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2023 Cowboys vs Patriots: A Look Back at the Last Meeting in 2021

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
September 30, 2023 at 6:23 pm ET

2023 Cowboys vs Patriots: A Look Back at the Last Meeting in 2021(PHOTO: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Sep 30, 2023 06:23
🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

The last time the New England Patriots met up with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, they snatched defeat from the hands of victory.

On Sunday, the goal will hopefully be for a little better outcome.

In their last meeting back on October 17, 2021, New England found themselves with a lead and a chance to close out the game before some late miscues helped the Cowboys force overtime.

It was a disappointing finish and looking back on how things played out, it was a game where they battled hard but made too many mistakes.

They had an opportunity to pull off the upset, sitting with a 21-20 lead with just under three minutes left to play in the contest with a chance to close things out.

Unfortunately, that’s when things fell apart.

Facing 1st-and-10 from their own 41-yard line with 2:42 left on the clock, running back Damien Harris was stopped for no gain, and Dallas called a timeout. At that point, while not picking up a yard is never a good thing, the Patriots were still in fairly good shape with two more chances to burn time and move the chains.

Instead, New England committed a delay of game penalty, which cost them five yards and put them in 2nd-and-15 instead of 2nd-and-10.

With the Patriots only up by one point, the only way to win the game would have been to convert on third down and keep things moving. They needed to execute and keep the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hands to give the Cowboys a chance to kick a field goal.

Head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knew it, and that’s why what happened next transpired. With the offense facing a long-yardage situation with a 2nd-and-15, McDaniels called a pass play for the sake of trying to put them in a manageable third down.

He didn’t have a choice. Another run play could potentially put them in a 3rd-and-long and increase the odds they’d need to punt. It was a relatively conservative call, with Jones throwing a crossing route to Kendrick Bourne, a normally sure-handed receiver. After all, they didn’t need a first down, they just needed to pick up enough yards to give them a shot on the next play.

Mac JonesJones battled but the Patriots ultimately came up short. (PHOTO: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

Jones led Bourne a little far, and the ball went off Bourne’s fingers into the hands of defensive back Trevon Diggs, who alertly made the interception and took the ball 42-yards the other way for the touchdown.

That sequence was ultimately the difference in the game.  Granted, they answered with a 75-yard touchdown to Bourne on the ensuing possession, but the previous penalty was the key to that stretch because it kept them from being able to just run their offense with a chance to stay in control of the game.

Even with Bourne’s touchdown, it left the fate of the outcome in the hands of a defense that fought valiantly all game but was well overmatched that afternoon.   They were on the field for nearly 40 minutes, and by the end of the game, they were exhausted.

It was a game where New England needed to get a couple of first downs and kill the clock. They just couldn’t do it.

Dallas ultimately went on to hit a field goal at the end of regulation and went on to beat New England in overtime.

Some additional notable moments from that one:

1) The defense did manage to come up with a big play early.  On the opening drive, New England came up with a massive 4th down stop that gave Jones and the offense the football at the Dallas 34-yard line. That was a herculean effort, and we saw them take advantage as three plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone to take the early 7-0 lead.

2) They came up with another big play early in the second quarter with the team up 14-7 after Prescott drove the Cowboys down to the Patriots’ 16-yard line, and it looked like they were knocking on the door to get points and possibly tie things up.  But Kyle Dugger came up with the big interception after Justin Bethel deflected it, which happened to occur just after Bethel came into this game to fill in for an injured Jonathan Jones, who had come out just moments earlier.

3) Celebrating Dugger’s turnover was relatively short lived.  After a 27-yard throw to Nelson Agholor got them down to the Dallas’ 28, they picked up three yards on a run by Damien Harris, and Jones followed that up by connecting with Jakobi Meyers for what should have been a 25-yard touchdown.  Unfortunately, James Ferentz was called for an offensive holding penalty, nullifying the touchdown and putting Jones and the offense in 2nd-and-17.

With the Cowboys knowing Jones would need to throw the ball to set up a manageable third down, they came in hard on the ensuing play.

Jones would end up catching the brunt of that fury.

Defensive end Randy Gregory absolutely blew up right tackle Yodny Cajuste, squaring up Jones when the quarterback turned to his right as he finished dropping back. Gregory hit Jones dead center and wrapped him up, slamming him to the turf and knocking the wind out of the rookie, who lost the football.

Dallas recovered it for the turnover, and the Cowboys then went 9 plays for 40 yards the other way and hit the field goal, cutting the lead to 14-10.

4) As if things weren’t ugly enough, the Patriots found themselves with a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, with Jake Bailey’s punt then getting blocked, giving the Cowboys the football at New England’s 17.  However, by some miracle, after Dallas had gotten down to the Patriots’ 1-yard line, the defense knocked the ball out of Prescott’s hands on a QB sneak on a 4th-and-1 from the goal line, and Kyle Van Noy recovered.  That allowed the Patriots to keep their 14-10 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.

5) For anyone who may have forgotten, this game was also the one where N’Keal Harry, who had requested a trade prior to that season, didn’t even know what he was supposed to do on one play and it came in a critical part of the game.

Despite being the veteran in the offense, Jones, a rookie quarterback, had to tell him to “get off” the line on a 2nd-and-5 from the Dallas 10-yard line after Harry lined up wrong.

To make matters worse, Jones was spotted tapping his foot to tell Harry to go in motion, and Harry didn’t move.

Jones waited, looked at him, and after three full seconds, Harry finally got the idea and went in motion as the play clock clicked down. If you watch this video, Jones taps his foot with six seconds to go on the play clock, and Harry didn’t pick up on it until there were three seconds left.

To take it a step further, listening to the audio, it sounded like Jones even told him what route to run as Harry passed by, before quickly turning back under center, seeing he was out of time, and firing the football over Jonnu Smith’s head and out of bounds.

Fortunately, three plays later, they overcame it and reached the end zone.  But that sequence goes down as one of the most bizarre and inexcusable moments for a guy who was demanding a trade before the start of training camp.

To have to be told his job and his alignment by a rookie is fairly shocking, and it stands out as one of the more surprising moments of both that contest and Harry’s incredibly frustrating career.

Overall, it was a frustrating outing and a missed opportunity. Let’s hope that two years later, we see a different football team at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Sunday.

About Ian Logue

Ian Logue is a Seacoast native and owner and senior writer for PatsFans.com, an independent media site covering the New England Patriots and has been running this site in one form or another since 1997.


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