Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' owner and general manager, was stunned by the 49-17 loss.
"I didn’t expect this," Jones said late Sunday night. "I didn’t see this coming. But I did think we would have to come in here and get some points on the board with them. I felt we certainly were compromised relative to our defense where we are with our personnel, it's not an excuse 'cause we didn’t play as well as they played. They just did a very good job of defending us and kept us off the field."
The Cowboys had a few reasons to hang their heads Sunday night.
During the game, the Cowboys lost starting linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant to hamstring injuries. Starting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher was inactive because of a stinger. Gone, too, was rookie starting safety J.J. Wilcox to a sprained knee.
Of course there was Dez Bryant, who said he was healthy despite getting treatment for a sore back earlier in the week. Bryant had just one catch for 44 yards, and though it was a fantastic catch, it's an unacceptable total for the Cowboys' best offensive weapon.
The defense gave up a franchise-record 625 yards along with an NFL-record 40 first downs. Tony Romo threw for just 128 yards and looks like a man searching for a new playcaller. The Cowboys ran the ball 16 times, a wonderful concept considering they rushed a franchise-low nine times last week against Minnesota.
The bottom line in all this is that the Cowboys aren't an elite team. After blowing a chance to maintain their lead in the NFC East, the Cowboys are now tied for first place with the Philadelphia Eagles at 5-5. At this rate, the Cowboys might need to beat the Eagles at AT&T Stadium in the regular-season finale just to reach the postseason.
"We got to put together a plan that allows us to get in here and have a shot at this thing," Jones said. "At the end of the day what we’re trying to do [is] get to the playoffs and go from there."
The Cowboys didn't look like a playoff team Sunday night. It seems as if the team has regressed, and while making the postseason seemed like a given considering how bad the division is, that's not guaranteed now. The scene in the locker room afterward was sad and sorry.
While the defense is missing some key pieces, the offense should be better. DeMarco Murray, the starting running back, rushed for 89 yards on 16 carries. Romo couldn't find Bryant on a consistent basis and for that matter anybody else of note. Terrance Williams, the man who's supposed to take advantage of the double coverage applied to Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, had just one catch. Witten had two catches. Cole Beasley, the talented slot receiver, had one catch.
The offensive coaches need to discover a way to get Bryant the ball. On some routes he was jammed tight, but other times he seemed to be a decoy.
"We just got outplayed," Bryant said. "Their defense did a great job on us. You have to give them a lot of credit. We had some opportunities and we didn't make them."
Romo is a better quarterback than his numbers suggest, but he needs a run game and some effective play calling to help him.
"I think more than anything it's just about losing," Romo said. "And I think you just have to forget about everything else and just look at what happened in this football game. You got to look and re-evaluate and just get better. We just didn't play a good football game."
And Jones has to evaluate where this is going. He's got his defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, praising the defense's work in practice, but the unit can't execute on a consistent basis on game days.
"I thought we would hang in there real good with [the Saints] and you might have a game comparable to when we played Denver, a game like that," said Jones, referring to the 51-48 loss to the Broncos earlier this season.
"This is not what I envisioned," cornerback Brandon Carr said.
The Cowboys are a pedestrian group right now, and they have two weeks before the New York Giants game to solve their problems. If they can be solved.