It’s panic time in Dallas.
From 3-0 to 3-3.
It’s one thing to lose to the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers.
Losing to the winless New York Jets as the Dallas Cowboys did Sunday was something never considered to be part of the equation.
But this is where the Cowboys are following a 24-22 loss to the Jets (1-4).
“This was a big game for us right here,” owner Jerry Jones said. “We could have been 4-2. It was a bloody nose to us.”
The Cowboys remain tied atop the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles at 3-3.
But they are trending in the wrong direction with losses in manpower as well on the field.
The Cowboys opened the game without their starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and slot receiver Randall Cobb.
They lost No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper in the first quarter, nickel cornerback Anthony Brown in the second and right cornerback Byron Jones in the third.
But give the Cowboys credit from rallying from a 21-3 deficit in the second quarter. They pulled within two after quarterback Dak Prescott directed a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by his 4-yard TD run with 47 seconds left.
The drive included plays with six straight penalties.
The Cowboys needed a seventh.
A pass to Jason Witten on the two-point try went incomplete. A defensive back was all over Witten, but no flag was thrown.
Now the question is not whether the Cowboys are pretenders but whether coach Jason Garrett will keep his job through the bye week.
A loss to the Eagles next week could provide an answer.
“I’m just concerned about the Jets beating us right now,” said a disappointed owner Jerry Jones, who opened the season dreaming out loud about another trip to the Super Bowl. Now Jones is just hoping the Cowboys can keep pace in the division.
“I’m more concerned about just not being able to beat them than I am about a losing streak,” he said.
“Those future type considerations are overcome by how we just stunk it up early here as a football team. If we’re doing some individual things and that overshadows any specific things on a long-term basis. As far as I haven’t glanced in my mind in long term future. I’m looking at the future is next week against those Eagles.”
Cowboys get back to ground game
Running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a season-high 28 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. He had just 10 carries for 35 at halftime but did a bulk of his work in the second half.
Elliott had just 12 and 18 carries in losses to the Packers and Saints.
It wasn’t enough for a Cowboys offense that was decidedly limited without Smith and Collins, who didn’t start, and Cooper, who left on the second drive of the game.
“Yeah it’s frustrating,” Elliott said. “I don’t think any loss is acceptable. We have to play better football. That is all. It’s a long season. We got a lot of football left. A lot can happen. We got to grinding and get back to work.”
It also didn’t help that Prescott was undone by at least three dropped passes, including two from receiver Michael Gallup and one from tight end Jason Witten.
After scoring at least 31 points in each of the first three games, the Cowboys lost their third straight game with the offense held under 30 points.
“You can’t get in your own way,” Prescott said. “That is what we have continuously done. Great teams don’t do that. Right now we are far from that. We have to figure it out.”
Growing injury list
Backup defensive end Dorance Armstrong left with a shoulder injury, and cornerback Anthony Brown left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones suffered a hamstring injury in third quarter, leaving the Cowboys with just two healthy cornerbacks in Chido Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
It could have been worse: Prescott was checked for a concussion.
Fourth-and-2 to giving up bomb
Consider the second quarter sequence with the Cowboys down 7-3 but driving.
Elliott loses a yard on third-and-1 at the Jets’ 6. Coach Jason Garrett decides to go for it on fourth down and runs Prescott right on a called sweep into the strength of the Jets defense. He loses a yard, forcing the Cowboys to turn the ball over on downs.
“It’s a force play,” Prescott said. “We are blocking that end. We are pulling two guys. We got an extra guy in Zeke. Just didn’t get it.”
Clearly, they should have kicked the field goal after Elliott lost a yard on third down.
On the ensuing play, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold threw a 92-yard bomb to Robby Anderson.
Awuzie bit on a stop-and-go route and then stumbled. Safety Jeff Heath lost the ball in the air.
Anderson walked into the end zone untouched to make the score 14-3. After a three-and-out by the Cowboys, the Jets made it 21-3 with 27 seconds left in the half on a pass from Darnold to tight end Ryan Griffin.
A week after owner Jerry Jones admitted he holds his breath every time Brett Maher lines up to kick, the maligned specialist kind of redeemed himself. He kicked three field fields to keep the Cowboys in the game, including a team record-tying 62-yarder right before halftime to give the team a semblance of momentum. He kicked a 50-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Maher had a 32-yarder to open the third quarter to make the score 21-9.
He set himself back with a 40-yard miss early in the fourth quarter, following a Jourdan Lewis interception.
That last miss was typical of Maher who makes the long ones and misses the short ones. If had made the 40-yarder, the Cowboys would have won the game on the final touchdown and not come up short on a failed try for 2.
Maher had missed two field-goal attempts in the 34-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers. It was a continuation of a bout of inconsistency that began late last season and continued into training camp.
But Sunday’s early redemptive effort against the Jets proved to be the Cowboys’ only bright spot.
The Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles at 7:20 p.m. Sunday in what was supposed to be a showdown for early supremacy in the NFC East. The Eagles lost 38-20 to the Vikings on Sunday.
Both are still tied for first place in the NFC East, but this is now a battle for survival.
The Cowboys may need to win to keep coach Garrett employed through the bye week.
“It’s a clean slate.” Prescott said. “We are 0-0 right now. We got a big game next week. It’s for first in our division. We got to figure out a way to turn the page and focus on exactly that. As crazy as it is, it is still ahead of us. We have got a huge one next week. That is what matters now.”
Said Elliott: “We are still tied for the lead in the division. We have to go out there and get a win. Next week is a must-win.”