The Patriots hoped to carry the momentum from last week’s road win into Dallas and separate themselves from a losing record. Instead, they allowed the Cowboys’ defense to score two touchdowns and lost a pair of defensive stars in an embarrassing defeat.
New England’s defense deserves a ton of credit for its performance, holding one of the league’s most talented offenses to just 23 points despite losing Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) in the 1st quarter and Matt Judon (bicep) late in the 2nd half. Dallas scored just one touchdown on four Red Zone trips and sacked Dak Prescott three times, putting together a classic bend-but-don’t-break performance. Unfortunately for the Patriots, their offense had one of its worst games of the past few years, which is saying something.
Mac Jones earned a 39.9 passer rating, tossed two interceptions, and was strip-sacked in a career-worst outing. The vision and decision-making that offered glimpses of hope through three weeks were completely absent, and it felt like Jones was trying to be someone he wasn’t against a loaded Cowboys defense. The offensive line predictably struggled against a Micah Parsons-led front, and New England’s receivers didn’t seem to get much separation on the broadcast, but Jones’ turnovers fell squarely on his shoulders, and there were opportunities left on the field. Penalties also continue to be an issue, as Mike Onwenu was called for three penalties in the 1st half of play alone.
Here are my key takeaways from the Patriots’ demoralizing 38-3 loss to the Cowboys.
Major Mistakes from Mac Dig Patriots an Early Grave
Bailey Zappe, who was subjected to waivers during initial roster cuts this summer, took over for a healthy Mac Jones in the 3rd quarter of tonight’s game. That’s how bad things got for the Patriots on offense.
New England actually looked good out of the gate, with a 42-yard catch and run from Demario Douglas helping set up a field goal.
It's good to see Patriots rookie WR Demario Douglas is still trying to make plays and gain extra yards downfield after his fumble and benching. pic.twitter.com/ctC0NoPMpe
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) October 1, 2023
But things quickly went downhill after this solid start.
The Patriots’ next possession ended in a turnover on downs when Jones couldn’t convert on a “tush push” QB sneak despite good movement from his offensive line. Then, after New England’s defense forced a three-and-out, Jones was stripped with the offense backed inside its own ten-yard line, and Leighton Vander-Esch recovered before making a quick trip to the end zone.
Leighton Vander Esch picks up the loose ball and scores!
— NFL (@NFL) October 1, 2023
Vederian Lowe losing almost immediately didn’t help matters, but there is no excuse for fumbling when you know the rush is closing.
The Patriots would go three-and-out on their next possession, then suffer another disaster on the next series when a late throw across the field from Jones resulted in a pick-six before halftime.
COWBOYS PICK SIX 😱
Daron Bland intercepts the pass from Mac Jones and Dallas extends their lead!
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/B0adRdRvTY
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 1, 2023
Dallas then added insult to injury by converting on a surprise two-point attempt, but the turnover-fest wasn’t over.
DaRon Bland gets his 2nd INT of the game ‼️
— NFL (@NFL) October 1, 2023
Jones made another ill-advised throw on New England’s first drive of the 2nd half, targeting JuJu Smith-Schuster in the flat on 4th & 2 on their first drive of the 2nd half despite DaRond Bland being in perfect position on a poorly executed pick play.
After another failed drive, Zappe was brought into the game.
As uncharacteristically poor as this performance was from Mac Jones, it was just that, uncharacteristic. Hopefully, this was rock bottom for the offense and serves as a major wake-up call. But things don’t get much easier against a tough Saints defense, and the group took a major step back in a game where they needed to capitalize on ideal conditions and the momentum of a previous road win. We’ll see if the group is capable of answering a desperate call to action or if it lets this confidence-shaking loss snowball.
Defense Loses Star Players in Resilient Performance
The Patriots had just two healthy cornerbacks entering this game. Jonathan Jones was ruled out for a third consecutive week with an ankle injury, while backup nickel Shaun Wade popped up on the injury report this week with a shoulder injury.
Things took a turn for the worse when star rookie Christian Gonzalez went down with his own shoulder injury after a 1st quarter tackle and did not return. The defense responded by putting Bryant and Wade outside and sticking with three-safety groupings, using Jalen Mills in the slot against some three-receiver sets. Dak Prescott immediately capitalized, hitting CeeDee Lamb on a go route for six points.
Dak and CeeDee for 6️⃣, like they've done so many times before 🎯
— NFL (@NFL) October 1, 2023
To the defense’s credit, they did a great job bending but not breaking after that score. Dallas went three-and-out on their next two possessions before putting together an 11-play field goal drive.
The Cowboys mounted another long field goal drive to start the 2nd half, but New England would force a turnover on downs the next series thanks to a well-timed blitz.
— Video from: @TSV__1 (@TSV__1) October 1, 2023
The Patriots held Dallas to another punt on their next possession but lost Matt Judon and Jabrill Peppers to injury. The Cowboys would go on to score a touchdown against a depleted defense on their next drive, sparked by a long run where Myles Bryant forced a fumble that New England couldn’t fall on.
On the downside, poor tackling and pursuit angles popped up throughout the game, which is not acceptable, especially against a West Coast offense like the Cowboys’ that features its playmakers in space.
I give the defense deserved credit for their effort tonight, but the tackling and pursuit angles weren't always up to snuff, which must've been a priority
And teams are gonna keep attacking Bryant with the end arounds that DAL got big gains on until he proves he can stop them pic.twitter.com/lJZGZnJFn2
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 2, 2023
This will need to improve going forward, as the injuries incurred tonight could significantly shrink their margin for error.
Overall, the defense should be proud of its efforts under incredibly tough circumstances. They were far from perfect, but, as has been the case all season, they needed the plays that needed to be made, and the offense couldn’t capitalize. Unfortunately, things could get much tougher for the group if Gonzalez and Judon miss significant time.