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The Vent: Poor play makes Thanksgiving hard to digest for Cowboys

A short week, flag-happy officials and playing from behind made for too little, too late for the Dallas Cowboys against the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) prepares to throw a pass under pressure from Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Solomon Thomas (92) in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

DALLAS — Talk about a turkey of a game. The Dallas Cowboys and a suspect officiating crew contributed to an ugly 36-33 overtime loss to the reeling Las Vegas Raiders. For the third time in four weeks, the Cowboys gave a lackluster performance and this time it was on Thanksgiving with the whole nation in front of their televisions.

The score suggested it was a back-and-forth affair, but the truth is that the Cowboys were playing catchup from the start and were lucky to have a chance to win. Dallas was down 17-6, 24-13, and 30-22 at various points on the day before tying it late at 33-33 to send the game into overtime.

Count this one as a maddeningly ugly game from the start. The Cowboys couldn’t establish a rhythm offensively and their defense couldn’t get off the field. Playing without their top two wide receivers and top two defensive ends, the Cowboys still had superior talent to their opponents and needed to win the game.

Instead, it was a lethargic effort early. Perhaps that is a byproduct of the short week after a deflating loss in Kansas City, but the endeavor put Dallas in a hole that they exhausted themselves trying to dig out of all day. For a team that should have been playing desperate and decisive, Dallas came out flat. Quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t sharp early and an avalanche of penalties on defense kept drives alive for the Raiders.

Penalties would be a common theme for the game, nearly rendering the game unwatchable. In total, the Cowboys were called for 14 penalties for 166 yards, a team record.

The Raiders were also penalized 14 times for over 100 yards. Some of the calls from Shane Hochuli and crew were questionable at best, others were borderline absurd and may have cost the Cowboys the game.

The Raiders were just 3 for 13 on third down conversions, but there were four – FOUR – pass interference calls on Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown on third downs that extended drives and accounted for 16 Raiders points. Hochuli allowed the game to get out of hand by making it clear that a team could play him and his assistants instead of playing the opponent.

The officiating gave an overall bizarre performance, as Hochuli chose to insert himself into the game and become part of the story in front of a national television audience. Even if it were ultimately the Cowboys who shot themselves in the foot, 28 combined penalties is egregious and made for terrible viewing in the league’s marquee regular season game.

One of their biggest blunders was failing to review what looked like a fumble by Las Vegas tight end Darren Waller early in the game. The ball was recovered by the Cowboys after safety Keanu Neal made an incredible heads up play to keep the ball from going out of bounds. Jayron Kearse managed to recover it and stay inbounds to give Dallas possession. Yet the officiating crew decided to call the pass incomplete and the Raiders held onto the ball.

The call was one of the turning points in the game. Instead of having the ball deep in Raiders territory, the Cowboys went on to gain possession deep in their end of the field. Afterward, the Cowboys spent the rest of the game chasing the Raiders with an inefficient offense that couldn’t sustain drives.

Dallas even had difficulties running the ball against one of the league’s worst run defenses, only managing 64 yards on 20 carries. That was an unacceptable rate against a defense that had been giving up 132 yards per game on the ground.

Count Week 12 as another confusing offensive game plan from OC Kellen Moore. The Cowboys didn’t seem to attack the middle of the field or throw the ball deep until the fourth quarter, when the score dictated that the offense needed to be more aggressive. Prescott got more in rhythm when he was allowed to throw more than just short passes and wound up passing for 375 yards.

Meanwhile, the defense couldn’t get the pass rush going against an offensive line that had been having issues in the past three weeks. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had all day to throw and found open receivers, even when their offense was behind on the down and distance.

Yet, despite all the sloppy play and penalties, the Cowboys were still in a position to win the game in overtime. After a frenzy to tie the game late, Dallas went back to playing the ineffectual passive style of play in their possession after winning the coin toss. Two short passes to Ezekiel Elliott set up a short third down but a dropped pass – admittedly via a less-than-on-target pass from Prescott – by wide receiver Noah Brown resulted in a three-and-out punt.

With a change of possession, the Raiders got the ball back needing only a field goal to win. The Dallas defense put the Raiders in 3rd-and-18 thanks to a sack by all-world rookie Micah Parsons, but the last thing the officials wanted to do was swallow the whistle when they’d been basking in the limelight all afternoon.

Carr heaved up a prayer that was severely underthrown, but resulted in a pass interference by Brown. The ruling was Brown never turned his head to play the ball, but he never made contact with the receiver either. The penalty was an egregious call and wound up sinking the Cowboys with Las Vegas in easy field goal range.

The officials were a menace, but the Cowboys did themselves no favors. Prescott and the offense were lifeless for the first three quarters, there was a missed extra point and long field goal from Greg Zuerlein that put Dallas behind the eight ball, and the coaching staff didn’t have a game for which to be thankful.

All together this means that Dallas is in their first real rut of the season, losing back-to-back games for the first time with a team that isn’t playing well. Now at 7-4 and with six games left on the schedule, they have time to get right but there’s also plenty of games for things to get worse.

If the adage holds true about the season not starting until Thanksgiving, the Cowboys have a lot of work to do. They’ve responded to bumps in the road this year, but this is their first roadblock. Their first attempt to get over the hump will be next Thursday in New Orleans.

Do you think the Cowboys will be able to put the Week 12 holiday haranguing behind them? Vent with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.