Though he was here only three years, the charismatic Northeastern aura of Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells left a lasting impression on the Dallas Cowboys franchise. Several nuggets of his unparalleled football wisdom, humorous anecdotes, and cringeworthy, culturally insensitive idioms delivered in his patented Sopranos-cast-member accent still linger in the Cowboys milieu. One such is his cautionary advice about a successful team buying into their own hype. “Don’t eat the cheese” was his warning.
After coming up just a missed field goal shy of defeating the defending Super Bowl champs in Week 1 and then rattling off six straight wins, the most recent on the road with a backup quarterback, this year’s Dallas Cowboys have certainly been served a heaping helping of swag-scented gruyere. With countless media plaudits and fans’ expectations souring, it was likely only a matter of time before the players began to nibble a bit at that hunk of Havarti. However, given the 30-16 stomping (that really should have been 30-0) at the hands of the Denver Broncos on Sunday, it appears the ’Boys just might have gorged themselves on the cheddar to the point of choking.
In front of a raucous, massive Denver home crowd magically transported into AT&T Stadium, Dallas played one of their worst games in recent memory. Suddenly the toast-of-the-NFL 2021 Cowboys looked like they time-traveled into the quantum realm and came back with the horrendous 2020 defense and the lackluster 2017 offense. The Broncos, by riding the dynamic duo of running backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams, rolled over Big D’s D to the tune of 190 yards on the ground while simultaneously giving the usually forgettable QB Teddy Bridgewater a highlight reel for his agent to use to work over GM John Elway for a nice, fat extension.
On the other side of the ball, heretofore MVP candidate Dak Prescott had easily the worst game of his career since the 39-7 debacle against the Eagles during his sophomore campaign. If he had been pulled when he should have been, somewhere in the mid-fourth quarter, Dak would have ended the game completely shut out on the scoreboard, posting a paltry 6/19 for 79 yards and an interception. Those are some Ben DiNucci numbers right there, hoss.
Though it isn’t like he had any help. Dallas could never get the running game going, and on the rare occasion Dak hit his open receivers, they dropped the ball. Amari Cooper had his first drop of the season in 54 passes aimed his way. Missing left tackle Tyron Smith, the coaching staff decided to move two players to replace him. La’el Collins, who rode the bench last week coming off a five-game suspension, resumed his role at right tackle, forcing a slide of Terence Steele from the right side, where he’d played fairly admirably for the last six games, over to Smith’s side of the field. The result was as ugly as the O-line has looked all year. Prescott was under duress all game, and there were no running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard to break through. Three-and-out was the chorus all afternoon.
It truly is remarkable how in some games everything just seems to go wrong. And I mean everything. As the Cowboys tried to crawl back into the game after the half, at the time only down 16-0, the defense managed a three-and-out and then blocked the Denver punt, but due to a quirky rule, the Broncos managed to recover the loose ball and were awarded a fresh set of downs. (I still don’t understand why this rule exists.) All the life then went out of the Cowboys. That is until Dallas’ final two drives, when Prescott, fresh off a calf strain (not to mention the season-ending broken ankle on the same leg from a year ago), inexplicably took on further risk of injury and remained in the game. He took advantage of Denver’s soft win-in-the-bag coverage for a pair of garbage-time TDs, even scrambling and then being tackled hard for a useless two-point conversion.
Dallas was never going to go 16-1 on the year, and because this is the NFL, it was almost a certainty that the ’Boys would lose one that, on paper, they probably shouldn’t have, but the Denver game was a beatdown no one could have foreseen. It’s likely future opponents will look to copy the blueprint laid out by Denver HC Vic Fangio, and if they have equal success in following it, it could spell trouble. The larger sample size, however, suggests this game will be an outlier and the dominant Dallas offense should find its footing again, helping keep an increasingly suspect defense off the field, and then Dallas continues on its merry way to the postseason.
It could be that this type of loss is just what the team needed, a wake-up call to remind them you can’t just mark a W on the schedule and that the games still need to be played. It can be a hard lesson to learn when the world is shouting about how great you are. Let’s just hope that the players spit out the cheese and taste some humble pie instead.