With the Cowboys trying to win games with Brandon Weeden at quarterback and without Dez Bryant at receiver, most knew the team needed to do some things very well to knock off the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons.
- Run the ball well.
- Play excellent defense.
- Let Weeden manage the game without having to rely on him to win it.
- Win the field-position game.
- Win the turnover battle.
Other factors could also apply, but these would be critical. And for 29 minutes, the Cowboys did most of these things.
Joseph Randle reminded fans of the 2014 version of DeMarco Murray. In the first five minutes of the game, he had 85 rushing yards. He scored three touchdowns in the first half and looked unstoppable.
(In the second half, Randle looked more like the 2015 version of Murray in Philadelphia.)
The defense contained Julio Jones for the entire first half, allowing Jones to catch only 3 passes for 27 yards.
Weeden made a critical mistake on an interception, but he was otherwise effective. The announcers said he set a franchise record with 20 consecutive completions.
Dallas had 20 first downs to Atlanta’s 12 in the first half.
It looked as if the Cowboys would go into halftime with a 28-14 lead thanks to Randle’s third touchdown run of the game. Everything had gone the Cowboys’ way.
Then came the last 40 seconds of the first half. The Falcons went 66 yards on 6 plays to kick a field goal, making it 28-17 at the half.
The problem: Dallas never regained the momentum after that point.
To begin the first half, Dallas forced an Atlanta punt. The Cowboys took over at the Atlanta 47 with a 14-point lead.
And the team promptly moved backwards. Dallas faced a 3rd-and-23 and were forced to punt one play later.
Although the Cowboys pinned the Falcons deep, Dallas at that point decided to unveil the Can’t Stop Anyone Defense from 2012-2013. Yes, that one.
Atlanta went 87 yards in 6 plays to cut the Dallas lead to 28-23.
The Cowboys needed to run, but they couldn’t. Dallas had to punt again.
Another Falcons drive began deep in Atlanta territory, but it didn’t matter. Atlanta moved the ball 89 yards in 11 plays.
Julio Jones scored the go-ahead points on a two-yard touchdown reception. The Cowboys had no idea how to stop Jones, who gained 164 yards on 12 receptions.
If it wasn’t Jones killing the Cowboys, it was running back Devonta Freeman. He carried the ball 30 times for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns.
With the Cowboys trailing and unable to move the ball on the ground, Dallas needed to turn to Weeden to produce something.
Instead, Dallas went three-and-out, with Weeden taking a sack on third down.
Atlanta scored pretty easily again. Weeden and the Cowboys could do nothing.
Atlanta 39, Dallas 28.
No, the loss did not completely fall on Weeden’s shoulders. This was a team loss.
He cannot, however, make the stupid pass he made in the second quarter. An Atlanta interception led directly to a Falcon touchdown.
He also did not get the ball downfield at all. He attempted only six passes directed at receivers. Terrance Williams was his target twice, but Williams failed to catch a pass.
The role players did not help, though.
One reason why Williams failed to catch a pass was because he dropped a pass that hit him on the numbers.
Cole Beasley made some good plays, but many people would have trouble naming the other receivers on the field today.
Dallas recorded one sack but often completely failed to put any pressure on Matt Ryan.
The Cowboys will play one more game without Greg Hardy and Rolondo McClain, and Jeremy Mincey should be back before long. Each of them should help matters.