In the words of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, confidence is good when it’s based on demonstrated ability.
But what happens when arrogance and cockiness put you in the state of denial about real issues?
It allows you to blow a double-digit lead in the first half, lose focus at halftime and gets you beat.
More important for the Dallas Cowboys, following Sunday’s 35-30 loss to the surprising Los Angeles Rams, it has them at a crossroads heading into an uncertain part of the season.
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“As you can see, they’ve got a lot of talent,” owner Jerry Jones said of the upstart Rams. “They beat a good team. They did it at our home. That’s very disappointing. They came back from adverse situations. They came in and made good adjustments at halftime. Everybody for them gave us more than we could handle. We’re sick that we lost that game.”
And they should be.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott might have played his last game for a while. On Monday, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals could overturn the temporary injunction that has allowed him to play, forcing him to begin a six-game suspension immediately.
The legal quandary is the reason the Cowboys needed to win as many games as possible with Elliott on the field.
But now the Cowboys, who hoped to build on last season’s 13-3 campaign with a possible Super Bowl berth in 2017, are 2-2 and it has a lot of do with arrogance and a denial of issues that have plagued this team since the start of the season.
Don’t let the 30 points on offense fool you or the obvious problems on an already-suspect defense minus linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) against a Rams team that is the league’s new rising star with a 3-1 mark.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley are the Elliott and Dak Prescott of this season.
Gurley exploited the Cowboys linebackers all day, rushing for 121 yards and recording seven catches for 94 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown.
Goff was 21 of 36 for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
But a Cowboys offense, which is the undisputed key to any hopes of success, is consistently inconsistent and sputtering when it matters most.
“Ultimately it’s a 60-minute game,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We did a lot of good things in all three phases early on and they did a better job in the second half. Our inability to sustain drives, their ability to stay on the field; to me that was the difference in the game. Obviously, we weren’t able able to get the running game going in the second half and we weren’t able to execute in the passing game. We weren’t consistent enough throughout the game.”
There is something wrong with what was the league’s top-ranked running game that is no longer able to control the ball and the clock. Prescott and the passing game continue to struggle on third down, converting just two of seven in the second half Sunday.
Elliott had 56 yards rushing in the first half, but finished the game with 85 yards on 21 carries.
Prescott finished 20 of 36 with 252 yards and three touchdowns and an interception, but this was after a near perfect first half with 11-of-15 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
After leading 24-13 with 1:51 to go in the second quarter,. the Cowboys were outscored 19-0 until midway in the fourth quarter when Prescott capped a 75-yard drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to James Hanna to make the score 32-30.
A failed 2-point conversion and the inability stop the Rams from adding a field goal resulted in a desperate Cowboys team coming up short on fourth and 10 with 36 seconds left.
But the story of the game was an empty third quarter for the suddenly stumped Cowboys.
“It’s frustrating,” Prescott said. “We come out, we’re on fire and we’re feeling good. Then we go into halftime and come back, and it is not the same.”
The Rams outgained them 151-41 in the third quarter. The Cowboys were 0-3 on third down and had three consecutive punts in the third quarter after scoring on four straight drives in the first half, including a season-long 15-play touchdown drive.
Prescott was 3 of 7 passing for 9 yards in the quarter.
The offense couldn’t sustain drives like it did in the first half when it offered a glimpse of what made them so good last year and it allowed the Rams to build momentum.
Let the Cowboys tell it, the Rams didn’t do anything different on defense. Dallas just didn’t execute.
“We always say when we come out in the second half, it’s zero to zero,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to come out like it’s a new game and we’ve got to get off to a fast start. We just didn’t come out and execute.”
Again, that’s a problem with feeling too good about themselves and not making any adjustments.
The cockiness and arrogance was also rooted in a game-changing fumble from punt returner Ryan Switzer, who decided to not fair-catch the ball in traffic at the 17.
The resulting fumble set up a Rams field goal and gave them life when the Cowboys, leading 17-6, seemed to be ready to blow the game open after getting a stop on defense.
This was after Switzer made two poor decisions on kickoff returns.
And while receiver Dez Bryant had five catches for 98 yards in what was his best outing of the season, something is still off on the Prescott-Bryant connection. It too has been a problem all season.
There was so much more that could have been done against the Rams. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson is not the cover corner of Denver’s Aquib Talib, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and New York’s Janoris Jenkins, who all contained Bryant in the first three games.
Yet a drop by Bryant and misfires by Prescott are all that will be remembered from Sunday.
Worse was the overthrow pass of Bryant running wide open on a slant at the 11:17 mark of the fourth quarter that could have potentially put the Cowboys back in the lead. He followed it with a tipped interception on the next play. The Rams turned it into a field goal and a 32-24 lead.
Prescott took ownership of his erratic passing.
“I think I missed some throws in the second half that I didn’t miss in the first half or that I can’t miss, simply,” Prescott said. “I just have to be better — no reason, no excuse.”
The Cowboys consistently said that things were fine and the issues were being handled.
Well, things are no longer fine.
The team faces the rested Green Bay Packers (3-1) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers next Sunday following a 10-day layoff.
And Elliott might not be there to help.
Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr
Dal—FG Bailey 34, 11:30.
La—FG Zuerlein 49, 7:07.
Dal—Elliott 10 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 14:05.
La—FG Zuerlein 44, 12:39.
Dal—Elliott 1 run (Bailey kick), 10:53.
La—Kupp 7 pass from Goff (Zuerlein kick), 6:33.
Dal—Butler 10 pass from Prescott (Bailey kick), 1:51.
La—FG Zuerlein 44, :00.
La—FG Zuerlein 30, 7:26.
La—Gurley 53 pass from Goff (Zuerlein kick), 2:59.
La—FG Zuerlein 28, 11:56.
La—FG Zuerlein 43, 9:41.
Dal—Hanna 28 pass from Prescott (pass failed), 7:11.
La—FG Zuerlein 33, 1:55.
Total Net Yards
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Los Angeles, Gurley 23-121, Austin 6-48, M.Brown 1-0, Goff 1-(minus 1). Dallas, Elliott 21-85, Morris 2-76, Prescott 3-25, Switzer 1-3.
PASSING—Los Angeles, Goff 21-36-0-255. Dallas, Prescott 20-36-1-252.
RECEIVING—Los Angeles, Gurley 7-94, Kupp 5-60, Higbee 3-47, R.Woods 2-17, Watkins 1-17, M.Brown 1-14, Everett 1-8, Austin 1-(minus 2). Dallas, Bryant 5-98, Elliott 4-54, T.Williams 4-34, Beasley 3-17, Butler 2-12, Hanna 1-28, Witten 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.