For once, the Dallas Cowboys got off to a promising start on defense, but it didn’t matter as they got dismantled by the Arizona Cardinals with a 38-10 final score at AT&T Stadium in the first game absent Dak Prescott. They forced Kyler Murray and Co. into three consecutive punts in the first quarter, bottling up DeAndre Hopkins and Murray in the process, but it didn’t last long though. When the second quarter arrived, so did the Cowboys offensive turnover woes. Ezekiel Elliott fumbled twice and lost both, giving the Cardinals a short field that cost them big.
Murray made them pay with a touchdown flip to Christian Kirk and a big-play scamper following the second takeaway put Kenyan Drake in position to do the rest from the one-yard line. And for good measure, Murray finally connected deep after two previous failed attempts, tossing an 80-yard dagger to Kirk for a touchdown to punctuate the half and put the Cardinals up three touchdowns before the Cowboys mustered a paltry field goal ahead of halftime.
To add insult to injury, the Cowboys lost perennial All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to a first quarter concussion — after he took a blow to the head — and in his absence, the Dallas offensive line fielded four backups. From there, it was all about pressuring Andy Dalton, and the Cardinals did it with ease, forcing more turnovers and polishing off their rout on Monday night.
Why the Cardinals won
See ball, take ball, score ball.
That’s the formula for every team in the NFL when they take the field weekly, but teams who square off against the Cowboys have been executing it at will, and the Cardinals were no different. They forced Elliott to fumble twice — losing both — and turned them into a 14-0 lead in the early second quarter. They went on to score again and entered halftime with a commanding 28-3 lead and when the Cowboys got the ball to start the second half, an interception by Dre Kirkpatrick put the ball back in Murray’s hands. And for the third time in the game, the Cardinals scored a touchdown off of a Cowboys giveaway. The third shouldn’t have happened, or wouldn’t have if the official called defensive pass interference on Kirkpatrick for tackling CeeDee Lamb before the INT, but it’s not the first time Mike McCarthy has seen a questionable call/no-call this season.
It’s also not the first time he’s seen his team put the ball on the ground multiple times, and that’s what truly gave the Cardinals a win — having never looked back from the two touchdown lead after the first two fumbles. Murray was dynamic in the run game (10 carries for 74 yards and a rushing touchdown) and though he struggled in the air, his 80-yard bomb to Kirk reminded the Cowboys defense he’s a problem in all possible ways.
Why the Cowboys lost
Giving the ball away is bad enough, but doing so when you can’t stop a nosebleed makes it so much worse.
A rare good start for the beleaguered Cowboys defense was wasted by offensive mistakes, mainly at the hands of Elliott. Usually, the Cowboys find themselves climbing back from big deficits in spite of themselves, but Dak Prescott wasn’t running out of that tunnel on Monday night, and won’t be again until September 2021. It’s Andy Dalton’s show now, and his lack of athleticism gave him zero chance of masking the protection issues like Prescott has done this season. Dalton was sacked three times and the Cardinals landed eight quarterback hits on the night, pressuring him on-demand and forcing him to play anxious football.
Without Prescott’s magic, and having lost Martin for the game with a concussion, Dalton didn’t stand a chance against the Cardinals defense. You would think things would’ve been easier absent All-Pro Chandler Jones — who was moved to IR this week — but not so fast. Dalton tossed two interceptions to match Elliott’s two fumbles and the Cowboys mailed this one in early. And allowing Kenyan Drake to rattle off 164 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 20 carries didn’t help stop the postal carrier.
Budda Baker had himself a day. Not only did he lead the team in tackles and nab an interception in the fourth quarter to help nail the Cowboys coffin closed, but it was this fumble forced on Elliott that set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Cowboys never looked the same after this ball hit the ground.