The author of *America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.*
Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:
- Really wanted to write this on Monday, even Sunday night, but felt it was my responsibility to first watch the coaches' film. Having done that, let me say that I have never, ever, ever seen a fan base and portions of the media so misguided in the aftermath of a game. Reminded me of a line I once heard, "Football is a lot like church. Many attend, few understand."
- So the backup quarterback completes 22-of-26 passes for 232 yards, and the offense puts up 28 points, and it's his fault they lost the game. That is befuddling beyond words. At first, reading Twitter in the press box as the game was ending, I honestly thought the backlash was sarcasm. I just could not, cannot, rationalize how anyone could think Brandon Weeden was the reason the Cowboys lost that game. It's like the starting goalie of a hockey team being injured and the backup loses 2-1. I mean, really, we're blaming him for the loss?
- As a backup quarterback, Weeden did his job. He's not expected to be Tony Romo, that's why he's paid like 1/20th of his salary. That's why it's usually a catastrophic situation when any team's starting quarterback goes down, not to mention when the All-Pro wide receiver is already sidelined. Weeden threw two bad balls, the interception, which is among the ugliest passes one will ever witness, and the seam route to Jason Witten. That one should have been a touchdown.
- Still, two bad balls out of 26 for a backup quarterback to me is a win. Anyone see Jimmy Clausen's numbers in Chicago's 26-0 loss at Seattle. He was 9-of-17 for 63 yards. That's often the case with a backup. There is no position in sports more top heavy than quarterback. They are not interchangeable like, say, running backs are to a certain degree. The top-tier quarterbacks can more or less win a game by themselves, which Romo has done numerous times. Many football people have told me that the Cowboys were more like a five-win team from 2011-13 if not for Romo. He alone was worth about three wins per season.
- Also, watch the film. Honestly, watch it. There's a free seven-day trial right now. Check it out. No one was open downfield. Terrance Williams was blanketed by Desmond Truant. He couldn't create separation. And Cole Beasley, no matter how many wideouts are injured, is a slot option. He's not going to be running 30-yard routes and stretching the field. Gavin Escobar, who many expected to be a bigger part of the offense, heck, any part, was open on the first drive – the play where Williams drew a personal foul facemask penalty – on a nifty little slant, but that was it. Weeden threw to who was open. He didn't try and force it.
- I am pretty sure every coach in the league would take just one turnover and 28 points from the backup quarterback. Yes, the Cowboys didn't score in the second half. I'm not saying Weeden played superbly, but he managed the game, took what the defense was giving. And the running game could only muster a few feet in the second half. That certainly would have made his life easier. Everyone knows that Joseph Randle gained just 2 yards on his final 11 carries. Really think it's time for Darren McFadden to see some more reps. Thought he looked ready to carry the load against Atlanta.
- As for the actual reasons why the Cowboys lost the game and were dominated in the second half? First off, the Falcons didn't make these adjustments at halftime that many assume. I mean, watch the tape. They were running the same defense; they were just physically dominant. On both sides up front. That's where games are won at any level, and Atlanta was resilient. They just kept coming. The Dallas offensive line didn't have a great day. Tyron Smith had a few issues, which kind of standout only because he's usually clean, as in doesn't allow a hurry or make a mistake.
- Thought rookie La'el Collins played well, like a B-plus. Not sure what the situation is going to be when Ronald Leary returns, but Collins is making it tougher and tougher to take him off the field. Maybe they alternate possessions. It's a difficult situation because Leary has done nothing to lose his job, either.
- As for the defense as a whole, this is really all that needs to be known: The Cowboys registered three quarterback hurries on the day, all by their linebackers, who you know, rarely rush. Sean Lee was credited with two, Anthony Hitchens, who didn't play his best game, had the third. There was no pressure. Tyrone Crawford had one play in the fourth quarter where he kind of, sort of, just missed Matt Ryan's leg as he was falling to the ground, but that wasn't enough for a hurry, so he didn't even land on the stat sheet. For a guy who was expected to break out in a Pro Bowl sort of way, that's a tough game.
- Still, there wasn't much help. This team desperately needs the return of Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey and Randy Gregory. That's the core of the front four along with Crawford. That allows the other players to be rotation guys rather than see the bulk of the snaps. Through three weeks, St. Louis and New England have 13 sacks each, tied for the league lead. Dallas is tied for 29th with three. The Cowboys are also one of four teams without a forced fumble. They have three takeaways. Only seven teams have less.
- The offense is by no means perfect, and no one should expect it to be minus Romo and Dez, but 28 points was a pretty solid output, even considering the second half. The offense is also what it is, for the time being, outside of maybe McFadden seeing more carries. Dez is out at least another month. The defense is where the focus should be right now. Guys are returning, big-time playmakers. There's going to be more depth, so the pass rush has to materialize. The key to the next seven games is the pass rush. The secondary has actually been playing OK. There's just only so much any group can do without a pass rush. And when facing Julio Jones.
- So everyone needs to chill with Weeden and focus on the defense. Doesn't make any sense to bring in Matt Cassel, who has been looking at the playbook for less than a week. Weeden was fine against the Falcons; he wasn't the problem. He knows this system, and without question, he's this team's best chance at success with Romo sidelined. That's the reality of the situation.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at email@example.com.