FRISCO, Texas – The narrative was formed before the locker room had even cleared out on Sunday.
Having lost, 23-0, to end a five-game win streak, several Cowboys players framed the loss as a silver lining. Perhaps it was good to be knocked down a peg or two heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Coming off his review of the game film, it's not necessarily a viewpoint Jason Garrett shared with his team.
"I don't really agree with that assessment," said the Cowboys' coach on Monday. "We didn't do what we needed to do as a team to win the game. Give them credit. They played very well in all three phases. We didn't play well enough. We didn't earn the right to win that game and we have to live with that, we have to learn from that."
Needless to say, there are plenty of lessons to learn. The Cowboys dealt with many familiar problems on offense, including penalties and red zone execution. But just as troubling were some newfound problems, such as dealing with the Colts' physicality in the run game.
"Ultimately, they ran the ball too easily in the game," Garrett said. "They ran the ball well against us. That hasn't happened a lot this year. Then when you run the ball and you have that quarterback, they're going to attack you a lot of different ways."
The Colts ran the ball for 178 yards as a team on the day, helping Andrew Luck to control the clock and the second half of the game. It led to a lopsided second half that didn't quite to justice to the competitive nature of the first.
In that regard, there was a fitting comparison floating around the team facility on Monday afternoon. The score might not have looked the same, but the loss was at least a little reminiscent of the Cowboys' last loss, when they jumped out to a 7-0 lead but couldn't sustain their energy level against the Titans.
"To me, I compare the game a little bit to the Tennessee game," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. "We came out there and we did everything the right way except score points against the Colts in the first half. We held the ball 20 minutes. I think we were right at 180 yards of total offense and we didn't score, and I think when that happens, maybe like you, between the high you were on and then seeing things not come to fruition for whatever reason, just didn't play the same type of football in the second half."
Much like in that Titans game, the Colts absolutely killed the Cowboys on third downs. Garrett pointed out that, excluding a kneel down at the end of the game, Indianapolis converted 7-of-11 third downs to keep drives alive against the Dallas defense.
"I think they scored on five of their eight possessions," Garrett said. "That's really what the game was. We didn't do what we needed to do. They did. Give them credit and we'll have to learn from it."
Fortunately, in the NFL it's never a long wait to get back on track. Cowboys brass might not buy the idea that they needed to lose, but the loss happened all the same. With those lessons lingering in their mind, there's plenty of confidence they'll learn from them.
"I think our guys will respond," Jones said. "We were talking coming home last night. I think our guys respond even better when their backs are against the wall. This young football team, I think, are certainly going to learn a lot from this and there's no doubt in my mind they're going to come back, they're going to go to work, our staff will go to work. We know how important this is. This is a big-time football game."