SEATTLE -- It would be too easy to make maligned running back Felix Jones and his bungles the symbol of Sunday's 27-7 beatdown that left the Dallas Cowboys breathless in Seattle.
Certainly his fumble on the opening kickoff got things rolling for the Seahawks in front of a crowd of 68,008 at CenturyLink Field. And Jones tripping on the turf on the final play of the game while running alone proved to a fitting bookend to the debacle.
But putting it all on Jones misses the more important stuff that happened in between.
The Cowboys were being beaten in all three phases of the game by a team that was more physical. That they failed to respond raised questions about their own toughness.
That was never more evident than early in the fourth quarter when linebacker Sean Lee was de-cleated on a crackback block by receiver Golden Tate, who celebrated by crawling on the field.
Though it wasn't penalized, it looked like an illegal hit that could draw a fine from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this week.
On Sunday, the Cowboys had their own chance to stand up for Lee, who returned to the field for a play and tried to fire up the defense to get a stop.
Seattle simply continued to push the Cowboys around and down the field to complete an 88-yard scoring drive, turning a 20-7 game into a blowout.
"Anytime somebody does something like that to our defense, we have to take that back to them," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "It's part of this game. It's a brutal game. We didn't do that. I'm shocked. I'm shocked. I can make you a promise it won't happen again."
But the Cowboys would have made a similar promise before the game.
Not only would they not get beat up, but there was no way they would lose the game after their seemingly image-turning and coming-of-age performance in the 24-17 season-opening victory on the field of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sept. 5.
A Cowboys team that finished 8-8 last season and has been largely a middling franchise for more than a decade came to Seattle looking for two road victories to open a potentially super season.
That it was their first trip back to Seattle since quarterback Tony Romo fumbled the snap on a would-be game-winning field goal in a loss to the Seahawks in the 2006 wild-card playoffs was supposed to give them added motivation.
There were more special teams gaffes, but after the game there was no talk about the Romo fumble that ended legendary Bill Parcells' coaching tenure.
"We've got to be good enough to come in situations like this and win to get where we're going, and we weren't today," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We've got to be good enough to play a team like this at home and gain on it, to create a win that we can build on.
"We didn't get it done today. I know everybody in this room is disappointed. But they had everything to say about it."
Coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys dug themselves an early hole with the opening fumble, a blocked punt that the Seahawks returned for a touchdown and an interception off Romo.
Garrett felt the Cowboys survived the early storm and were ready to make a second-half comeback when they found themselves down 13-7 after halftime thanks to a 22-yard touchdown pass from Romo to Miles Austin.
The second half proved to be the same for the Cowboys' offense, which seemed out of sync from the beginning to the end.
Perennial Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten had three drops, receiver Dez Bryant had two drops and two fumbles, including a muffed punt, and Romo had a fumbled snap.
Add in the interception and two near interceptions that were dropped as well as an inability to run the ball effectively -- DeMarco Murray rushed 12 times for 44 yards.
"We didn't run, catch, throw," said Romo, who completed 23 of 40 passes for 251 yards. "We didn't block. We didn't do the things you needed to do, the small things you need to do to give yourselves a chance in an environment like this. We didn't expect to come in here and lose the game the way we did. It's disappointing."
Even more disappointed was the way the defense got pushed around in the second half when Marshawn Lynch rushed for 100 of his game-high 122 yards. It allowed Seattle to go on 90- and 88-yard touchdown drives and prevented the Cowboys from getting pressure on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who completed an efficient 15 of 20 passes for 151 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown to tight end Anthony McCoy.
Garrett agreed that the Cowboys will have to reassess themselves before next week's home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) at Cowboys Stadium.
"Certainly when they are able to run the ball at the end of the game, there is a physical dimension to that," Garrett said. "We had an inability to run the ball. Obviously you want to be more physical. You want to physically dominate. We certainly didn't do that. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and move on. But we didn't get the job done. That is the bottom line. They beat us in all three phases."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.