DALLAS - Perhaps the game against the New York Giants was merely a mirage.
A facade to fool Cowboys fans for a week, distracting them from Dallas' depleted defense.
Or maybe the game against Denver was the illusion. An outlier highlighted by Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian tossing four touchdowns, and running back C.J. Anderson racking up 118 yards and a touchdown on the ground. After all, it was the first time Dallas allowed a quarterback to throw four touchdowns since Green Bay's own Matt Flynn in 2013, and the first time the Cowboys allowed a 100-yard rusher since Alfred Morris in 2015.
Here are the facts: Dallas came out flat in the first quarter. They let Siemian go up and down the field on Denver's first drive, one that was capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders. They caught a break when Denver kicker Brandon McManus pushed a 49-yard field goal wide right, and then caught another one.
An hour-long weather delay that came at the end of the first quarter. And a chance to hit the reset button.
For a moment, it looked like they took advantage of it. DeMarcus Lawrence recorded a strip sack to set the Cowboys up first and goal from the five, and two players later, Dak Prescott hit Dez Bryant on a back shoulder fade to tie the game at 7.
Dallas never got any closer. And then things got ugly.
The Cowboys' secondary started dropping like flies, with Chidobe Awuzie, Nolan Carroll and Kavon Frazier all leaving with injuries. Carroll even left the game twice before being knocked out for good right before halftime.
Relying on an inexperienced secondary running out of gas, Dallas was torched. Again and again.
The Broncos' first punt didn't come until the fourth quarter, and at one point, Denver converted seven consecutive third downs. After the Cowboys held New York to just 233 yards of total offense in their season opener, this kind of performance likely surprised players, coaches and fans.
The opposite side of the ball was nearly as discouraging as Dallas' offense did not fare much better. Ezekiel Elliott was stymied, held to just eight yards on nine carries. Prescott had arguably his worst outing since debuting 18 games ago, throwing two interceptions and missing several open receivers. His offensive line didn't help him much, allowing the Broncos to tally over 15 hits on him and saw Von Miller record two sacks.
The most important number, however, was the final: 42-17. A humbling reminder to not only the Cowboys, but Cowboys fans that this team has holes, and against good teams, they will get exposed.
Now the waiting begins — we won't know until the weeks ahead which of Dallas' first two games was the actual mirage.
Which Cowboys performance is the real Cowboys? Share your thoughts with Reece on Twitter @ReeceWaddell15.
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