An offense with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Dalton Schultz and a quality offensive line should never get shut out. That offense should never, ever get shut out at home.
In fact, the Cowboys had never been shut out at AT&T Stadium. That streak came perilously close to ending on Sunday until the Cowboys scored two late, meaningless touchdowns. The Cowboys were scoreless for the first 55 minutes. That the Cowboys scored twice in garbage time shouldn't make anyone in Texas feel the slightest bit better about what was a horrendous 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos. Bad games happen in the NFL. But if you didn't quite believe in the Cowboys' 6-1 start this season, Sunday provided plenty of evidence for your case.
The Cowboys were bad in every way. The offensive line, without left tackle Tyron Smith, was horrible and had Dak Prescott under pressure just about every play. Prescott had less than 100 yards passing with 10 minutes remaining in the game. The running game never got going. Trevon Diggs, who has been a highlight player for the Cowboys, got beat on a touchdown by Tim Patrick. The defense did a poor job tackling and gave up too much ground to a mediocre Broncos offense.
On a third-and-1 after Dallas had fallen behind 19-0, Amari Cooper dropped a pass that hit him right in the stomach. On fourth down after that, Prescott scrambled around and overthrew CeeDee Lamb by about 10 yards. The next possession started with Lamb dropping a pass. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys barely staying in the game, they let Kendall Hinton get loose for a long gain on third-and-14. A few plays later, a Teddy Bridgewater quarterback sneak put the game away.
The entire time, the Cowboys looked lost. It's one thing to lose a game to an average-at-best Broncos team, but being blown out by them was a bad look. It was strange to see the offense generate absolutely nothing. Credit Broncos coach Vic Fangio — whose job security was plummeting a couple weeks ago — for an excellent game plan, but a lot of the Cowboys' struggles were self induced. They couldn't block and couldn't catch the ball. That's a bad combination.
Maybe the Cowboys bounce right back, and this was just a flat spot in a long season. But to lose the way they did makes you wonder if the Cowboys can really compete with the NFC's best teams for the length of the season.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 9 around the NFL:
Chiefs defense: Most of the attention will go to Jordan Love failing in his first start for the Green Bay Packers. But let’s give the Chiefs some credit too.
Is Kansas City’s defense coming around? On Monday night the Chiefs did pretty well to limit Daniel Jones and the New York Giants, who don’t have a hopeless offense. Then they followed that up by shutting down Love and the Packers in a 13-7 win.
The Chiefs won’t be good on defense this season — they haven’t been great on offense lately either — but if they can get to a decent level they’ll have a chance to make something of their season. Yes, Sunday’s outing came against Love in his first extended playing time. But it was a positive for the Chiefs defense, which wasn’t said much early this season.
Chargers’ fourth-down gambles, finally: The Los Angeles Chargers sometimes leave points on the board with their penchant for going for it on fourth down, but that’s their identity and they’re sticking with it.
It paid off on Sunday late in the game. On fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining in a tie game, the Chargers went for it. Justin Herbert sneaked forward for the first down, which ensured the Chargers wouldn’t have to give the ball back to the Philadelphia Eagles in regulation. They were able to pick up more yards, bleed some clock and got a field goal as time expired for the win.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley doesn’t always get the right result when he goes for it on fourth. The Chargers had two failed fourth-down conversions after passing up field-goal chances early in the game. But Staley believes in his aggression, and it helped the Chargers get a win on Sunday.
Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars: Nobody figured the Jaguars had a shot. And we're not talking about this Sunday. We're talking about them making anything of their season.
The Jaguars were 14.5-point underdogs against the Buffalo Bills, and somehow won 9-6. There has been plenty of justified criticism of Urban Meyer, but this win is a positive. The Jaguars are now 2-6 after completely shutting down the Bills offense.
It's a miserable loss for Buffalo, which has looked like a Super Bowl contender at times but took an impossibly bad loss Sunday. For one week, Jacksonville can feel pretty good about itself.
New York Giants defense: The Las Vegas Raiders, and Derek Carr in particular, couldn't have been sloppier on Sunday. The Giatns played a role in that.
In a 23-16 Giants win, Carr had two bad interceptions including one returned for a touchdown. At the end, when the Raiders were in the red zone looking to tie, Carr was stripped of the ball from behind and the Giants fell on the fumble to seal the win.
The Giants played pretty well on defense against the Chiefs in Week 8, even though they lost. They got a win for their efforts on Sunday.
Miami Dolphins, if we have to: In what was one of the ugliest games of this season, the Dolphins won 17-9. They turned it over five times and still won, the first time since 1990 that has happened. The Dolphins, who were without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa due to a fractured finger, were better than the Houston Texans, whatever that's worth. About the best thing to say about the Dolphins win is at least they didn't lose to the one-win Texans — and at least it's over.
Kyle Shanahan: There should be a conversation about whether Shanahan is a good coach.
We’ve thought he’s good for many years, celebrating his successes while excusing the failures due to roster issues early on or bad injury luck last season. There was always some excuse for him. It’s not fair to exclude an NFC championship season, but other than 2019, Shanahan is 19-37 as 49ers coach.
Sunday was a really bad day for the 49ers. They were at home facing an Arizona Cardinals team without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, and they got crushed by Colt McCoy and James Conner. Conner scored three times in a 31-17 Cardinals win. Eno Benjamin completely ran over a defender on another Cards touchdown, summing up the 49ers’ performance.
— NFL (@NFL) November 7, 2021
If the effort wasn’t bad enough, Shanahan made the odd decision to not go for 2 when the Cardinals cut Arizona’s lead to 31-13 on a touchdown. It’s not likely, but when the 49ers were down 24 points they could have scored three touchdowns and gone for 2 each time and tied it. Going for the extra point took that off the table.
The 49ers are 3-5 and it’s fair to assume going nowhere this season if they can’t beat that version of the Cardinals. It’s finally time to actually hold Shanahan accountable for losses, and wonder if he’s as good as we’ve given him credit for all this time.
Minnesota Vikings again: Somehow, the Vikings are 3-5. It's not unreasonable to say they could be 8-0 with some better luck.
Seven of the Vikings' eight games have been decided late, and the Vikings keep coming up short. On Sunday the Vikings had a 17-3 lead, lost it, put together a late touchdown drive to force overtime and still lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. Justin Tucker hit a field goal to win it.
The Vikings haven't had great luck in close games but some of that is their own doing. They had chances to put the game away in regulation or win in overtime. They had chances to win close losses against the Cardinals, Cowboys and others too. At some point, nobody wants to hear how close a team is to being much better. All that will matter to angry Vikings fans is the sub-.500 record.
Saints offense without Jameis Winston: Who would have thought a couple months ago the New Orleans Saints would look like a mess without Jameis Winston?
New starter Trevor Siemian rallied after a bad start but it wasn't enough and the Atlanta Falcons pulled off a late 27-25 win. It's the type of win that the 5-3 Saints didn't want to take right after losing their starting quarterback to a torn ACL.
Taysom Hill was active after missing some weeks with a concussion. But Payton chose the low upside Siemian as his starter. Siemian played OK off the bench in a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, after Winston tore his ACL. It still seemed odd to go with Siemian if Hill was healthy enough to play. Siemian had a rough start and the Saints offense went nowhere. Had he played better through the first three quarters the Saints would have lost.
The Saints will have to figure out if the fourth-quarter rally was enough to keep going with Siemian. Either way, their offense might take a step back.
Sam Darnold: Again, Darnold looked like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Darnold we saw early in the season is long gone. It turns out, not everything bad that Darnold did with the New York Jets was Adam Gase's fault. Darnold had another bad day. He played through a shoulder injury but that doesn't excuse it all. He made a terrible pass on a throw rolling left that was miles over his receiver's head, picked off by J.C. Jackson and returned 88 yards for a touchdown. That put the Patriots ahead 21-6, and Darnold wasn't going to be engineering a comeback. Darnold was 16 of 33 for 172 yards and three interceptions. The Panthers might have to bench him after that performance.
The Panthers' gamble on Darnold ignored all the problems he had with the Jets. Many said Darnold would be fine once he was away from Gase. That hasn't happened.
Cincinnati Bengals: That Bengals blowout win over the Baltimore Ravens seems like a long time ago.
The Bengals tripped up against the New York Jets last week and it seemed like a blip, a team having a letdown after a big win. Then the Bengals flushed all their early season momentum on Sunday in a 41-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Cincinnati got off to a bad start with Joe Burrow throwing a pass that was picked off by Denzel Ward and returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Nothing went right after that. The defense allowed a 60-yard touchdown catch to Odell Beckham Jr. replacement Donovan Peoples-Jones and a 70-yard touchdown run to Nick Chubb. The offense did nothing to answer. It was awful.
Maybe the Bengals can rally after these two losses, but the luster from their good start is gone.