The Patriots got absolutely smoked in all three phases of the game in Dallas on Sunday afternoon. There were no moral victories here (and the time for those is long past). They were thoroughly outclassed on so many levels that they resembled a cupcake team on Dallas’ schedule.
They couldn’t run the ball, pass block, or stop the pass and made several mental errors that each cost them. This was not a pretty sight watching the team flounder like this. But this is the reality of the situation right now. They were scattered, smothered, covered, and chunked (for you Waffle House types) by the Cowboys.
This was Bill Belichick’s worst defeat in his coaching career, which says something right there. Many people are saying to bury the football and the tape from this game, but this doesn’t quite fit the narrative from years past.
All teams, even very good ones, have anomalies where they get smoked (see Miami yesterday in Buffalo). The Patriots had one in Kansas City the year they won a Super Bowl. But this team keeps making the same ones time after time. And they either learn from it or keep right on making them.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Cowboys game.
Mac Jones easily had his worst game in a Patriots uniform. He started off well enough with a 42-yard pass to Demario Douglas, moved to the Dallas 6-yard, and facing a 3rd-and-1, he threw a ball that was catchable but was dropped. After that drive, the Patriots’ offense and Jones literally wilted.
Jones looked completely flustered, which in part is a testament to Dan Quinn and the Cowboys players. We all know that when the Cowboys get a lead, they unleash the defense in attack mode.
Jones was responsible for three turnovers, and two of them were returned for TDs. Facing a very good Dallas team and knowing the limitations of this offense, you absolutely cannot do that.
Worst of all, it seems like Jones doesn’t trust the players around him. Jones finished the game 12-21 for 150 yards, with 0TDs and 2 INTs for a passer rating of 39.6
The Patriots’ running game, which they want to build their team around, looked awful against a Dallas defense that was gashed for 222 yards the week before. Between the two backs, Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott, they managed just 46 yards combined and 2.3 yards per attempt. Part of that is on the offensive line, which was terrible (more below), and part of it was on the score, as Dallas got way ahead and took them out of the running game.
But the backs are doing enough when they get the ball in their hands. The team really misses James White, Shane Vereen type of 3rd down back. But these guys are here now and have to find a way to do more.
As I mentioned above, the day began with some optimism, Demario Douglas got a 42-yard catch and run on the first drive of the game. After the catch, he faked Dallas’ Donovan Smith out of his jock with a nifty spin move.
But one thing that quickly became apparent is that Dallas didn’t fear or respect the Patriots’ wide receiver’s ability to test them deep. They pushed the intermediate and short areas, contesting everything. And it worked to a tee.
Douglas had 2 catches for 45 yards on three targets; Parker had two catches for 33 on four targets, Kendrick Bourne had two for 36 on three targets; and JuJu Smith-Schuster had one catch for 14 yards on five targets. That is not going to cut it.
Too many times, they had Parker and Smith-Schuster on the field, which left them devoid of speed. And with this pair being established veterans, one has to question either them or WR Coach Troy Brown for running sloppy routes.
Case in point, facing a 3rd and 15, Jones threw a nice pass to Smith-Schuster, who found a soft spot in the zone, except that he ran a 14-yard route. The 4th down attempt failed, and it was essentially a turnover. Later, after Zappe entered, the team was facing a 3rd and 12. Parker runs an 11-yard route, and Zappe delivers a good ball…a yard short. Is this a WR issue? A coaching issue? Or a bit of both?
Neither Parker nor Smith-Schuster is offering speed, athleticism, or big play ability right now. Why aren’t they using Bourne or Douglas more? More to this below, in coaching.
If there was the tiniest crack in the cloud hanging over AT&T Stadium for the Patriots offense on Sunday, it was the tight ends, specifically Hunter Henry.
Henry remains Jones’ most trusted receiver on the team. Dallas knew this and rolled plenty of coverage Henry’s way. But he still managed four catches for 51 yards on five targets. His 21-yard catch down the field was in tight coverage and was a really nice play. His one missed play glanced off his hands and was nearly picked.
Mike Gesicki had only one catch for 12 yards but nearly had a TD on the first drive had he been able to run a deeper angle in the end zone. Credit Dallas on this one; he was re-routed a bit shorter in tight coverage, and Jones’ pass was a good one, but Gesicki could only get one hand on it.
The offensive line was taken to the tool shed by Dallas. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill a$$whipping; this was one of those curb-stomping felonies that they blur on the news. The running game was non-existent, and Dallas pressured Mac Jones on 50 percent of his dropbacks, the highest of his career. And Dallas didn’t blitz that much.
Jones was forced either backward or sideways all game long. Michael Onwenu, who is considered arguably the best OL on the team, had a rough afternoon. He was flagged three times: two for false starts and a holding call.
Vederian Lowe was beaten by Dante Fowler, giving up the strip sack, and scooped up Leighton Vander Esch for a TD. David Andrews was flagged for holding, and Antonio Mafi was called for an illegal blindside block.
After a decent game of running the football against the Jets, the OL was manhandled by Dallas, perhaps smarting after a week of listening that they were soft against the run.
The defensive line didn’t have a great day, but Deatrich Wise bolstered their grade with a sack and a run stuff. He later flushed Dak Prescott right into Josh Uche for a sack. While Tony Pollard had only 47 yards on 11 carries (4.3-yard average), that was mainly because they didn’t have to run much.
Prescott wasn’t under much pressure and generally had a lot of time to throw the ball. The Patriots weren’t able to generate much in the way of pressure despite Dallas being banged up at the OL position.
Losing Matthew Judon (torn biceps tendon) was a killer for the defense. He’s the leader of the defense and their best player. It sounded after the game that he was done for the season. Perhaps if Trey Flowers is ready to come off PUP, he could help. But they’ll have to lean on Keion White regardless a lot more. Anfernee Jennings will no doubt see an uptick in snaps.
Josh Uche and Jahlani Tavai each had sacks, Tavai also had a pass breakup along with Ja’Whaun Bentley. But the LBs were stymied by Prescott’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly.
The secondary was missing their top four corners after Christian Gonzalez went down with a separated shoulder in the first quarter. That is a tough task for any team. And Dallas capitalized on it. On the next play after the injury, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for a TD pass with Myles Bryant trailing.
As we’ve said many times, Bryant isn’t a man coverage corner. He’s smart, versatile, and very effective in zone. But the Patriots were in a state of desperation and had to turn to the veteran.
Kyle Dugger had 15 tackles and was all over the field, but the truth of the matter is that he had to be there. The defense was hard-pressed to keep up with Dallas’ WRs and TEs without their top four CBs. There were also some missed tackles in there as well by Shaun Wade and Bryant.
Rookie kicker Chad Ryland missed a 52-yard field goal, but really, at that point, there wasn’t a big loss since the score was so lopsided. He did make a 29-yarder on the Patriots’ first drive.
Bryce Barringer punted five times and averaged 45 yards per punt while putting one inside the 20-yard line. He saved the unit from a lower grade. Douglas attempted one punt return and got trucked for a two-yard loss.
The STs looked ridiculous went they went all in for an extra point block, Dallas recognized it and had Chauncey Gordon sneak out into the flat, where Brian Anger hit him for an easy two-point conversion.
They were fortunate it was a PAT and not a field goal attempt, which would have cost them a TD. Solid film work there by Dallas. Poor execution by the Patriots.
The coaching staff getting pantsed by Mike McCarthy? Yikes. The Dallas coaching staff ran rings around New England, and sadly it wasn’t close.
When they threw (unsuccessfully) to Gesicki in the end zone on a 3rd and 1 from the six-yard line, I assumed they would go for it. They moved the ball well on their first drive, and did they think that they could match Dallas all day. That conservative style reminded me of “Marty Ball.”
Bill O’Brien kept rolling out Smith-Schuster and Parker together, which gave the team no speed or athleticism on the perimeter. If you rewatch the game, Dallas had zero fear of them. And why didn’t Douglas get more time with Jones and Zappe? With an offense that stuck in neutral, let the kid (and Bourne) get more touches… you know, the guy who gave a 42-yard reception?
The fourth and 1 attempts that they did attempt had a very strange personnel grouping. Why have Smith-Schuster push Jones in that scenario? They knew that the Patriots were going to run it. Why not have Pharoh Brown in there? Now that would’ve been a push.
Everyone knew that Prescott was going to Lamb right after Christian Gonzalez got hurt. Bryant isn’t a man-cover guy, so where was the safety help for him? That, to me, was a horrible decision.
We mentioned the PAT gaffe above… horrible day for the coaching staff.
Well, folks, that’s a wrap for the Cowboys. We’re on to New Orleans.
On a non-football note, today, October 3, marks the 30-year anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, more commonly known by the book and film title “Black Hawk Down,” where many good men lost their lives that day. One of the Delta Force operators, Earl Fillmore, was a friend and teammate in Special Forces. We remember them all, but especially Earl, who was a great soldier, but an even better man and one of the funniest people I ever met. RIP, my friend, until Valhalla. DOL
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