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Spagnola: This Was Absolutely No Time To Lend The Rams A Helping Hand

ARLINGTON, Texas – Aaaarrrgh!!!

         Right? You did it. That groan came out of your very mouths Sunday afternoon. Multiple times. Just agonizingly frustrating.

         I mean, the Cowboys held 17-6 and 24-13 leads over the Los Angeles Rams here at AT&T Stadium where they had won eight consecutive games.

         The Cowboys scored 24 first-half points, the most first-half points since Game 3 of last season.

         The Cowboys gained 440 total yards, 28 more than the Rams and their most since Game 14 of last year.

         The Cowboys rushed for 189 yards, 21 more than the Rams and the most since the 191 when beating Green Bay in Game 6 of last year.

         The Cowboys actually netted seven more passing yards than the Rams and both teams actually averaged an identically modest 6.6 yards per pass attempt.

         Why, the Cowboys finished with a higher third-down conversion percentage than the Rams, tripled the Rams' red zone efficiency and scored twice as many touchdowns as the Rams, 4-2.

         At one point in the first half, with the Cowboys having scored on their first three possessions and holding that 17-6 lead, they forced the Rams to punt from their own 37. A laugher was in the making. They were scoring touchdowns while the Rams were kicking field goals.

         And on top of all that, the Cowboys scored 30 freaking points, something they had done 16 times over the past 53 regular-season games, winning each and every one of them, going back to the final two games of the 2013 season.

         But oh noooo, not this time, somehow, someway, figuring out a way to lose.

         Rams 35, Cowboys 30, somewhat unfathomable considering all that, the Cowboys probably waking up Monday morning wondering what the what had hit them, the answer quite possibly that head coach Jason Garrett metaphoric shovel right in the chops, leaving them with a muddied 2-2 record and their playoff nemesis Green Bay heading their way next Sunday.

         "It's frustrating," said Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, last year's fourth-round pick basically playing Jared Goff, last year's very first pick in the draft, to a statistical standstill.

            So what the heck?

         Well, let's start here: Todd Gurley. The Cowboys knew their No. 1 priority was to make sure the Rams running back did not take over the game. Yet, he grabbed it by the throat, rushing 23 times for 121 yards while also catching seven passes for a robust 94 yards, including that 53-yard TD romp right through the middle of the Cowboys defense. That's 215 total yards, probably worthy of an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award.

         That's now the second time in four games after not happening one single time last season that an opposing running back has gone for more than 100 yards against the Cowboys (Denver's C.J. Anderson 118), and subsequently, the second time this season a team has rushed for at least the 168 yards L.A. did, 10 short of the Broncos' total.

         To put it mildly, the Cowboys missed Sean Lee out there (DNP, hamstring), along with the Rams getting Jaylon Smith in far too much space.

          Mix that with not nearly enough pressure on Goff – DeMarcus Lawrence's sack the only one – and the Rams were able to hit their 35-point average, meaning twice now in four games the Cowboys have given up at least 35 points in a game, not surprisingly, both losses. Last season Pittsburgh's 30 was the opponent regular-season high in the Cowboys' 35-30 victory.

         A troubling trend.

         But to give up 35 points in this one, the Cowboys came bearing gifts, their most egregious failing in this game. That's right, gifts, donating generously to L.A.'s now 3-1 resurgence.

         First gift: After taking a 10-3 lead, the Cowboys allowed Pharoh Cooper to return the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to the Cowboys 35, a touchdown saved by kicker Dan Bailey making the first hit, allowing Damien Wilson to wrestle him to the ground. The Rams only needed to gain 9 yards to set up Greg Zuerlein's second of seven field goals. There's three points.

         Second gift: Rookie mistake, Ryan Switzer, with the Cowboys leading 17-6 after scoring on their opening three possessions and having forced Denver to punt. He ill advisedly tried fielding a punt around his own 20-yard line in bumper-to-bumper traffic. His fumble, recovered by the Rams at the Cowboys 18 turned into a touchdown five plays later, just one of two they scored in the entire game. That's right, the Rams scored 35 points with the benefit of only two touchdowns. There's now 10 points on a total of 27 total yards.

         Third gift: Then … then … after the Cowboys turned a 24-13 lead into a 29-24 deficit early in the fourth quarter, allowing the Rams to score 16 straight points, Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers hit Prescott from behind as he was throwing on a third-and-8 from his own 23, causing the ball to flutter lifelessly high into the air and allowing linebacker Mark Barron to corral the pick at the Cowboys 29. Four yards over three plays later, Zuerlein strikes again from just 43 yards out, 32-24 Rams. There's three more points.

Alas, the 13-point contribution on 31 total offensive yards.

         Can't have it. Can't win that way.

         Prior to the game, when talking about a Rams defense coming into the game with five takeaways, Garrett said while the Rams defense was only ranked 22nd, it had this propensity of providing the offense with favorable field position through takeaways.

         "One of the lessons every week is that the game is short, and depending on who you're playing, it's nine, 10, 11 possessions in the game, and often at times people will say, 'It's just one play,'" Garrett said. "And often at times it's one play out of those 11 scoring chances.

"That has an impact on the game. You have to keep understanding the importance of those things, the importance of everybody executing and doing their jobs to keep those drives alive and keep those scoring opportunities alive."

         The Cowboys, they killed two of those drives, and also set up the Rams with another prime scoring opportunity by failing to properly cover a kickoff. In the end, the Rams had 12 possessions, the Cowboys just 10. You need look no further to find that five-point difference.

         So the Rams left for home with an encouraging 3-1 record, saying thank you very much for your contributions since the Cowboys scored more touchdowns, gained more total yards, rushed for more yards and netted more passing yards.

         Yet, got beat.

         No wonder you guys were growling out loud. I could hear it from here.

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