FRISCO, Texas (AP)Forget the fast starts and blowout victories early in the season for the Dallas Cowboys.
With a healthy Dak Prescott, they have rarely, if ever, looked more out of touch with the NFL’s elite than they did in a 42-10 loss to San Francisco.
Suddenly, the Cowboys take a rather ordinary 3-2 record into another trip to the West Coast, against the Los Angeles Chargers next Monday night.
Two games after that, Dallas has to visit the team now two games up in the NFC East: defending NFC champion Philadelphia, which has the same 5-0 record as the 49ers.
“I just had a quick reflection on the five games that we played in,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s been a wide range of performance, as wide as a range that I could ever recall in a five-week period. The biggest thing is for us to be accountable. It was clearly humbling, but it is one game.”
But a potentially damaging loss.
McCarthy has just one loss that was worse in a 17-year head coaching career. Prescott has never been blown out like this in eight seasons as the starter, which is why he called it his most humbling loss.
The Cowboys were supposed to see where they stood against a Super Bowl contender that knocked them out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Now, doubt about Dallas’ legitimacy will linger for weeks, at least until the first Sunday in November and the first of two meetings with another team currently undefeated, the Eagles.
“You’ve got to move on fast or it’ll do exactly that and landslide, I guess, if you’re saying to go the opposite way,” Prescott said. “We sure didn’t come in here and get the confidence that we’re trying to grab leaving this game. You’ve got to turn the page, and you got to turn the page quick.”
The Cowboys enjoyed a 95-point differential in their first three victories, highlighted by dominant defensive showings while the offense essentially went along for the ride.
This time, the defense was dominated from the opening kickoff, and the offense had no answer as Prescott tied his career high with three interceptions.
“It’s like I feel when we’re on, we’re on,” star pass rusher Micah Parsons said. “But I feel like, I’ve never seen a champion not be battle-tested. We’re just getting tested early.”
Near the bottom of the NFL in touchdown efficiency inside the opponent’s 20-yard line this season, Dallas didn’t make that number worse. The Cowboys didn’t run a play in the red zone against the Niners.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense simply has to start better in big games, and the blowout was an ugly reminder that the offense really hasn’t been a huge factor in any of the victories.
Dallas had four punts and a fumble in the first six drives against the 49ers, and McCarthy had to give up on a bid for points in the final minute of the first half after the third sack of Prescott before the break.
Prescott has three sub-80 passer ratings in the first five games. He’s had more than four in a season just once in his career.
K Brandon Aubrey is now four made field goals from tying the NFL record for perfect starts to a career. The 28-year-old rookie made a 50-yarder to reach 14 of 14. Six kickers have longer career-opening streaks, with Travis Coons holding the longest at 18 with Cleveland in 2015.
Parsons has gone without a QB hit in consecutive games for just the second time in his three-year career. Only once, early in his rookie season, has the 2021 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year gone three straight games without a sack. He’ll be trying to avoid of repeat of that against Justin Herbert and the Chargers.
LB Leighton Vander Esch, whose history of neck injuries includes surgery, didn’t return after appearing to jam his neck in a collision with Parsons in the second half. McCarthy said Monday he is likely headed to injured reserve along with special teams ace C.J. Goodwin, who left with a shoulder injury. … Not long after the first receiving TD of his career, KaVontae Turpin injured an ankle and didn’t return. … S Donovan Wilson, who missed the entire preseason with a calf strain, injured his lower right leg or foot.
32 – The previous time the Cowboys lost by more than 32 points, McCarthy’s Packers beat them 45-7 in prime time on a Sunday in 2010. Coach Wade Phillips was fired the next day.
The Cowboys get both LA teams in consecutive games with the open week in between. The game against the Rams on Oct. 29 is the only one at home in a five-week stretch.
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