On a personal level, perhaps the worst part of a Cowboys loss is when my wife asks me, “Are you OK?” She makes better use of her time, so she rarely watches them play. Instead, a few times each game, she’ll ask how it’s going. We’ve been together for about 15 years, so this is the routine we’ve developed when the Cowboys play. But on Sunday, because she felt sick and it was cloudy and colder than usual in El Paso, where we live, she lay on the couch during the game, laughing at TikTok videos. Once she saw it was over and presumably noticed my little Cowboys heart bruised, that’s when she asked. She even said my eyes looked a little red.
I always answer the same way, even if I’m lying: “Yeah, I’m OK. I then hope she doesn’t ask that innocent question that has no simple answer: “What happened?”
Luckily, she didn’t ask yesterday. If she had, I would have told her the team went into the game without two of their best five offensive players, and they lost a third right before halftime. I would have told her that Amari Cooper missed this game and will miss the next because of COVID protocol and that the offensive line has played badly since Tyron Smith has been hurt and that I don’t even want to imagine what happens when he retires in the not-too-distant future. That maybe, had Mike McCarthy not gotten sucker-punched by the game clock once again and that if he’d used a timeout before the half, the interception and CeeDee Lamb’s concussion — on the same rushed play — might have been avoided. And that maybe the reason Kellen Moore sometimes looks like a play-calling mastermind is because of the players — since, without them, this offense looked like something straight from the Dark Days of Dave Campo.
That’s probably why she didn’t ask, and I’m glad she didn’t. Because I’ve talked about those days more than once, and not even Dave Campo wants to hear about that.
So let’s talk about this instead: the Cowboys aren’t playing well right now. They haven’t in two out of the last three weeks, both losses. The one game they won, sandwiched between two inept offensive performances, came against the Falcons, a team that, counting the Dallas game, has been outscored 68 to 3 in the last two games. And while the Denver loss reeked of overconfidence (Dak Prescott himself alluded to that possibility), the Kansas City game wasn’t that. The Cowboys couldn’t have been overconfident against the team that has won the AFC in consecutive years and has seemingly overcome their early-season struggles. And while, yes, it’s true, Dallas was without some of their best players, it’s also true that seasons come to an end when players who expect to return don’t come back.
Who knows when Tyron Smith will play again? Who knows what effect COVID will have on Cooper? And, as I write this on Monday morning, we don’t even know if Lamb will play on Thanksgiving. I assume all three, along with Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence — who also didn’t play and are also two of the best five players on defense — being fine soon enough. But this is professional football, and these are injuries, and these are the Dallas Cowboys, so there’s a non-zero chance they won’t be (especially considering the last part). After all, Darren McFadden’s career effectively ended when he broke his elbow while trying to keep his iPhone from hitting the floor.
What we do know is that even if the Cowboys have the NFL’s best and deepest set of wide receivers, it isn’t good for anyone once the backups got raised two positions in the depth chart and Dak had less time to throw to them. Not for the backups, who aren’t used to playing as often. Not for Dak, who is used to having more time. Not for the coaches, whose schemes suddenly look pedestrian. And, selfishly, not for me, who apparently looked so distraught after the loss that my wife felt the need to ask if I was feeling alright.
I’m fine. But if they lose again on Thanksgiving, even if all the same players are missing, I probably won’t be. Losing three out of four is enough reason for concern. But more than that, the Cowboys have ruined a number of my Thanksgiving dinners; those losses are rarely private.
Like the first time I went to a Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium: Thanksgiving 2015. Antonio Ramiro Romo threw two pick-sixes in the first half against the Carolina Panthers, then broke his collarbone in the third quarter. They lost 33 to 14. It was a cold, rainy day and night. I got lost driving from Arlington to Dallas. And for some reason, once I got back, even though some family had watched from home, I still had to explain why they had lost.
I just wanted to warm up and eat dinner on my favorite holiday (because of family), one that’s often ruined by my favorite team. I didn’t want to explain what had happened because, really, every loss, including against the Chiefs, has many reasons. It’s never just one thing, even when one stands out above the rest.
The dropped passes, bad blocking, poor coaching — all of that and a few others — are why they lost to the Chiefs. That’s undeniable. But the Cowboys also lost because some of their best players, who are among the league’s best at their respective positions, are injured. The Cowboys aren’t broken; they’re just injured. Get healthy soon, and this team is fine, still among the best in the league.
So, yes, I’m OK. I’m not lying — for now, at least.