The Patriots fell behind the Cowboys early on Sunday afternoon and saw their mistakes snowball into an insurmountable deficit as Dallas cruised to an easy 38-3 victory that dropped the Pats to 1-3 on the season.
Mac Jones had three turnovers, including both a strip-six and a pick-six, and was lifted in the third quarter for backup Bailey Zappe. The defense had few answers for Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense, as they scored on four of their first six possessions in addition to the scoring help provided by the Cowboys defense.
It was the kind of lopsided decisive loss not often seen around New England and one that could leave a long-term mark if the team doesn't find a way to bounce back. Not to be lost in the fog of defeat, star Patriots rookie Christian Gonzalez left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return, and then so did Matthew Judon in the fourth quarter with an elbow injury, as it was an all-around difficult day for New England both on the scoreboard and with injuries to two of their best defensive players.
Here are the key takeaways from the loss.
1. Back and forth first
The two teams traded sustained drives to start the game, with Dallas taking their opening possession 70 yards in 10 plays but stalling in the red zone as they have often done this season. A miscommunication on a third-down handoff helped the Patriots hold the Cowboys to an initial 3-0 lead, when Tony Pollard was dropped for a loss after colliding with Dak Prescott.
The Patriots responded with a nice drive of their own, with a 12-yard pass to Hunter Henry and a 42-yard catch-and-run by Pop Douglas powering an eight-play, 69-yard drive that was held to a field goal that tied the game. Mac Jones just missed Mike Gesicki on second down in the end zone as the Patriots failed to take a potential lead.
Dallas kept up the pace with their second possession, getting a huge boost along the way when Christian Gonzalez left the game with what looked like a shoulder injury. Prescott immediately targetted his replacement Myles Bryant, with CeeDee Lamb running past Bryant and easily pulling in a 20-yard touchdown strike, the first touchdown by a Cowboys wide receiver this season.
The Patriots didn't have many answers for the Cowboys attack in the first quarter, allowing 145 net yards and conversions on two of three third downs, while also paying the price for a big scoring play that made it 10-3.
2. Defense gets a stop, but then...
After a failed QB sneak, Eagles-style, on fourth down by the Patriots, the Cowboys took over on their own 40-yard line looking to extend their seven-point lead. The Patriots were reeling a bit after the loss of Gonzalez, who headed to the locker room for further injury evaluation. New England was badly in need of a stop and that's what they got after two good run stops to start the possession.
Deatrich Wise and Josh Uche helped get the team off the field with a ferocious pass rush. Wise missed his initial shot on Prescott but Uche was there to finish it off, forcing the first Cowboys punt of the game.
The good vibes were short-lived. Two plays after New England took over at their own five-yard line, Mac Jones was flushed out of the pocket and then stripped of the football by Dante Fowler, which was then recovered and taken into the end zone by Leighton Vander Esche.
Dallas wasn't done, as they faked the extra point and had their long snapper throw the ball for a successful two-point conversion that the Patriots were not ready for. It extended the lead to 18-3 in the second quarter, capping off a difficult stretch of a major injury blow and a collection of penalties and negative plays.
The trend continued into the next possessions as New England went three-and-out and then watched Dallas go on another extended 11-play drive which tacked on another field goal that made it 21-3.
3. Pick-six caps first-half disaster
When it seemed like things couldn't get any worse for the Patriots after a first half marred by poor performance on all fronts, Mac Jones was picked off by Daron Bland who took it to the house to make it 28-3 Cowboys. The Patriots quarterback, with his back against the wall, was trying to make something happen but made an ill-advised throw back across the field that Bland easily stepped in front of.
The turnover train continued into the third quarter as New England looked to grind out a successful drive following the break, picking up a third-down conversion to Hunter Henry along the way. But when faced with a fourth down, Mac targetted Juju Smith Schuster but again Bland stepped in front of the pass and came down with his second interception.
Dallas would make it 31-3 with a field goal after the Patriots defense got a second red zone stop.
Mac's three turnovers resulted directly in 18 points as the game continued to snowball out of the Patriots control.
4. Zappe time
Backup quarterback Bailey Zappe entered the game in the third quarter after the Patriots punted the ball after their second possession of the second half. The results however didn't look too different, as Zappe picked up just 12 yards on his first drive under center, 11 of which came on one pass to DeVante Parker. They'd go three-and-out on his second possession and on his third Zappe picked up two first downs before sputtering out and setting up a 52-yard field goal miss by Chad Ryland.
Dallas took to the ground in the fourth quarter to finish the game off, picking up another big play along the way, a Kavontae Turpin carry for 46 yards that helped set up a final touchdown score.
5. Patriots are now 1-3
After the blowout defeat, the Patriots now return home at 1-3, looking for answers that might not include their star rookie cornerback as well as their start pass rusher who both left the game and didn't return. Any insignificant absences by those two players would be almost as big of a blow as the loss on the scoreboard.
Multiple turnovers, ill-timed penalties and a streaky defense that had trouble putting up any kind of resistance to Dak and Cowboys offense were all major factors in the loss, as the sloppiness that the Patriots have demonstrated in recent history continues to hurt their chances and quickly undercut their chances at staying in competitive games.
Next up are the 2-2 Saints as the Patriots return home to Foxborough for the first time in two weeks, badly in need of a season-saving performance.