ARLINGTON, Texas – Not good enough.
Not even close.
This one, Bills 26, Cowboys 15, is that simple, the Cowboys dropping to 6-6, and now losers in six of their past nine games, enough to cause indigestion after that Thanksgiving Day dinner, while Buffalo moves to 9-3, clinching its fourth winning season since 1999. That’s right, four in 21 years.
See, previously, in the other five Cowboys losses, there always seemed something to point at, something that would cause you to scrape your fingernails across the blackboard in frustration.
The two fumbles in the Saints game.
The three interceptions, one a no-call interference, against the Packers.
The Jets’ 92-yard touchdown pass, not to mention another slow start, falling behind and ultimately losing by two points, the two-point conversion at the end unsuccessful.
Unable against the Vikings to score a touchdown when facing first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, settling for a field goal, and then following that up by failing miserably from second-and-2 at the 11 on the next three plays to only lose by four points.
Then, of course, this past Sunday against the Patriots, unable to even score a touchdown for the first time since losing to Indianapolis last year, 23-0, and then those two tripping calls and a hold on Tyron Smith the NFL the next day claimed were wrong, such significant plays in such a close game.
Seemed like it’s always been something, losing four of those five games by a grand total of 12 points, while dropping the Packers game by 10, though a missed chip-shot field goal in the end denying the Cowboys an opportunity to onside kick down just seven.
But this time, forget about it. You don’t have enough digits on your two hands to point a finger at reasons for this loss, one that was so bad before scoring a consolation touchdown with just 4:01 left – the Bills had scored 26 consecutive points – that the Cowboys were poised to suffer their worst loss since the Chargers beat them, 28-6, on Nov. 23, 2017, 35 games ago that just so happened to be on Thanksgiving Day, too.
Gobble, gobble, gobble.
But this one, the 52nd Thanksgiving Day game in franchise history, was a microcosm of too many of the shortcomings that have left a team that’s maybe not as talented as we suspected from the outset spinning in the wind.
Once again, turnovers haunted the Cowboys, two consecutively toward the end of the first half, a Dak Prescott interception facing a double blitz from his right while trying, ill-advisedly, to throw a screen to his left, and then his lost fumble when the Bills’ Ed Oliver beat Xavier Su’a-Filo to knock the ball out from behind.
Missed field goals, Brett Maher missing from 35 to close out the first half, although the ball was partially deflected, and from 47 on the Cowboys’ first possession of the second half, leaving him 1-of-4 from 40-49 yards this season and just six for10 overall in the past four games, three of those now losses.
That meant in four consecutive possessions, the Cowboys went interception, fumble, missed field goal, missed field goal. And when Buffalo scored a touchdown four minutes after that four-possession sequence, it was basically curtains for the Cowboys, trailing 23-7, even though 3:37 was left in the third quarter.
Once again running teams with running quarterbacks baffle the Cowboys. Buffalo totaled 124 yards rushing, the 10th time in 12 games the Bills have run for more than 100 yards. And embellishing that total were the 43 yards rushing by quarterback Josh Allen, along with his 15-yard touchdown run, his eighth of the season, to complement completing 19 of 24 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown, racking up a 120.7 passer rating, giving opponent quarterbacks in the past four games a rating of 100.4.
And even though the Cowboys did record four sacks in the game, Allen had far too much time to throw the ball, another one of those Cowboys’ shortcomings, along with a shortcoming from a year past protecting Prescott. Why, up until Thursday, Dak had been sacked just 12 times in 11 games, and not once in his previous 85 drop backs. But in this one, he went down four times, the Cowboys looking as if they had never seen a blitz.
Now, give the Bills credit. Once they realized stopping this offense straight up might be impossible, their defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott started throwing the kitchen sink at Dak, and as he said, “We just didn’t make them pay.”
And for good measure, let’s revisit this previous problem: Falling behind. Oh great, the Cowboys scored a touchdown on the first drive of the game, their first first-quarter touchdown in the past five games and just their second first-possession TD of the season. But by halftime, they found themselves trailing 13-7.
No matter that the NFL’s No. 1 offense racked up another 426 yards or Dak threw for another 355 yards, there were far too many drives, as head coach Jason Garrett said, oh, about umpteen times after the game, “At times I thought we moved the ball well, and the biggest issue was not really cashing in on the drives consistently enough in the game. To come away with goose eggs on those drives with a good team like this is going to hurt you in the end.”
Make that crippling.
Speaking of Garrett, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones remained supportive of his head coach in the wake of being somewhat misinterpreted on Wednesday when saying this team “needs to win.” He didn’t mean only Thursday or else. And there he was before the game at the entrance to the locker room, a rare occurrence, greeting his players with enthusiastic encouragement.
“I wouldn’t make a change and not give us a chance to do what I want to dream about doing,” said Jones, somewhat emotional after the game. “I wouldn’t do that for love nor money. It would give us zero chance if we didn’t have (Garrett).
“I’m just not going to make a coaching change.”
Jones was succinct in his point, but probably not a popular one among the frustrated fan base, so many of the 90,445 at AT&T Stadium solemnly still sitting in their seats after the game, looking stunned while an abundance of Bills fans danced in the aisles.
Or might that have been on a pre-prepared Cowboys 2019 grave?
Look, as we all remember, when Bill Parcells would be asked about the midseason worth of his teams, he’d always parry the question away by saying, ask me after Thanksgiving. By then “you usually are who you are.”
Well, it’s now post-Thanksgiving, and the Cowboys are a .500 team with four games to play – at Chicago, the Rams, at Philadelphia and the Redskins. That’s mighty average, though will be no worse than tied for first place in the very average NFC East come Sunday afternoon after the 5-6 Eagles play at the 2-9 Dolphins. And even if the Eagles win, remember the Cowboys clobbered them the first time around, 37-10, so currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
At this point, here’s for circling Dec. 22, Game 15, when the Cowboys travel for Round 2 with the Eagles. That game is looking more and more the NFC East title game. Might be a year 9-7 wins the division.
Some may say Jones is a dreamer, but maybe that’s what it takes to be a visionary, too.
“The way that I’m reacting and the decisions that I’ll make are based upon the way that I’ve always handled things or the way that I’ve evolved, and the way that I’m going to handle this is to encourage everybody to look to the possibility of winning out and end up doing something that people will write about 30 years from now,” Jones said.
“I like that story tonight as I ate my turkey.”
Even if this third loss in four games is hard to swallow.