The Cowboys lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-3 in a rematch of last year’s opener. It was a disaster. For the first time in the 2022-2023 season, let’s run through what they accomplished:
Hit Rock Bottom Already. ✔️
If you read my season-opening essay, you know I presumed the worst for the 2022-2023 Dallas Cowboys. A performance like Sunday’s was always the concern: that months of negligence and frugality and, ultimately, complacency, would coalesce into a performance like this. That a decrepit offensive line and a threadbare receiving corps would pin the entire offense’s hopes on how well Dak Prescott plays. That even Micah Parsons and Tank Lawrence’s brilliance couldn’t hoist the pass rush to last season’s heights with Randy Gregory now plying his trade in Denver. That the turnover luck that kept last season’s defense flying high would fade, because turnover luck always does, and then what?
All of that came to pass in AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys were toothless. They were disorganized. They were absolutely terrible.
And then Dak Prescott got hurt.
Whether QB1’s hand surgery does indeed keep him out several weeks, as Jerry Jones told the media after the loss, or the six- to eight-week timeframe reported by ESPN’s Todd Archer, almost feels immaterial. This team, somehow, already, has reached rock bottom, the nadir of hope. After last night’s loss, even a few weeks without Prescott might be all it takes to ruin Dallas’ shot at the NFC East championship. A slow reacclimation period once he’s back on the field might deep-six their wild card hopes, too. And if it’s the full eight weeks? Let’s just say Jeff Cavanaugh’s draft preview articles might start a little earlier this time around.
These are the doomsday scenarios, of course, but it is difficult to go anywhere else after watching this team score its fewest points in a season opener since Jones’ first season of ownership and knowing they must do better with Cooper Rush at the helm.
There’s nowhere but up from here, of course. That’s the good news. Trouble is, that’s the best news, too.
Reaped What They Sowed. ✔️
Julio Jones, the 33-year-old future Hall of Fame wide receiver, was available in free agency until July 26—four months after the Cowboys shipped Amari Cooper to the Browns for meager draft compensation and six and a half since Michael Gallup tore his ACL. Jones wasn’t the only wide receiver the Cowboys could have signed to complement CeeDee Lamb, nor was he the most obvious candidate after a rough 2021-22 season in Tennessee. But he was attainable, and he has a résumé, and such is the state of this team’s depleted receiving corps that those two things alone would have distinguished him as Dallas’ second-best receiver until Gallup’s return.
To the best of our knowledge, the Cowboys showed no interest. Jones shouldn’t take that personally, mind you: their only investments at the position on the open market were James Washington (a journeyman stopgap) and KaVontae Turpin (mainly here to return kicks). Once Washington went down with a foot injury at camp, common sense dictated they’d open the checkbook and sign a replacement. They did not.
After Sunday, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Jones probably would have helped.
Jones finished the night with 69 receiving yards on 23 yards per catch. The former eclipsed any Cowboy’s total. The latter was a game high.
Not to be outdone, Dallas’ lack of a contingency plan for Tyron Smith forced left-tackle-in-training Tyler Smith into the role well ahead of schedule. And, to his credit, the 21-year-old rookie acquitted himself pretty well in his first career NFL start. But Smith’s move left a hole at left guard. And when former second-stringer Connor McGregor got knocked out in the first quarter with what the Morning News’ Michael Gehlken reports is believed to be a high-ankle sprain, Dallas found itself down to untested ex-seventh-rounder Matt Farniok.
Was this chain reaction the very worst-case scenario? Yes. Was it entirely preventable if the Cowboys had invested in proven offensive line depth? Also yes.
Behold, the cost of complacency.
Whet the Appetite for Micah Parsons’ Second Season. ✔️
Time for the silver lining.
Banish any doubts you might have had about Micah Parsons repeating, or exceeding, his Defense Rookie of the Year campaign. For that matter, shelve any concerns about whether his hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end position could be schemed against.
Consider this Exhibit A …
And this Exhibit B…
On Sunday, he was quite literally the Cowboys’ best red-zone defense. And every week he plays, Parsons is a generational talent, the sort of player worth tuning in to watch even in what could be a lost season just to see how and when he terrorizes opposing quarterbacks each week. You can and should be skeptical of most things Dallas Cowboys right now. Don’t question No. 11 for a second.
Got a Show of Faith From a Familiar Face. ✔️
Let’s be honest: I didn’t expect the Cowboys to win this game. You probably didn’t, either. Las Vegas expected they’d lose. Same goes for most pundits.
You know who did think the Cowboys would win? Their old head coach.
Say what you will about Garrett: the man is nothing if not loyal.
Delivered Special Teams Chaos. ✔️
The best thing about the gargantuan video board at Jerry World is staring at it in lieu of squinting at the action on the field if you’re in the cheap seats.
The other best thing about it is the punter party trick of blasting a ball off the bottom of the screen, thereby forcing a re-kick. Kudos to Tampa’s Jake Camarda for pulling it off, and bonus points for luring the Cowboys into a running-into-the-kicker penalty on the re-do.
Speaking of penalties …
Got Back to Their Old Ways. ✔️
Last season, the Cowboys averaged a league-worst 7.8 penalties per game, leading to Mike McCarthy declaring that cutting down on the flags would be his top priority heading into the offseason. So it wasn’t the best sign that Dallas got penalized a whopping 17 times in its preseason opener, even if McCarthy himself didn’t seem terribly concerned. “I think we all recognize that this isn’t the regular season,” he told the media afterward, a parry that only works if the performance improves when the games count.
It did, and it didn’t. Dallas racked up 10 flags last night, a number well below that hilarious preseason game but also well above that NFL-worst average from a year ago. Which isn’t to say that made the difference Sunday. The Cowboys were outclassed in too many ways for any one of them to change the outcome.
But it is to say that a head coach with his share of skeptics is already failing to address his top talking point. This may fly under the radar while Prescott is out; after all, how much can truly be expected of a team without its starting quarterback? Yet this is the sort of black mark that transcends who is on the field. It’s a process failure. And the longer it goes without improvement, the easier it becomes for the Cowboys’ brass to wonder if they have the right man to fix it … among a growing list of other problems.