It has certainly been a while since we were in this particular spot.
That old familiar Monday morning spot where the noise is almost too much to bear and where everyone turns into a football coach to explain a disappointment in Dallas with the football team that holds everyone's Christmas wishes in its hands.
The city has been treated to such a dream run this season where it has been nothing but gumdrops and candy canes for so long that it seems most folks have lost their ability to handle those rare nights where the team looks like just another Cowboys team from the last two decades.
In fairness, that was really ugly. If you were going to overreact to a lousy performance, this would probably been the one. Very little looked like the rest of this year and yes, the rookie QB finally looked exactly like a rookie QB.
And boy, if ever there was a situation that we all saw coming, this was it. Not the performance by the rookie QB where for a bit, Dak Prescott would finally look like every rookie QB in the history of the sport has looked. But, rather, the reaction this city would have if that performance ever happened. We could see that coming from a mile a way.
Everyone in this city was prepared to roll with Dak Prescott as their QB, under the circumstances that he never dropped his form below "excellent." But, of course, the moment his form invariably would drop - whether it was a normal rough night by any QB in the business or a very nice defense having a perfect idea of how to rattle a young lad - you just knew that the masses would instantly and immediately turn and go running for the veteran QB who looked ready on the sidelines.
I suppose "Tony Romo watch" is back on. As if we ever doubted it would show up the moment this team had a stumble.
Now, we will see how well several people can handle things.
1) - We will see how well the decision makers in this organization can demonstrate some calm and understand that this team is still very much in the driver's seat of not only the NFC East, but also the entire NFC. Despite this loss and even another along the way, the Cowboys are in the supreme top spot to be the #1 seed that will enjoy a bye week and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. That should tell them that any move to overreact to one or two performances would lose sight of an entire season of great performances and that they should think very long and carefully about doing anything other than get ready for Tampa Bay. There will be incredible amounts of noise from the familiar chorus of wanting the "other QB" which is a fantastic tradition this city has that is older than I am and most of the readers that didn't enjoy the "alternate QB on alternate plays" methods of Tom Landry with Craig Morton and Roger Staubach and the 1971 Cowboys. Asking Jerry Jones to handle something better than Tom Landry did is likely enough to get a spit-take from the reader, but it felt necessary.
2) - We will see what Dak Prescott is made of now. He is officially a Cowboys QB when he can prove he can handle everyone questioning him for a performance where many others who also did not play well joined him. But, he isn't those other players. He is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys right now, and with that comes an incredible target on your chest of blame when things go wrong. He was very poor on Sunday in New York and he must now wear that and respond to it. Sometimes it is unfair and other times it is justified, but the reality is that doesn't matter. What matters is that is what the job is and he needs to demonstrate that he can handle that part of the job. They will build you up to tear you down and as Tony Romo will attest. Fair has nothing to do with it. You are overpraised for wins and overblamed for losses and if you can't deal with this amplified version of the QB position, then this job in this city might not be perfect for you.
3) Finally, the coaching staff must do better. They seemed willing to play right into the hands of Steve Spagnuolo and his gameplan. This is not his first time killing a gameplan of a Cowboys team that seemed pretty close to indestructible (please see the 2007 matchup between the two teams in the playoffs) and it may not be the last. The man is a brilliant defensive mind and when he has the players to carry it out - which he does - you really better have all of your ducks in a row to handle the issues it can present. Once it gets going downhill, it is difficult to rein it back in and when the Cowboys became incredibly predictable on early downs, they allowed Spagnuolo to tee off on all of the tendencies. He obliged.
Now, let's get back to what happened last night. The Giants were ready for the Cowboys offense and Dak Prescott was very poor. He was not helped by a number of things as he tried to climb out of his mess when you consider he had Dez Bryant fall on a slant that killed one drive over midfield, he had Terrance Williams earn a holding penalty when they were in field goal range another time, and then the pass protection betrayed them right before halftime. One more chance resulted in Dan Bailey trying to find an extra yard on a 55-yard field goal attempt, but when it hit the crossbar and bounced back, the Cowboys remained stuck on 7 points at the half.
The second half was an offensive disaster. There is simply no other way to describe eight different possessions that resulted in just three first downs, one play in Giants territory, and zero points. It was absolutely the worst thing we have seen all year from this offense that has been among the best in the league all season. They actually crossed midfield for one play, then committed a holding penalty, and to try to get it all back, Dak Prescott made one of his rare poor decisions as he threw a prayer into coverage that was picked off on a deep ball on third and 15. If you are a young QB, you have to know that throwing a deep ball on third and 15 into a waiting safety is about the most rookie thing you can do.
And while poor decisions are rare, he had a few more. Including a screen pass that was ill-timed and he still tried to get the ball to Lance Dunbar which was almost picked off and returned for a touchdown. Having gotten away with that, he then tried a rollout where the Giants had all options shut down and he tried a very dangerous pass across the body to Jason Witten into traffic. These all suggest he was rattled and out of his normal form.
But, those were the decisions. Then there were the poor throws. Some were high and misses. Others were bounced and missed. There was a moment on his first throw after halftime where he threw a duck that landed beyond Witten and in front of Dez Bryant that seemed to betray his complete lack of confidence and command of his performance.
Third down performance has been particularly poor. The Giants had all sorts of ways to pressure Dak and also close off his familiar escape routes. He was reluctant to use his feet and the lanes were taken away with the arm. The Giants have a very nice defense and the corners were winning many battles.
He was bad. There is no way to dress that up. It happens. In fact, two-time Super Bowl champion and likely hall of famer QB Eli Manning was equally ridiculous last night and seemed sure to throw a game-breaking interception last night on a few occasions where the Cowboys simply dropped them. And Tony Romo, the source of hope for people who want to see him back out there to fix everything, has had more than his share of vital and important December divisional road games that have ended up in the dumpster in flames, lest we forget 2008, 2011, and 2012. Neither are rookies. This happens.
The defense played its tail off for the second week in a row, and I believe that should likely be considered an encouraging sign. The offense - not just the QB - was very poor in the second half. The running game had nine runs for 21 yards in the second half. 2.3 yards a carry doesn't sustain drives, either. The pass protection was in trouble quite a bit. The receivers did not look open from the TV copy, but we will look further into that as the week goes on. Dez Bryant certainly did not cancel out the contributions of Odell Beckham Jr., let's put it that way. His fumble was certainly a nail in the coffin.
Nobody likes the taste of defeat. Everyone enjoys vanquishing one silly opponent after the next. But, that isn't this league. That isn't reality.
Reality is getting kicked in the teeth once in a while and understanding the stakes are going to keep getting raised. Panic is likely the worst recipe.
The best advice is to nurse the wounds, look at the film, and get ready for Game #14. 11-2 is a fantastic spot to be in and it is important to understand how badly anyone else in the NFC would love to switch spots with you. Dallas has earned this perch by being consistently strong and not allowing bad habits to sink in. They will have to respond swiftly and they have two home games to do so. If they do well there, they will not play another road game of consequence until next September.
Remember this when you start to worry and panic about this team. Nothing is promised in the NFL, so you put yourself in as good a spot as you can.
And with three games to play, the Cowboys have done that.