Consider the Dallas Cowboys confident, focused and (angry) headed into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
Sure the Cowboys, as a group, try to treat the aftermath of every game the same, win or lose. Highlight the good stuff, clean up the mistakes and move on to the next opponent.
That process is no different following 12-10 loss to the Saints last Sunday which ended their three-game winning streak to start the season.
The Cowboys have moved on and are focusing on the Packers but the seeds of discomfort remain because of how they lost.
The Cowboys are giving the Saints credit for their scheme and discipline in slowing down what had been a high-powered attack. Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for just 35 yards on 18 carries and quarterback Dak Prescott was held to 223 yards passing and didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season.
But the Cowboys believe their own mistakes and miscues, including fumbles by tight end Jason Witten and Elliott in plus territory and a dropped pass on third down by receiver Randall Cobb to kill a potential scoring drive, proved to be the difference in the game, per Prescott.
That has them little more honed in and edgier this week from the top on down.
“It could have been a different game, give them credit,” Prescott said. “Like Coach (Jason) Garrett said, ‘what pisses you off is they think they are better than us’.”
“They think they are,” said Prescott when asked to clarify.
Prescott was not trying to be arrogant or disrespectful to the Saints.
It was insight into the Cowboys mindset coming off the loss to the Saints some on the outside believing that their success was largely based on playing inferior opponents through the first three games and there is now a book on how to defend them that future teams will copy.
“We were moving,” Prescott said. “They are not stopping us like that. We started to hurt ourselves. We had two costly turnovers and on third down, the ball is behind (Cobb) We were moving on that drive. All that happened right there in the plus or as we are going into the plus. I can’t just say they stopped us. They didn’t really, we stopped ourselves and didn’t make the necessary plays. That was three drives that may have turned into points one way or another. We lost by 2. You get a field goal on one of those three, it’s a different game.”
Tight end Jason Witten had a similar take, pointing out the Cowboys went from converting 18 of 31 third downs in the first three games (58.1 percent) to just four of 11 against the Saints (36 percent).
“It was their ability to give us some different looks and challenge us and our inability to convert,” Witten said. “There were a couple third downs and short. We had been at the top of the league on third down and we weren’t able to capitalize. And then you don’t get it back until the fourth quarter. Eight possessions in that game, you have two turnovers and you don’t convert on some third and (shorts), it kind of changes that game. Give them credit. They did a good job changes things up internally and how they pressured us. They played better than we did.
“It goes back to that formula we believe will allow you to win in this league. We want to be in those situations. We feel like we are going to win those over the course of time. We weren’t able to do. Getting that corrected has been a big priority this week.”
That priority started on Monday when the Cowboys returned to work in their attitude and focus — things that are monitored and managed not just by Garrett but also Prescott.
“You have to be more conscious of coming in and making sure everybody knows there is a difference,” Prescott said. “You have to approach it the same but guys can’t come in laughing and giggling. We can get that way once we have prepared. But we are just coming off a loss. To me, it’s about how much do you care. You don’t get too many guys coming in on a Monday, happy spirited and you’re like, ‘what you are doing we are coming off a loss’.”
Prescott said everyone’s attitude, their demeanor, the way they are carrying themselves should a little bit edgier coming off a loss and it has been.
“We should be a little more focused on the details, focused on the little things, especially after a game like that,” Prescott said. “’Geez why did we lose?’ Details, little bitty details. You better make sure your splits are right, if you are a receiver. Don’t jog out there and say, ‘I’m close enough.’ ‘You were close enough in the game and we lost, get exactly where your split is’.”
The attitude matters. The approach matters. Everything matters after wins and losses.
But the Cowboys recognize this Packers game represents an opportunity to show their true character.
“Not just the next game but the next day and the next week’s practice, how you approach,” said Witten when asked about the importance of rebounding after a loss. “To no surprise, this group has always been very critical of themselves, very accountable and then get back to work. It shows up the next game. These are the games you look back on and say, ‘how do you respond’. This is a great opportunity for us.”