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Chad Finn | Unconventional Review

The Patriots needed a win against the Cowboys, and instead they got another moral victory — and a crushing loss

New England's Jalen Mills is a step behind as Dallas receiver CeeDee Lamb snags a 1-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

The Patriots won’t play a more entertaining game this season. And they won’t lose a game they needed to win in a more crushing way.

The Patriots, 2-4 but among the league leaders in utterly useless moral victories, fell in overtime to the Cowboys, 35-29. Dak Prescott threw for 445 yards, the most ever dropped on a Bill Belichick defense, and found electrifying receiver CeeDee Lamb for the winning touchdown.

The Patriots had to have it. They couldn’t quite get it. The story of the season so far.


Some further thoughts, upon immediate review …

Three players who were worth watching

(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: Devin McCourty, Micah Parsons, Dalton Schultz)

CeeDee Lamb: Anyone who thinks Amari Cooper is still the Cowboys’ No. 1 receiver must have missed Lamb’s performance, especially after halftime. Prescott spread the ball around in the first half, with six receivers having 2-3 catches. But in the second half and overtime, Lamb took over. He finished with nine for 149 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown with 4:49 left in the third quarter to give the Cowboys their first lead, a 33-yard catch early in the fourth that helped set up a field goal to put Dallas up 6, a 24-yard catch on third-and-25 near the end of regulation that set up the tying field goal, and of course, the winning 35-yard touchdown in which he torched Jalen Mills like the Patriots cornerback was actually Duane Starks in disguise. Lamb was the best player on the field Sunday.

Damien Harris: Harris set a season-high for rushing yards with 101 on 18 carries, topping the 100 he tallied in the opener against Miami. He scored the Patriots’ first touchdown on a direct snap less than five minutes into the game, but he saved his best work for the fourth quarter, including a 21-yard run with approximately 10 minutes left in which he took Trevon Diggs for an unwanted ride.


Justin Bethel: The special teams ace was all over the place, including getting close enough to kicker Greg Zuerlein’s missed 51-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter that it almost appeared he deflected it. (He didn’t, but his presence seemed to influence Zuerlein hooking it.) Earlier, he forced a fumble on a punt that Dallas was fortunate to recover. And while briefly filling in for Jonathan Jones as the slot corner in the second quarter, he deflected a pass in the end zone that Kyle Dugger picked off and returned for 25 yards. That’s a full day’s work right there.

Grievance of the game

Running a delayed handoff to Brandon Bolden on third and 1 from the Dallas 49 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter was as perplexing as it was annoying. He lost a yard, as he is prone to do. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week that his wife sometimes gives him grief about his play calling. Hopefully she’ll ask him what his fascination is with Bolden soon.

But my main grievance is with something said on CBS’s broadcast, which I had to watch again just to make sure I heard it right. With a little more than six minutes left in the first half, Jim Nantz was voicing over some heartening images from the Patriots Day of Pampering on Tuesday at Gillette Stadium, an annual event in which cancer patients come to the stadium to meet a few players and enjoy yoga, manicures, candle making, and welcome relaxation.


“I’d like to enjoy a day of yoga, manicures, candle making,” said analyst Tony Romo after the read. Then he began teasing Nantz about being into candle making. Nantz countered by going for the jugular and asking Romo how many pedicures he gets a week. His answer: “I … don’t … feed … my … dogs … what is it … pedic … pediatric … kids? Gosh.”

What even was that? I swear, the interactions between Nantz and Romo get more abstract by the week.

Key matchup

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones versus Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs

This was our pick for the matchup to watch coming into the game, and it proved prescient on back-to-back game-turning plays deep in the fourth quarter. Diggs got Jones first, snagging a pass intended for Kendrick Bourne — Jones led him a little too far, as he has been prone to doing — with 2:27 left and taking it back 42 yards for a touchdown and a 26-21 Dallas lead. Diggs has seven interceptions, including one in six straight games. But Jones, whose resilience is remarkable for a young quarterback, got him right back, firing a strike to Bourne that he caught between Diggs and out-of-position safety Damontae Kazee. Bourne took it 75 yards for a touchdown, easily the Patriots’ longest offensive play of the season, and at the moment, their biggest.


Three notes scribbled in the margins

(Predicted score: Cowboys 27, Patriots 19)

(Final score: Cowboys 35, Patriots 29)

⋅ I’m starting to think the universe is conspiring against Jakobi Meyers to prevent him from ever scoring a receiving touchdown. It looked like he had the first of his career at the 10:14 mark of the second quarter when Jones found him in the end zone from 25 yards out, but a James Ferentz holding penalty wiped out the play. Meyers, who had five catches for 44 yards, has 121 receptions without a touchdown.

⋅ On the play after the Ferentz hold, Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory blew past Yodny Cajuste and drove his helmet deep into Jones’s torso, forcing a fumble that Dallas recovered. The two hardest hits I’ve ever seen on a quarterback are Mo Lewis on Drew Bledsoe (I trust you know the details there) and the bonecrushing blindside hit the Giants’ Leonard Marshall delivered on the Niners’ Joe Montana in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. Gregory’s hit on Jones is in the running for the bronze.

⋅ It won’t be talked about much with all of the other mistakes the Patriots made, but Nelson Agholor’s drop on a slant pattern on the first play of overtime probably changed the course of the game. Had he caught it, he had room to run. The Patriots did convert one first down on the possession, but eventually had to punt, and you know how it played out from there.


More Patriots-Cowboys coverage

Tara Sullivan: Mac Jones is getting knocked down, but he keeps getting up and giving the Patriots a fighting chance

Ben Volin | Instant analysis: Patriots somehow hung in with the Cowboys, but the more talented and better team won

Cowboys 35, Patriots 29 (OT): In a game of plot twists and incredible lead changes, Patriots were finally knocked out by Cowboys

Patriots notebook: Patriots offensive linemen Mike Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn return from COVID list but do not start

Bill Belichick praised Dak Prescott after Patriots’ loss to the Cowboys

The Red Sox had an optional workout on Sunday, so some of them went to the Patriots game

Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.