God-awful. Dreadful. Atrocious. Distressing.
Pick a bad word, preferably a profane one, and it applies to the abysmal showing by your Dallas Cowboys in a 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Six turnovers were the story, including five in the first half and two on the first three possessions.
Not one. Not two. Not three. Not four. Not five. But six.
Three of the five first-half turnovers came on the first four possessions if you include the fumbled punt by receiver Dwayne Harris before the team’s first possession.
The others were a fumble from running back Lance Dunbar, a fumble from receiver Dez Bryant and two unforgivable and unsightly interceptions from backup quarterback Kyle Orton.
It was so bad that owner Jerry Jones was not in the giving mood after the game and wanted no part of looking on the bright side of the seemingly impressive showing by third-string quarterback Alex Tanney. The former YouTube sensation completed 14 of 19 passes, including his first 11, for 136 yards and a touchdown
He almost led the Cowboys to a late comeback victory but was intercepted on the final drive — the sixth turnover.
“I would like to think that we are better and will play better than to make Tanney’s performance something to get giddy about,” Jones said. “But since we did play like that, let’s call it a Heisman Trophy day.”
There was no spin doctoring from the Cowboys. The performance was bad, and the Cowboys said it was bad and inexcusable.
Certainly, you might wonder what were they supposed to say?
Well, you haven’t been around here long enough. And you certainly haven’t been reading the excuses on Twitter from Cowboys fans.
This is an organization that has called a “playoff bye” a “playoff win” and celebrated “preseason” division titles.
Accountability has been a problem in the past, but not now. Not under the watch of coach Jason Garrett, who has not only emphasized turnovers since the start of camp but has called his players out for it.
So if you want to look at the bright side of Saturday’s dreadful outcome it is that from the front office on down the Cowboys recognize that there is no justifying six turnovers in a game — not even in the preseason — and it must be addressed.
“Obviously you can’t win football games like that,” Garrett said. “Go through it play by play, you could give them credit on each of those plays, but obviously you have to take care of the football. Dwayne Harris’ fumble on the punt return, the Dez Bryant fumble, the Lance Dunbar fumble, the two Orton interceptions and the Tanney interception; those plays kill you and you can’t win that way. It’s inexcusable and you have to correct it.”
Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t have a turnover — which a few fans think registered as good news — and he was in lockstep with his coach.
“It’s really hard,” Romo said. “It’s not winning football and it’s not championship football. We are going to get that corrected. That’s too important. That’s the No. 1 thing we stress every day.”
Romo played well, completing 7 of 10 passes for 142 yards in the game.
And you saw the possibilities of the offense, especially his connection with Bryant, who caught four passes for 74 yards. And you certainly see why the Cowboys are so excited about the speed and quickness of Dunbar, the former North Texas and Haltom High School star.
His 43-yard catch-and-run could have been the team’s best play of the preseason — if he hadn’t fumbled at the end of it.
So from the Cowboys’ point of view you can take your bright spots and shove it.
“I think if you look at each of the fumbles, Dwayne Harris is trying to hold it, the guy comes back in from the back,” Garrett said. “Dunbar makes an outstanding play to get us down in the tight red zone, and he’s flipping through the air and the ball gets knocked out; the same thing with Dez. Dez is trying to get the second hand on the ball and the guy rips it out.
“The teachable moment for our football team is that I get all that. You have to understand the ball is critical regardless of how many more yards you might make or you might make a bigger play, you have to take care of the rock. We didn’t do that on six different occasions and it beat us.”
That was certainly Garrett’s message to the team in the postgame locker room.
Consider this quote from Bryant at halftime: “Besides the fumbles, everything was great out there.”
But there was this from Bryant after the game: “Ball security is very important in this league. Big, huge mistake on my part trying to do too much, trying to switch hands and stiff arm; can’t do it. That outweighs what you’ve done in the ballgame regardless of any circumstances.
“It’s something I’ve got to learn from, take it in next week and work on it. That’s all I can do, and make sure it’ll never happen again.”
Were there some things the Cowboys liked in the game? Of course.
That the defense allowed only 12 points despite the six turnovers was a huge positive. The defense was physcial and aggressive.
The sight of oft-injured receiver Miles Austin delivering a blow shows the tough and feisty mentality the Cowboys have shown throughout camp.
But none of it matters when you give the football away like cookies at a kid’s birthday party.
Remember, turnovers more than injuries were the Cowboys’ biggest problem a year ago when they finished 8-8 and finished out of the playoffs for the third year in a row. They moved the ball up and down the field, but couldn’t get out of their own way.
Not acceptable. Not anymore.
“The story of this game is the turnovers,” Garrett said. “There’s no question about that. When we watch the tape and see how our team played, there are going to be some positive things in there. There’s no question about it.
“Individual players, I thought the overall demeanor and the aggressiveness of our team was good. There was physical play on our offense, but again, you can have all of those good things, and if you give the ball away six times you have no chance of winning.”
And no time to feel good about Alex Tanney, either.