Reality is starting to set in for the reeling and injury-plagued Dallas Cowboys.
Owner Jerry Jones, who came into the season hoping to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years, saw just how far the Cowboys have to go in a 30-6 blowout loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys, boosted initially by the debut of defensive end Greg Hardy and the return of middle linebacker Rolando McClain, were overmatched, overwhelmed and eventually run over.
Hardy, playing for the first time in 14 months because of a domestic violence incident, got the sacks he promised.
But quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots got a comfortable win as the Cowboys remain stuck in a tailspin since the loss of quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Brady shook off the comments from Hardy about his model wife Gisele Bundchen early in the week to pass for 275 yards and two touchdowns and run for another score.
Brady is 4-0 against the Cowboys in his career. The reigning Super Bowl champs are 4-0 this season.
Jones knew things would be a struggle without Romo and Bryant. But he didn’t think the Cowboys would go in the tank so quickly.
The Cowboys (2-3) lost for the third consecutive time since Romo went down with a fractured collarbone in Week 2. Now, coach Jason Garrett is strongly considering replacing quarterback Brandon Weeden with the newly acquired Matt Cassel when they return to action Oct. 25 after next week’s bye.
“We’re not a good team right now,” Jones said. “They were a much better team than we were out here today, a much better team. But lesser teams win ballgames. But they’re just a better team. They’re something for us to achieve. I think what we saw out there today was what New England was, more than what Dallas was not. We’ve got to get to be a better team overall, a better football team, a better everything.”
It was the first time since 2011 that the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown in a game. It’s also the first time the Cowboys have lost three consecutive games since Garrett took over as head coach in 2010.
The first step in the Cowboys’ plan to get better is at quarterback with Weeden. He has lost 11 consecutive games as a starter dating to his rookie year in Cleveland in 2012. He is 0-4 with the Cowboys. He lost his lone start in place of Romo last season.
The Cowboys, who are 6-12 without Romo since 2006, had hoped to keep things afloat until he returns Nov. 22 to make a playoff push at the end of the season.
“Yes,” responded Garrett, when asked if he plans to use the bye week to consider a change at quarterback.
“Brandon didn’t play well enough. We didn’t play well enough. It starts with protection and it starts with receivers and tight ends and backs winning on routes. Certainly, the quarterback is a big part of it and his decision-making in the ability to deliver the throws.”
Weeden passed for just 19 yards in the first half against the Patriots before melting down completely in the fourth quarter. For the game, he completed 26 of 39 passes for 188 yards with one interception and a passer rating of 67.0.
“It sucks to be honest,” said Weeden when asked about the possibility of being benched. “But you can't control that.”
The Cowboys could be buoyed by the possible return of Bryant, who suffered a fractured foot in the season opener. Jones has said several times this week that Bryant is targeting that game.
In the meantime, Weeden had little help against the Patriots.
He was sacked three times. Receivers Cole Beasley, Devin Street, Lucky Whitehead and running back Darren McFadden had dropped passes.
The running game was also ineffective. Joseph Randle rushed 15 times for 60 yards and McFadden had five carries for 16.
The instant impact play of Hardy and middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who both missed the first four games of the season because of NFL suspensions, gives the Cowboys reasons to believe things will get better.
Hardy finished with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. McClain had eight tackles and a sack.
Brady had been sacked six times all season and the Cowboys, led by Hardy, got him five times.
If there was ever any question as to why Jones signed Hardy in the face of enormous criticism because of the domestic violence charge while he was with the Carolina Panthers before the 2014 season, he answered it with his play before a supportive Cowboys crowd of 93,054.
“Hardy was a part of the best part of our day, the defense,” Jones said. “We didn’t win the game, but he and McClain and those guys made a difference out there.”
The Cowboys see the possibilities of a dominating defense going forward — especially with rookie end Randy Gregory expected to return after the bye.
The big question remaining is how many games will they win without Romo _ if any at all _ to keep their playoff hopes alive?
Dallas faces the Giants, Seattle, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay before Romo is due back against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 22 for the final seven games of the season.
“I don’t know that nine wins can get you in the tournament, and so, however you want to count them up,” Jones said. “We really do need to get to playing better than we’re playing. If we don’t do that, then no matter how good we might get relative to right now, it’ll be too late.”