After Dallas Cowboys were 'outcoached' and 'outplayed,' they must move on quickly

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Standing at the podium following the Dallas Cowboys' miserable 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, linebacker/defensive end Micah Parsons tried to dodge a giant wasp.

He took a few steps to his left, then shooed his arms to make sure the wasp was out of range before he took some more questions.

It was a fitting scene for the Cowboys’ worst performance of the season.

“It’s just not my day,” Parsons said after walking back to the microphone. “But I just got a new puppy and I’m going to go home to him and we going to cuddle about it.”

Waiting for Parsons at his home was his boerboel puppy named Sace, short for Versace. Waiting for the Cowboys on Monday at The Star will be an unflattering review of what might have been the worst loss in coach Mike McCarthy’s two years.

Last year had some doozies with back-to-back losses against the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles without scoring a touchdown or a 28-point beatdown by the Arizona Cardinals and a 25-point loss on Thanksgiving Day to Washington.

But quarterback Dak Prescott was not around for any of those because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. The Cowboys' defense was a mess and the offensive line was in constant flux.

Just seven days ago, however, the Cowboys were viewed as perhaps the best team in the NFL after winning without Prescott against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys had won six straight. They had an envious offense and a defense that made timely stops and showed the ability to take the ball away.

All of that disappeared Sunday against the Broncos even with Prescott’s return from a calf strain.

“Had concern Wednesday, as far as how we’ve come off some successful weeks and the message was ‘Don’t take the cheese,’ and frankly we were outcoached, we were outplayed, all the way through,” McCarthy said. “This is the first time I’ve felt clearly our energy didn’t exceed our opponent, and that’s disappointing.”

Prescott could only say, “Maybe,” when he was asked if the Cowboys were too full of themselves after six straight wins.

“You win as a team, you lose as a team, and I think it starts with the leaders,” the quarterback said. “We’re not looking and asking the coaches to do something different. We’ve got to be more physical. We’ve got to take accountability in this loss and make sure that we come in [Monday] and make sure that we move forward from this, learn from it, and then come in Wednesday and have a great day of practice and make sure that this is something we learn from. This feeling sucks and make sure we don’t feel this again.”

The Cowboys staved off the franchise's first home shutout in 30 years with two touchdown passes in the final 4 minutes, 8 seconds. By then, however, Denver had a 30-0 lead, stoned the Cowboys’ offense and exposed the warts of their run defense.

The Cowboys converted just 5 of 13 third-down chances and all but three of them came in the final quarter. They were stopped on fourth down two times in the first quarter and two more times in the final three quarters, tying the most turnovers on downs by a team in a game in the past 20 seasons.

“We've been struggling on fourth-and-1 all year, so that didn't surprise me,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “It shouldn't surprise anybody. We've been challenged on fourth down."

With the offense sputtering, the defense did not have the benefit of a playing with a lead, which impacted its ability to stop the run. The Broncos finished with 190 yards on the ground, 70 yards more than the Cowboys have allowed in a game this season. For the second straight game, they failed to generate a takeaway.

“Nobody likes to lose like that,” linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “That is what it is. So, we’re going to go in [Monday] and correct it. Being a competitor, that eats at you.”

The Cowboys’ focus now is to make sure what happened Sunday does not become something of a trend.

McCarthy has been around long enough to know if a team shows it is susceptible to something, the next opponent will look to exploit it as well, so he expects opponents to play tougher man-to-man against the Cowboys.

Of course, in Week 2, the Los Angeles Chargers used a similar scheme and the Cowboys gained 419 yards, including 198 on the ground, in their first win of the season.

“I hope teams play us like this for the rest of the year, to be honest,” Prescott said. “This was just not a great game by us. This is not who we normally are … I think Coach said it great in the locker room, ‘This isn’t tape you just throw away. We learn a lot from it and move forward.’ We’ve got to be accountable for our mistakes and not playing up to our standard and our expectations. We’ll make sure we get it cleaned up and get better.”

Defensively, the Cowboys were gashed by running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III in a showing that looked a lot like last year’s run defense. McCarthy lamented that the Broncos were better “at the finish of the play.” The Cowboys recorded four sacks of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with 2.5 from Parsons, but the defense allowed completions of 25, 40 and 44 yards.

Does Parsons think other teams will emulate Denver’s attack?

“Maybe," he said. “Bring it. We’re gonna get better. We’ll be ready.”

Sunday couldn’t have been much worse.