FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If you thought New England's narrow defeat against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago was worth the price of admission, that proved only an appetizer for this latest meeting – the 14th all-time – between the Patriots and Cowboys, two of the National Football League's most storied franchises. And it seemed fitting that such a thriller would have to be decided in overtime.
Dallas came to town as the more talented team, top to bottom, at least on paper, and it looked that way in reality at times during this game, particularly the way the Cowboys were able to move the ball offensively. Big D was beating itself for most of the first half, committing an egregious amount of penalties that thwarted a number of their otherwise big plays.
Credit to the Patriots, too, for making their share of huge plays on both sides of the ball to give themselves a legitimate shot of winning. With rookie QB Mac Jones at the helm, New England continues to make progress on offense, as difficult as it may be to accept in a loss like this one.
With a heart-stopping finish to regulation – what, three TDs in a matter of four minutes? – the Patriots just couldn't take advantage of their opportunity with the first possession of overtime. In the final analysis, the talent level of the Cowboys overcame their own sloppy performances. Dallas showed its superiority on their one and only possession of OT, with QB Dak Prescott impressively avoiding oncoming Patriots rushers routinely and finding open receivers downfield to move his team 80 yards for the game-ending touchdown in just seven plays.
A week ago in Houston, the better team – New England – overcame its own poor play to leave town with a victory. Sunday in Foxborough, the same thing happened, only the roles were reversed.
This is what else stood out from up in the Gillette Stadium press box:
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Jones continues to look sharper and more in command of the offense each week, though there's clearly still room for improvement. His first incompletion against Dallas – an overthrow to Meyers – came in the last third quarter, but at a critical time. Down 17-14 and trying to mount at least a score-tying drive, Jones' throw was just out of reach of the outstretched hands of Meyers. A similarly off-target throw by Jones intended for WR Kendrick Bourne resulted in an interception return for a touchdown that appeared to end the game right then and there.
Jones only had six incomplete passes Sunday night, and he's getting more opportunities to push the ball downfield in critical spots. Case in point, his first-half touchdown toss to tight end Hunter Henry and later, his pendulum-swinging, 75-yard TD to Bourne just after the pick-six. It shows that the coaching staff isn't reluctant to ask Jones to make plays without being "conservative," as many impatient outsider critics had been remarking over the first couple of weeks.
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Mac Jones on the day
Incompletions vs. DAL
Incompletions in 2021
The same Patriots offensive line that started against Houston a week ago came out for the Cowboys: David Andrews as the usual anchor at center, Justin Herron at left tackle, James Ferentz (called up from the practice squad again) at left guard, with Ted Karras at right guard and Yodny Cajuste at right tackle.
Regular starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn and left guard Mike Onwenu were available as backups after just having come off the reserve/COVID list. Onwenu actually saw action early as an eligible blocker on running back Damien Harris' Wildcat touchdown carry, before both he and Wynn subbed in later for two of the starters (more on that in a moment).
During the second quarter, Ferentz committed a holding penalty that nullified a great touchdown grab by WR Jakobi Meyers – what would have been Meyers' first in the NFL and a potential momentum changer. The very next play, defensive end Randy Gregory beat Cajuste for a brutal strip-sack of Jones that de-cleated the rookie QB. Jones has been taking far too many hard hits like that this season.
With 6:33 left in the first half, the Patriots put Wynn and Onwenu into the game at left and right tackle, respectively. Gregory then earned a second sack of Jones by beating Wynn on a 3rd-down play on the opening drive of the second half. Herron subsequently replaced Wynn at left tackle next series.
It appeared the coaching staff didn't start Wynn or Onwenu because neither has been able to practice much over the past week, nor did they play last weekend at Houston. They perhaps needed to get their conditioning back after the time off.
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Second Patriots drive of the day, rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson made a fantastic cut on a dump-off pass reception, then made a nice sliding catch while running down the seam on the next play. In the fourth quarter, the coaches went back to him for the touchdown plunge that briefly give the Patriots the lead in the sea-saw final minutes. This is the kind of talent we saw from Stevenson throughout the preseason and training camp. Perhaps this is the start of a bigger role for him as the understudy to Harris.
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Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs came into this game as the NFL's leader in interceptions with 6 – twice as many as the next closest defenders. Yet, for most of the game, he was quiet.
In the early going, he stood out for the wrong reasons (from a Cowboys perspective) when he incurred a personal foul for unnecessary roughness against WR N'Keal Harry. This appeared to stem from a jawing incident between the two men earlier, on the play when Harris scored his touchdown.
Thereafter, Diggs wasn't a factor until he made a tremendous play to intercept Jones and return it for a touchdown in the late fourth quarter (that pass to Bourne). Diggs did so on a bum ankle that cost him almost an entire week of practice time.
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New England's goal-line stand at the end of the first half was eerily reminiscent of one they had last season versus the Arizona Cardinals. In the same end zone as that particular one, the Patriots stuffed the Cowboys on four straight plays from the 1-yard line. The last, a great individual effort on 4th-down by LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, prevented Prescott from maintaining control of the ball as he was reaching it over the goal line. The Patriots recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
However, from our vantage point in the press box, almost directly overhead in that end zone, it looked like Prescott's body was halfway over the goal line on 3rd down. The officiating crew of referee Brad Allen marked it short of the goal line, however. And that's where the similarity with Arizona occurred. You may remember last year that the Patriots held the Cards just before halftime during a four-down sequence that saw Cards QB Kyler Murray appear to break the plane of the goal line with relative ease. The refs marked him short that day as well and New England went on to win the game, 20-17.
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Special teams-wise, there were a couple of notable plays. First, Jake Bailey had his second punt blocked this season (Saints game, Week 3 the other), when he absorbed Cowboys pressure right up the middle late in the second quarter. This has been an uncharacteristic start to the season for New England's punting unit.
Meanwhile, when Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein missed what looked like a crucial 51-yard field goal late in the game, it looked like Bethel was close to blocking it, which may have forced Zuerlein to swing his leg more hurriedly and not follow through properly. Good work by Bethel there.
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Mysteriously bad clock management by Dallas at the end of the first half. With the clock ticking down, the Cowboys used their final timeout just before Mac Jones knelt on third down. Had they waited till he knelt and then called timeout, they'd have forced New England, deep in their own end and without any timeouts of their own, to punt. Instead, the Patriots went into halftime with a 14-10 lead. The Cowboys cost themselves a chance at one last possession by doing this.
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The Patriots appeared to rack up some injuries throughout the game, though several players were able to return to action. First, safety Adrian Phillips suffered a foot injury during the first quarter, but came back in shortly thereafter. Cornerback Jonathan Jones (ribs) also had to leave for a while before returning.
In the interim, his sub, Justin Bethel, primarily a special teams contributor, made an immediate impact by deflecting a Prescott pass in the end zone early in the second quarter. The ball was then intercepted by teammate Kyle Dugger.
Jones would return on the next defensive series and made a play of his own, breaking up a sure touchdown to wide receiver Cedric Wilson. Dallas kicked a field goal instead of getting six points there.
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower was announced in the early third quarter to have sustained an elbow injury at some point during the first half. He came back in the late third quarter, but edge rusher Chase Winovich couldn't play after hurting his hamstring. Linebacker
Ja'Whaun Bentley (ribs) also didn't see action after sustaining his injury, but rookie defensive lineman Christian Barmore (shoulder) managed to get back in the game a short time after he was dinged up.
Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel
Bourne's 75-yard TD catch. Just when it seemed like all hope for New England was lost, Jones dropped back and fired a pass down the numbers to Bourne, who split two defenders – Diggs and a Dallas safety – before sprinting the remainder of the field for the go-ahead score with less than three minutes left in regulation. The play brought the Gillette Stadium crowd roaring to its feet while providing perhaps the most memorable and exhilarating moment of the Patriots' 2021 season thus far.