ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a good chance the Dallas Cowboys won't be able to sit down tonight, or at least not until they take a moment to remove the Denver Broncos hoof from their hind parts. In a game that saw the former enter as sizable favorites -- fueled largely by the return of two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott -- it was the latter who held court, bullying the Cowboys on their own field en route to a 30-16 victory that was only made to look close with meaningless late-game touchdowns.
Nearly everything that could go wrong for the Cowboys, did, and in all three phases of the game. Prescott, who walked into Week 9 as a front runner for MVP but also returning from a calf strain, was a shell of his regular prolific self. He finished having completed only 19 of his 39 pass attempts and again, most of his 232 yards and both of his two touchdowns arrived when the Broncos were up big (30-0 at one point) and began to soften their defense.
Prescott also had a critical interception that helped seal the win for the Broncos in the second half, but when he did make the throws, his receivers weren't as surehanded as they should've been. A key drop from running back Tony Pollard stalled a pivotal drive in the first half, and one from both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb in the second half only made things worse. And then there was the defense, which was mauled on the ground to the tune of a combined 192 rushing yards while also allowing Teddy Bridgewater to extend drives and, at one point, log a perfect passer rating.
But wait, there's more, because although wideout Malik Turner had a blocked punt early in the third quarter that would've given the Cowboys the ball in the red zone, it was awarded to the Broncos because the Cowboys touched the ball behind the line of scrimmage after it was tipped, and Denver recovered.
Murphy's law is a real thing, it seems.
Much more went wrong than went right for the Cowboys, and despite valiant efforts from players like Turner and Micah Parsons (the latter having racked up 2.5 sacks and 10 combined tackles -- eight solo), it was all too much for the Cowboys to overcome. And just like that, the 6-1 powerhouse was humbled on its way to 6-2, and Prescott isn't running from the lumps. He's taking them head on, and he wants to use this as a teaching moment for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
"We got beat," Prescott told media following the upset. "We got thumped in every aspect of the game, especially on offense. Didn't get it going. I mean, we scored a couple of touchdowns there at a late time, but never got going.
"I missed some throws. We didn't throw or catch the ball as we normally do. It wasn't our best performance by any means, obviously our worst of the year. Credit to those guys.
"I mean, it's the NFL. Those guys get paid to do this and play at a high level. They came in here and were more prepared for this game and did a great job, did better than what we did. Just beat us, plain and simple."
The Cowboys were aggressive early, moving the ball easily on their first two offensive drives but failing to convert on two consecutive fourth-and-1 situations, and at one point they had converted only one of seven third-down attempts. That was mostly the tale of the game when considering the Broncos finished with eight third-down conversions in 15 attempts (53%), because that created a wildly lopsided win in the battle for time of possession, with the Broncos winning that fight mightily -- having the ball for more than 41 minutes out of 60.
With only 18 minutes and 48 seconds of possession, the Cowboys would've had to be lethal with every touch to overcome such a deficit, but they were the polar opposite.
"Definitely shocked," said Prescott. "Like I said, they whooped us in every aspect. They beat us. That's not something you ever think about or every envision happening.
"But it's something we'll learn from and we'll learn from every aspect of it -- offense, defense, special teams, situationally. We've just got to be better. We've got to play a cleaner game."
As noted during the game by CBS Sports' live analysis, the Cowboys looked out of sorts in what was one of their rare early games while the Broncos, who play them quite a bit, were off to the races from beginning to end. Prescott and the Cowboys as a whole never found their momentum, as in to say they never truly woke up, or at least not until it had no impact on the outcome of the game.
"We've got to start faster in a noon game like this," Prescott said. "They did a better job at it. They got on us and got on us fast. We were playing from behind and we weren't able to do anything."
The 27-year-old made it clear his calf had nothing to do with what happened on Sunday afternoon, including when he opted to forego running for first down when it was available and instead heaving it downfield to Lamb for an eventual incompletion.
"[My calf] held up fine," he said. "It was great. I mean, I did a lot of moving, did a lot of scrambling there -- getting outside of the pocket, no issues. I didn't feel it. I'm fine."
That's the good news, and the Cowboys will need to make sure all of the rust is gone when the Atlanta Falcons -- a team that defeated the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome in Week 9 -- comes trotting onto the field at AT&T Stadium in seven days. The last thing the Cowboys need is their first two-game losing streak of the season, and Prescott doesn't sound like a man willing to get beat down two weeks in a row; and at home, no less.
"This feeling sucks, and [we'll] make sure we don't feel this again."