The Dallas Cowboys lost Sunday night in Houston. They couldn’t get their passing game going and, this time, tailback Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t carry the offense. They fell to 0-3 on the road this season and 2-3 overall.
By the standards of this season’s NFC East, that practically makes them a powerhouse.
The early-season dignity of the division will be on the line Monday night when the Washington Redskins play in New Orleans. If the Redskins, no team in the division will be over .500 and the Cowboys, Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants all will have lost this weekend.
The Eagles’ record dropped to 2-3 with Sunday’s defeat at home to the equally desperate Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles have not scored more than 23 points in a game this season. They are, according to the NFL, the eighth defending Super Bowl champion to start a season 2-3. Only one of the previous seven, the 1996 Cowboys, went on to reach the playoffs.
The Giants lost Sunday at Carolina on a 63-yard field goal by Panthers kicker Graham Gano. They’re 1-4 and they appear to be in disarray. The offense finally got moving, but only after wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. created a stir with an interview with ESPN in which he didn’t exactly endorse quarterback Eli Manning, raised questions about the team’s offensive scheme and refused to say whether he’s unhappy in New York. The Giants will host the Eagles on Thursday night in the Meadowlands.
The Cowboys had a chance Sunday night to make their case to be considered the division’s top team five weeks into the season. They squandered it.
Elliott found little running room against the Texans, with only 54 rushing yards on 20 carries. Quarterback Dak Prescott had a touchdown pass but threw two interceptions in an underwhelming, 18-for-29, 208-yard passing performance.
The Dallas defense played well, repeatedly making the Texans settle for field goals while delivering a series of rugged hits to Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. But Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was the difference-maker, spinning his way to a 49-yard catch and run in overtime that set up the game-winning 36-yard field goal by kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. That gave the Texans a 19-16 triumph.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Watson told NBC after the game.
The Cowboys simply are limited on offense. Tight end Jason Witten retired in the offseason and the Cowboys chose to part with wide receiver Dez Bryant. Prescott’s pass-catchers aren’t good enough. When the Cowboys can’t control a game with the running of Elliott, there are going to be issues.
The NFC’s best teams at the moment, it seems, are the Los Angeles Rams, the Saints, the Panthers and the Chicago Bears. There is no NFC East team that belongs in that conversation.
The Eagles, as the reigning Super Bowl champs, still deserve the benefit of the doubt. But if they don’t figure things out and turn it around, this could be a division without a single imposing team as well as a season in which eight or nine victories might be enough to finish in first place.
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