 115 yards in penalties.
They turned the ball over twice, both in the red zone, and one of those on a fourth-and-goal play from the Patriots 1-yard line.
They missed one field goal and did not convert on a two-point conversion attempt.
They gave up the lead to the Patriots with 2:11 left in the game on a 75-yard touchdown pass, one of seven plays of at least 19 yards, continuing a disturbing trend of giving up big plays on defense.
Normally spot on scoring in the red zone, they were only two of five in this game, just three of 13 on third down conversions and missed converting on two fourth-and-1 attempts.
And they couldn't even win a darn coin toss, losing the first one to open the game and then again, calling tails in overtime only for the coin to come up heads, giving the first possession to New England to start the final 10 minutes.
As if after storming to a 4-1 start the Cowboys were trying their darnedest to prove they were human.
But you know what?
Bill Belichick couldn't beat the Cowboys either.
Cowboys 35, Patriots 29, needing 6:08 into OT to capture their fifth straight win, and as if for symmetry's sake, beating the Patriots in Foxborough for the first time since 1987, when 34 years ago on Nov. 15, Herschel Walker took the second snap of overtime 60 yards for a walk-off touchdown and a 23-17 Cowboys victory.
That was against the Raymond Berry-coached Patriots. This time, for the first time in six tries, these were the Belichick-coached Patriots, who had never lost to the Cowboys with the 22-year head coach in charge, or since 1996.
Geesh, not the Cowboys themselves, not the Patriots, not Belichick, not some questionable officiating and not even this daunting history could do the Cowboys in before 65,878 folks at Gillette Stadium.
Starting to get the feeling that Dak Prescott and them are mighty good, the 5-1 Cowboys in a four-way tie for the second-best record in the NFL, all trailing the 6-0 Arizona Cardinals while going into this week's bye.
"When everything is against you, we found a way to keep swinging, and to come out with a win," Dak said after constructing his 17th game-winning drive, the second most in franchise history. "I think that's important."
Heroes, there were many coming to mind.
Randy Gregory, with three tackles, two sacks, one of those a sack-fumble the Cowboys recovered, one tackle for a loss, two more QB hits, one induced holding penalty on the Patriots wiping out a touchdown pass and maybe more pressures that the stats folks could count.
Greg Zuerlein, who after missing a 51-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Cowboys a 23-21 lead, hits from 49 yards to tie the game at 29 with 0:20 left that essentially forced overtime.
Trevon Diggs, picking off his seventh interception of this young season – and at least one in each of the first six games to tie an NFL record actually shared by former Cowboys head coach Tom Landry – before then returning the ball 42 yards for his second Pick-6 of the year.
"There was no stopping me," Diggs said once he intercepted Patriots quarterback Mac Jones' pass. "As soon as I got it, I was like, I have to go score."
Special teams ace Luke Gifford blocking a Patriots punt right off the foot of Jake Bailey, then smothering the ball with his body for the recovery.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard rushing for a hard-fought 110 of the Cowboys' 122 rushing yards against a defense hell-bent on stopping the run, not to mention Zeke's 119 total yards from scrimmage.
But if we are to give out a big Attaboy T-shirt, let's give out one to young offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, the Cowboys churning out 567 total yards, Dak completing 36 of 51 passes for 445 yards and three touchdowns and Cee Dee Lamb catching nine passes for 149 yards, both career highs, two of those catches for touchdowns.
Belichick's defensive strategy was obvious. Take away the Cowboys' second-ranked running game, then bring pressure on Dak and challenge the Cowboys receivers to beat man coverage. The Cowboys not only met that challenge, they soundly beat his defensive scheme, their 567 total yards the most against a Belichick-coached team in his 27 years as a head coach, and Dak's 445 yards passing burning Belichick for the most ever.
So, it was only fitting the winning touchdown came against Patriots' pressure, Dak to Lamb for 35 yards with 3:52 left in OT. Dak already in the seven-play drive had completed two passes to CeeDee for 21 yards, the second one for 7 to the Patriots 35-yard line with 3:59 left in OT.
"We wanted six," Zeke said of that point of overtime. "We already didn't play good enough in the red zone, and we needed six. We wanted to go get six. I know we could've kicked a field goal, but we wanted to get six."
Six it was.
Moore on first-and-10 at the New England 35 sent the Cowboys out in 12 personnel, Zeke at running back, tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin tight to the right, with Amari Cooper and Lamb lined up to the left. As CBS analyst Tony Romo promptly pointed out, the Cowboys had tried this formation once before, Romo saying the Cowboys had the Patriots set up for a deep pass only to call a timeout and then run the ball instead.
This time the Cowboys got the defensive look they wanted. At the snap, New England brought six. The Patriots got sucked in on the play-fake to Zeke going left. Dak then reverse pivoted and rolled to his right.
Cooper went out to the left, while CD out of the slot curled inside to the right. J.C. Jackson took Coop. Jalen Mills, playing off, took Lamb. Safety Devin McCourty had Schultz curling out to the right, Dak's first read. Nickel back Kyle Dugger trailed Jarwin down the hash. And Adrian Phillips came up to blitz, then rolled with Dak.
Well, Lamb had only run 9 yards when he broke open immediately.
"And I was wide open," said Lamb, who was "hoping Dak saw me."
At that point, Lamb had his left hand up high in the air, knowing he had Mills beaten and there wasn't a safety in sight. Dak saw him, and on the run threw off his back foot to a streaking Lamb, who raced untouched for the winning score, saying it was his first walk-off touchdown since high school. All Mills could do was tardily shove Lamb to the ground in the end zone.
And when CeeDee got to his feet after the needless push, he waved bye-bye to Mills, saying, "It was the best feeling ever, honestly."
"Credit to CeeDee right there and just the play call," said Dak, who showed up in the interview room wearing a walking boot on his right leg, claiming he suffered a calf strain when coming down awkwardly after the winning throw, but insisting he wouldn't have come out of the game had CeeDee not scored. "Just for us to get in that moment and to be able to capitalize on that, great call by Kellen."
Sure was. Great play design. Great anticipation of just what the Patriots were coming with defensively. And great confidence in what his players could execute, Dak's three TD passes giving him 13 in the past four games and 16 in six games this season.
Perfect play at the perfect time against what Belichick had planned.
"We covered a flat receiver and then he just (got) on the over route with another extended play," Belichick would say after the Patriots dropped to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1993. "Obviously didn't play it well enough, didn't coach it well enough."
Not to beat this team, the Cowboys having won their fifth consecutive game. Not to outdistance this offense, though needing overtime to put up the fourth consecutive game of at least 35 points going into the bye this week.
"Had to overcome a lot of adversity," rookie Micah Parsons said. "Had a lot of calls, a lot of penalties. That was a tough place to play. We just stuck together. All of us are brothers. We have each other's back. It's clear. You can see it on the field, how we fight for each other. Defense, we give up a touchdown, offense comes back. Offense gets stopped, defense gets a touchdown. It works.
"This is a good team, and I'm excited."
Especially when you're so good on offense you can't even beat yourself, no matter how hard you try.