The Cowboys entered Week 3 at 2-0 and on top of the NFL world, leading the league in points scored (70), points allowed (10), point differential (+60), giveaways (zero), takeaways (seven), turnover margin (plus-seven), total yards per game allowed (193.0), yards per play allowed (3.5), red zone touchdown percentage allowed (zero percent), sacks (10, tied with the Commanders), quarterback pressure rate (63.6%) and passer rating allowed (34.2). However, that sentiment faded away fast out in the desert against the 0-2 Cardinals, an 11-point home underdog. The Cardinals shocked the Cowboys and the rest of the league with a wire-to-wire 28-16 win on Sunday.
"Y'all [the media] put us on top of the world," Dak Prescott said postgame on Sunday. "We know who we are, and in that same sense, I'm sure the media got what they wanted. There has only been one undefeated team in this league. Ever. Yeah it sucks, it's humbling but to say it's a wake up call we knew we had a lot of adversity and we just didn't get it done. I think it goes back to myself, the offense and the red zone. We get better right there, we win this game. We have to fix that area. Period."
Dallas went 1-for-5 in terms of turning their red zone drives into touchdowns. Their red zone trips resulted in two field goals, a screen pass touchdown to backup running back Rico Dowdle -- the undrafted player's first career score -- a turnover on downs and an interception. The Cowboys had more first downs than the Cardinals (26-20), a higher third-down conversion rate (9-of-16 for Dallas and 5-of-10 for Arizona), more total yards (416-400) and a nearly 10-minute edge in the time-of-possession battle (34:33 to 25:27). Yet, Arizona scored touchdowns on both of its red zone opportunities and played turnover-free football.
Dallas committed the only turnover of the game in the red zone. Facing a third-and-goal from the 6 with 3:05 left to play and desperately needing a touchdown, Prescott attempted to thread a pass into the middle of the end zone to receiver Brandin Cooks. The problem with the throw was Cooks was surrounded by a trio of Arizona defenders who dropped back into zone coverage, allowing Arizona linebacker Kyzir White, an NFC East foe on the Eagles a year ago, to haul in Prescott's first interception of 2023.
"Cooks is boom-boom, getting back behind the linebacker," Prescott said. "Backer did a good job of playing it. Tried to look him away and just put it by his [Cooks'] ear. I knew it was going to be a tough throw. I have to live with that."
On another red zone drive, Prescott and the Cowboys had another opportunity slip through their fingers. Facing a third-and-goal from the 4 with 3:51 to go in the third quarter, wide receiver Michael Gallup, whose 92 receiving yards on six catches were his most since tearing his ACL in Week 17 of the 2021 season, got behind Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson. Prescott slightly underthrew the pass, but Wilson never got his head turned around. That led to enough contact occurring before the football arrived for the referees to throw a pass-interference penalty flag. However, that flag was picked up and then an offensive holding call was issued to Cowboys fill-in left tackle Chuma Edoga. Tight end Jake Ferguson took a checkdown from Prescott 10 yards to get the Cowboys right back to the four for fourth-and-goal, but Dak's fourth down pass to top receiver CeeDee Lamb fell incomplete.
"When you come into somebody else's house, you know you're going to be playing against the refs and the other team, regardless," Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup said on Sunday. "Of course, we're the Dallas Cowboys so ain't no getting those calls. It is what it is, got to play through them. … That was a tough one. He didn't even play the ball. He never turned around. It is what it is. Like I said, you are playing against both of them. Just got to overcome."
Prescott hasn't thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver since connecting with Lamb for an 18-yard touchdown in the Cowboys' 31-14 NFC wild-card win last postseason. His touchdown tosses since have gone to tight end Dalton Schultz (a four-yard score in the 19-12 NFC divisional round loss against the 49ers, Schultz departed for the Texans in free agency), Ferguson (a four-yard score against the Jets), second-round rookie tight end Luke Schoonmaker (a one-yard touchdown) and to undrafted, backup Rico Dowdle on a 15-yard screen pass on Sunday.
"Just haven't done it," Prescott said. "You go to the one to Gallup, I've got to make that throw, get it out there in front of him a little bit earlier. The one to CeeDee is close, would like to get the call on that one as well. We're taking attempts, just got to convert. Simple as that."
Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin (ankle) and Pro Bowl center Tyler Biadasz (hamstring) were inactive while Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (knee) suited up but did not play in the game. Backup journeyman offensive lineman Chuma Edoga, playing on his third team at age 26, filled in Smith at left tackle. Undrafted rookie T.J. Bass took Martin's place at right guard, and second-year undrafted offensive lineman Brock Hoffman lined up at center in place of Biadasz. Prescott was sacked twice and pressured on 28.9% of his dropbacks -- the seventh-lowest rate in Week 3 entering "Monday Night Football" --, but he was unable to get in rhythm throughout the contest, throwing for 249 passing yards for one touchdown -- a 15-yard screen pass to undrafted running back Rick Dowdle (his first career score) -- and an interception -- the final offensive play for the Cowboys on Sunday -- on 25-of-40 passing.
"They fought their ass off," Prescott said. "They gave me enough time and allowed us to move the football up the field. We didn't convert in the red zone. That's the story of this game, period."
The Cowboys quarterback was inefficient while missing three of his usual offensive line starters, but he refused to use that as an excuse.
"We've got to do better," Prescott said postgame Sunday. "Just as a team, as a unit, myself. Got to make some throws, maybe use my feet more. Obviously, that's an area [the redzone] we haven't been good in these last two weeks. Even with the win last week, that was the sore spot [two-for-six on red zone drives] in the win. Obviously, look at this loss, move the ball up and down the field a little bit. Just couldn't score. That's the reason for this loss. We've all got to get back to the drawing board. It starts with me making some throws and making some plays with my feet and trying to get it done."
His head coach concurred but took the blame off of Prescott's shoulders.
"We're not executing the way we'd like to," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said when asked about the red zone issues postgame on Sunday. "I've got to do a better job, obviously. That starts with me. They were playing us really high in coverage so that's why we were committing to the run."
McCarthy acknowledged the offensive line shuffle can have an effect, but he felt like his five up front did enough for the team to get the job done on Sunday.
"It changes a lot of things," McCarthy said. "But I'm proud of our young linemen. Not only did they step up and play today but they did it on very little reps throughout the week. That's a challenge that everybody has. When you have an injury on a Sunday, you have a full week of prep to go into it. When you have things that are not clear until the end of the week [left tackle Tyron Smith's late-week injury], it's a challenge on the guys that have to step in. … There are reps that go into wrinkles. Your variation of your base concepts and protections. There are some things that were taken off but like I said, I'm proud of those guys. They stepped up and did what was asked of them."