Even before Sunday, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett knew it was going to be an ugly day.
After all, Richard Sherman and the Seattle defense were coming to town. And how unsightly have Sundays been for Seahawks opponents in recent seasons?
“It was going to be a dirty, grindy, gritty-type game,” Garrett said, “and we challenged our guys with that all week long.
“We knew this game was going to be like this.”
No touchdowns. Only 220 yards of offense. Just 91 net yards passing, even with Dez Bryant back on the field.
One caveman game plan.
One all-but-squandered Greg Hardy interception.
One unforgivable officiating blunder that might have cost the Cowboys a touchdown right before halftime.
And a two-minute drill that actually saw Matt Cassel and the Dallas offense moving backwards at the end of the game.
Add it all up, and if the Cowboys really knew that was coming, there should have been a warning printed on the tickets:
Seahawks 13, Cowboys 12. Viewer discretion advised.
Granted, this was the mighty, naughty Seattle defense — the two-time defending NFC champions — that Cassel and the Cowboys were matched against.
How would you like to have Sherman following you around all week?
Bryant had Sherman as his shadow whenever he was on the field Sunday. The Cowboys chose not to force the issue and, as Garrett described it, a “dirty, grindy, gritty” afternoon ensued.
At intermission, the Cowboys’ leading rusher was Cassel with 35 yards.
In the second half, when it became apparent that the Seattle defense had figured out the six or seven plays — there couldn’t have been any more than that — that Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had entrusted Cassel with, the home team clearly was being out-gritted and out-grinded.
Garrett defended the conservative play-calling with an Xs-and-Os explanation.
“Their style of defense is to play high on a lot of things and to not let you throw the ball downfield,” Garrett said. “We did take a couple of shots outside to Dez, but they made plays on their end and we weren’t able to convert on them.”
The costliest failure to convert came early in the fourth quarter, after Hardy had batted and intercepted a Russell Wilson pass and run to the Seattle 16-yard line. Three downs later, the Cowboys settled for Dan Bailey’s fourth field goal of the game.
It needed to be a touchdown.
“It was a lost opportunity for us against a good football team,” Cassel said. “When you play a good football team, you’ve got to score. Those would be the difference makers.”
But nothing seemed to make any difference against the Seahawks, not even a sparkling defensive effort that held Marshawn Lynch to 71 yards and allowed Wilson only one touchdown.
Cassel objected, however, to the postgame suggestion that the Cowboys’ offensive game plan was too conservative, especially in light of the 27 first downs and 460 yards that the offense compiled last week against the Giants.
“We had some shots called — there’s no doubt,” Cassel said. “But at the same time, you’re not just going to throw the shot down the field just to throw a shot.
“With the way they play their defense, they make you take the short stuff and make you work down the field. That’s kind of their mentality. You’ve got to be smart with the football, and I think we were for the most part today.”
Smart, however, didn’t show on the scoreboard.
Were Cassel’s three interceptions a week ago behind the game plan’s thinking? Sure looked like it.
With a fifth consecutive defeat now weighing on their shoulders, the Cowboys are shaving their margin for late-season glory dangerously thin.
“I’m sure people are frustrated,” Cassel said. “I’m sure people are upset. How can you not be?
“But the mindset in this locker room is that coach Garrett does a tremendous job of getting his guys ready to play. You can see it. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to continue to fight. And eventually I feel like it’s going to turn around for us.”
It was a bold hope on such a dirty, grindy, gritty, frustrating afternoon.