Decidedly worse, in fact.
Tailback Ezekiel Elliott lost two fumbles. Wide receiver Michael Gallup dropped a would-be touchdown pass. Dalton threw one interception on an egregiously missed pass interference call by the officials and another with no such excuse. Coach Mike McCarthy vented at the officials from the sideline. The injuries continued to pile up along the offensive line.
And the Cowboys lost in convincing fashion to the Cardinals, 38-10, in Arlington, Tex.
“We kept handing it to them,” Dalton said afterward. “And starting the second half, the same thing. There’s some good things that we can take away, but there’s a lot of areas that we need to improve. I think it’s one of those things where everybody has to look at themselves. I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to do a better job out there in giving our guys chances. We’ll look at this one, and we’ll move on from it.”
It was so ugly that being in first place in the pitiable NFC East doesn’t even seem like much of a consolation any longer. The Cowboys simply aren’t any good at the moment.
Their record is 2-4, and the wins have come courtesy of a miraculous comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, who helped out by being mesmerized by a spinning onside kick recovered by the Cowboys, and on a field goal as time expired against the then-winless New York Giants. The Cowboys have allowed 218 points, the most by an NFL team through six games in 66 years (or 59 years if you include teams in the AFL).
Dalton, 32, was the longtime starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with five playoff seasons with them. He is among the league’s most accomplished backup quarterbacks. Some NFL observers had suggested that, without Prescott, the Cowboys would get back to being a run-first team featuring Elliott, while Dalton perhaps would contribute just enough in the passing game for them to get by in such a weak division.
That’s not how it played out Monday. Far from it.
Guard Zack Martin left to be evaluated for a possible concussion and did not return. The Cowboys’ offensive line once was highly celebrated. Now it is in shambles. Center Travis Frederick retired in the offseason. Left tackle Tyron Smith just underwent season-ending neck surgery. Right tackle La’el Collins hasn’t played all season and underwent hip surgery.
Elliott has never been a fumbler. Entering this season, he never had lost more than two fumbles in a season. He lost two fumbles in the first half Monday, each leading to an Arizona touchdown. He has lost four fumbles this season.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” Elliott told reporters after the game. “This one is on me.”
Gallup had the football bounce off his hands on what could have been a touchdown catch in the final moments of the first half. The Cowboys settled for a field goal and trailed 21-3 at halftime. Dalton was intercepted by Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on the opening possession of the second half, on a play on which Kirkpatrick all but tackled Cowboys rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb on Lamb’s route. The officials inexplicably didn’t throw a flag. That also set up a Cardinals touchdown.
“We’re hurting ourselves with turnovers,” Dalton said. “We’ve got to get this fixed. It’s been a trend this year, especially early in games. … We’ve got to get this fixed. The ball is the most important thing, and we can’t be handing it to the other team.”
The Cowboys were on the wrong end of several debatable calls Monday, and McCarthy expressed his displeasure during the game. But most of their woes were of their own doing. Dalton also was intercepted by Arizona safety Budda Baker in a 34-for-54, 266-yard passing performance. He did have a cosmetic late touchdown pass to wideout Amari Cooper before rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci finished the game.
McCarthy won a Super Bowl coaching the Green Bay Packers and was hired by owner Jerry Jones following the dismissal of Jason Garrett after last season’s 8-8 disappointment. At this point, another .500 season looks like an overly ambitious goal.