KANSAS CITY MO. — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott stepped up to the podium in the tunnel of Arrowhead Stadium with his sweatpants tucked into crew socks. A message was written in black on white ribbed socks. It was encircled by his calves. The all-caps black letters read: “ATTITUDE IS FREE.”
But what exactly was the Cowboys’ attitude after they brought the league’s top scoring offense to Kansas City, only to leave without a touchdown or a win?
Mike McCarthy, the head coach declared that Dallas fell to 7-3. However, it was not defeated by now 7-4 Chiefs.
“Never discouraged,” Prescott added. “But pissed off for sure.”
The Cowboys’ offensive shortcomings were sufficient to piss off Prescott. His yards per pass attempt fell from 8.2 through eight games to 4.5 vs. an aggressive Chiefs defense, Dallas’ total offensive production down from its 433.9 yards per-game clip to 276. Dallas was leading the league in points scored per game with 31.6. Chiefs Nation was surrounded and the visitors managed just 9. And Sunday’s story wasn’t about the Cowboys defense failing to get off the field and the offense short on opportunities. There were many opportunities, but they weren’t taken. Nine possessions were not scored by the Cowboys. Three of these possessions ended in turnovers.
“Our offense didn’t hold up our end of the bargain,” said Cowboys right guard Zack Martin, a victim among many on Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones’ 3.5-sack day. “It was almost like, ‘Hey, we were right there, get a score and we’re in this thing and we’ll go down the stretch.’
“I think if you would have told us that our defense held them to 19 points, we would have felt pretty damn good about that.”
None of the Cowboys’ players attributed their deflating day on one factor. They each took full responsibility for what had been a terrible day almost across the board. Prescott alternately threw to and from receivers during his 28-of 43 day. None of them completed passes of more than 20-plus yards. Only one pass was overthrown by Prescott before the end of the third quarter. The drops were frequent. Dallas’ offensive line, down Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle) and inputting a new left guard in Connor McGovern, struggled to give Prescott sufficient time in the pocket or create clear running lanes. Chiefs’ pass rush paid off.
Prescott’s time clock wasn’t in sync with receiver Michael Gallup down the right sideline on Dallas’ first play. On Prescott’s final throw, the Cowboys trailing by 10 points with one minute remaining, Jones tipped the pass to set up an interception by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.
A play featuring the offensive line’s inability to ward off the rush, Prescott’s not-quite-there-enough pass and the Chiefs’ secondary capitalizing seemed to illustrate well how what could have been a shootout of explosive offenses instead became a defensive fight in the trenches.
“A lot of stuff wasn’t clicking for us,” Gallup said. “We have to make those plays when they come to us. We just didn’t make the plays today. That’s on us. … Folks just have to step up.”
The Cowboys were able to defend. Despite missing both starting defensive ends, the Cowboys held Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a pedestrian 23-of-37 passing for 260 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a lost fumble. Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, created a three safety package which allowed Jayron Kearse, veteran linebacker to catch Travis Kelce’s pass. Quinn sent Micah Parsons (a rookie linebacker) back to full-time defense end. Parsons used Parsons’ speed to sack Mahomes twice.
“He’s a special player,” Mahomes conceded. “He has a high motor, he chased me down on that strip sack. He was there all the time fighting and battling throughout the game.
“I mean, to be that good of a linebacker and be able to play defensive end, there’s not a lot of guys like that in this league.”
After scoring 16 points the previous 16 minutes, the Chiefs held Dallas to just 3 points for 44 minutes. This was a good example of defense’s successful adaption. Therein lies a bright spot for Cowboys fans: If Dallas’ defense can play with the frenetic energy and ball-hawking it did against Mahomes and Co., in the same game that the Cowboys offense returns to its explosive roots, Dallas’ ceiling is high.
“We didn’t win the game,” McCarthy said. But “by no means do we feel less of who we are as a football team. Let’s make that clear.”
Cowboys can move quickly past the Chiefs’ performance. They will arrive in Dallas Sunday night and prepare for their home game against the Raiders (5-4). Thanksgiving Day could present a more friendly opponent and an atmosphere. Dallas is likely to be without Amari Cooper, its best receiver. CeeDee lamb would also need concussion protocol. CeeDee was injured in Arrowhead’s endzone. He was ruled out for the second half.
Prescott says the Cowboys can rebound just like they did two weeks ago after a loss of 30-16 to the Broncos. A week later, Prescott said that the Cowboys won’t be the same as the Falcons with a 43-2 win.
He nearly scoffed at the notion that his team would do anything but respond properly, his concluding postgame interview responses as emphatic as his “ATTITUDE IS FREE” crew socks.
“I’m never worried about how this team’s going to respond,” Prescott said. “As long as I’m a part of this team, quarterback of this offense, that’s the least of my worries is how we’re going to respond.
“This is a resilient bunch. They were a great team. It’s part of the game.
“We’ll be better because of it.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.