Tough for things to go much worse in a first half of football than they went for the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England dealt with turnovers, injuries, and embarrassment on their way to a 28-3 halftime deficit. The game would never become competitive in the second half, with the Dallas Cowboys cruising to a 38-3 victory.
The outcomes improves the Cowboys record to 3-1, while the Patrios fall to 1-3.
Dallas received the opening kickoff and quickly drove down the field. Quarterback Dak Prescott was five-for-seven passing, for 70 yards on the drive. New England’s defense held tough in the red zone though, with Josh Uche and Kyle Dugger making consecutive solid plays to force a fourth down. The Cowboys settled for a 23-yard field goal attempt, which Brandon Aubrey converted for a 3-0 Dallas lead.
New England answered on their first possession of the game. The Patrios drive was highlighted by a brilliant catch and run by Demario Douglas on a third down conversion. The 42-yard completion brought the New England’s offense into the red zone. This was something they failed to do last week against the New York Jets, despite winning the game. After consecutive runs by Rhamondre Stevenson, the Patriots attempted to pass on third and one. The incompletion forced New England to settle for a 29-yard field goal attempt which was good, courtesy of Chad Ryland.
With 6:44 remaining in the first quarter, the score was tied 3-3. This is when things went south for the New England Patriots.
Dak Prescott then spearheaded another slow and steady drive down the field for Dallas. The Cowboys QB began the drive four-for-four for 32 yards. The next play was a first down run by Tony Pollard from the Patriots 25-yard line. Pollard was taken down after a five-yard gain by New England rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez. But a gain of five wasn’t the problem for the Patriots. On the tackle Gonzalez, who was just named the NFL Rookie of the Month for September, injured his shoulder. He was helped off the field and ended up going back to the locker room. He would not return.
The injury to Christian Gonzalez meant that the New England Patriots top four cornerbacks (Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones) were all out injured. Prescott and the Cowboys wasted no time taking advantage of this situation. On the next play from scrimmage, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb on a 20-yard completion in the end zone with Myles Bryant in coverage. Dallas was back on top 10-3.
New England started to move the ball once they got it back. A couple of runs from Ezekiel Elliott and a pair of completions to Mike Gesicki and JuJu Smith-Schuster got the Patriots into Cowboy territory. But on a fourth and one, Mac Jones was stuffed on a quarterback sneak attempt, and the ball was turned over on downs.
After the Cowboys were forced to punt, the Patriots took over on their own 10-yard line, but immediately went backwards. Offensive guard Mike Onwenu was called for his second false start of the game, setting the offense back five yards.
The next play changed the game. Mac Jones was scrambling out of the pocket when he was sacked from behind by Dante Fowler. Fowler knocked the ball loose on the sack, and the loose ball was recovered by the Cowboys. Leighton Vander Esch scooped up the fumble and ran it 11 yards into the end zone. Dallas added some trickery on the extra point, scoring a two-point conversion on a fake extra point kick. This gave Dallas an 18-3 lead, as well as all the momentum.
The Patriots punted on the next possession and the Cowboys brought it down field yet again. Although the Patriots defense kept the Cowboys out of the end zone, Dallas was able to add another Aubrey field goal to the board. The Cowboys led 21-3.
New England Patriots then advanced the ball near midfield, courtesy of a couple of Mac Jones completions to Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry. But on the next play, disaster struck yet again.
Mac Jones rolled out to the right but attempted to throw back across the field to Bourne. Unfortunately for Jones, Dallas defensive back DaRon Bland was waiting to pounce. Bland stepped in front of Bourne, intercepted the pass, and took it 52-yards uncontested to the house. The extra point made the score 28-3 in favor of Dallas.
After a quick three-and-out for the Patriots offense, the Cowboys took a knee to end the half.
Following a field goal on the New England Patriots first possession, the rest of their offensive drives in the first half resulted in a turnover of downs, touchdown allowed on a fumble recovery, punt, touchdown allowed on an interception, punt.
Dallas took a 28-3 lead into the half. There was very little for New England to feel encouraged by, other than starting the second half on offense.
But that one positive was quickly turned into a negative. On a pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster, DaRon Bland recorded his second interception of the afternoon. The pick was the third turnover of the game for Mac Jones.
The Patriots survived with only another three points being added to the Cowboys tally. Jahlani Tavai sacked Dak Prescott on a third down from the New England six-yard line for a nine-yard loss. The Cowboys were still able to convert the field goal attempt to increase their advantage to 31-3.
After one final three-and-out from the Patriots offense, Bill Belichick had finally seen enough of Mac Jones. Many Patriots fans believed Belichick should have gone to go with Bailey Zappe to start the second half, but it took two failed second half drives before the Patrios head coach agreed.
Who should start the second half at QB for Patriots? #ForeverNE
— Dan Kelley (@DanKelley66) October 1, 2023
Life with Bailey Zappe at the helm didn’t treat the New England Patriots much better. In the final three offensive drives with Zappe playing quarterback, the Patriots mustered two punts and a missed 52-yard field goal attempt by Chad Ryland. Zappe did have a pair of 20-plus yard gains on New England’s final possession, on completions to Kendrick Bourne (20 yards) and DeVante Parker (22 yards). But it wasn’t enough to put points on the board as Ryland’s attempt sailed right.
Dallas did add one final touchdown in the fourth quarter. KaVontae Turpin broke off a 46-yard for the Cowboys. New England defensive back Myles Bryant showed great hustle to get back into the play. He was able to punch the ball loose from Turpin for a fumble. Dallas recovered the fumble, however. Six plays later Hunter Luepke took a handoff from Prescott and took it two yards into the end zone.
The most noteworthy play of the second half was more bad news for the Patriots. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Matthew Judon exited the game with an elbow injury. Like Gonzalez, he did not return. Defensive back Jabrill Peppers also appeared to be injured in the fourth quarter.
The loss leaves the New England Patriots with lots of questions and in desperate need of answers. Mac Jones will certainly get his share of the blame for the loss, as will head coach Bill Belichick. The injury issues are going to compound problems in Foxboro. The coming week for the Patriots, on and off the field, will go a long way in determining which direction the 2023 New England Patriots season is headed.