The Dallas Cowboys lamented their inability to get off the field on third down in Sunday’s 35-30 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
But maybe the defense’s inability to create a turnover for the second consecutive week was what really sunk the unit — one that was playing without captain Sean Lee.
After all, despite the missed opportunities, the Cowboys actually converted more third-down opportunities (7 of 14) than the Rams (5 of 13). In fact, only two of the Rams’ third-down conversions came in the second half, when Los Angeles outscored Dallas 19-6.
That’s because in the key moments, Todd Gurley and the Rams made quick work of the Cowboys sans Lee. Late in the third quarter, with the Cowboys clinging to a 24-19 lead, came one of those moments.
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On a drive that started at the Rams’ 10-yard line, Gurley ripped a 16-yard run off the left guard and a 7-yard run to the left to open the series. One play later, the Rams were already near midfield. It was the first time the paper-thin defense looked legitimately tired.
The next play proved it. A skinny post from second-year quarterback Jared Goff to Gurley ate up the final 53 yards and gave the Rams their first lead of the game at 26-24 with 2:59 to play in the third. Damien Wilson, one of Lee’s replacements at weakside linebacker, couldn’t keep up with Gurley in coverage, and safety Jeff Heath fell down as Gurley trotted past him for the score.
“Those big plays, we can’t let those happen,” Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. “When they were going no-huddle, our assignments, sometimes we got away from our assignments. We beat ourselves. We can’t let that happen.”
Gurley gashed the Cowboys play after play in the second half, finishing with 121 yards on 23 carries and 94 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.
Clearly, the Rams had wrestled away control of the game from the Cowboys, whose 24-13 second quarter lead now seemed like a separate NFL week. The Cowboys couldn’t come up with the game-changing play to turn the tables back in their favor.
The first glaring sin of omission came on the first play of the second half. DeMarcus Lawrence forced a fumble on the Cowboys’ lone sack of the night, but there wasn’t another man in white close enough to fall on the ball before Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein collected it.
“It’s tough to win close games with no takeaways,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “You’ve got to get them.”
Goff and the Rams presented them with one last opportunity late in the fourth quarter. Deep in their own territory again, the Rams were guarding a 32-30 lead when Goff’s throw to Tyler Higbee got away from him. Anthony Brown jumped for what appeared to be a ball he could get to, but it went off his fingertips and fell safely to the ground for an incompletion.
The Rams marched for 10 more plays and tacked on a Greg Zuerlein field goal, one of seven on the afternoon.
“I just misjudged it and jumped too early,” Brown said. “Just one of them days, man. I wasn’t even supposed to be there, happened to be in space.”
Plays like that left Brown and the rest of the team scratching their heads.
“We beat ourselves, today, man, they didn’t beat us,” Brown said. “The Cowboys beat the Cowboys.”