FOXBOROUGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 35-29 overtime loss to the Cowboys:
▪ The Patriots hung tough with an excellent Cowboys team, but the right team won Sunday. The Patriots had luck, but the Cowboys had the talent, and the talent won out.
The Patriots’ defense was clearly gassed by the end of the game. The Cowboys held onto the ball for 39:17 compared with just 26:51 for the Patriots, and with the game on the line, the Cowboys drove 40 yards to kick the game-tying field goal, then drove 80 yards in overtime for the game-winning score.
The Patriots caught some breaks — most notably the 75-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne that put the Patriots ahead with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter. But you don’t deserve to win when the other team outgains you by 232 yards and holds the ball for 12 more minutes.
The Patriots simply didn’t do enough on offense early in the game, and you could feel the air get sucked out of Gillette Stadium when they punted on fourth and 3 in overtime.
▪ Another game of Bill Belichick coaching scared on fourth down, with two key decisions working against the Patriots. The first was Belichick deciding to punt on fourth and 1 from his own 35 in the middle of the second quarter. It obviously seems risky to go for it in your own territory, but the analytics said the Patriots were 3 percent better off going for it on fourth down. Instead, Belichick chose to punt, and the punt was blocked.
The second came in overtime, with Belichick opting to punt on fourth and 3 from his own 46. Getting stuffed would have handed the Cowboys the game, but so did punting the ball away. The Patriots didn’t stop the Cowboys over their final five possessions (two touchdowns, two field goals and a missed field goal), and the defense had no chance of stopping Dak Prescott in overtime.
Belichick also coached scared against the Bucs, opting for a field goal attempt instead of going for it on fourth and 1, and it cost his team the game. He needs to show more confidence in Mac Jones and his offense.
▪ A ton of credit has to go to Prescott, whose 445 yards were the most allowed by a Belichick defense and third-most in Patriots history. The Cowboys also rolled up 567 total yards, the most allowed by the Patriots in franchise history.
Belichick tried everything — big blitzing, dropping eight into coverage, keeping Prescott contained, moving him from the pocket — and Prescott still was able to find open receivers throughout the game. He did an incredible job of buying time and finding open receivers, even when the Patriots had eight in coverage. And Prescott made the play of the game late in the fourth quarter, completing a 24-yard pass on third and 25 to put the Cowboys in game-tying field goal range.
Prescott should be on the short list for MVP consideration this year. He is a fantastic quarterback.
▪ Nothing about the Patriots’ offensive performance spelled winning football. They only gained 335 total yards, with 75 coming on Bourne’s lucky touchdown catch. They held the ball for less than 27 minutes and put the defense back on the field all night. The Patriots had just 50 plays on offense, compared with 82 for the Cowboys. The Patriots also turned over the ball twice, started 0 for 5 on third down and only had one drive last more than five plays.
This certainly was a shorthanded offense, playing with several backups on the line. And the Cowboys are an excellent defense that entered the game as one of the league leaders in turnovers. But the Patriots sure don’t have much firepower.
▪ For a change, it was the Patriots executing flawlessly inside the 20, while the opponent made the mistakes. The Cowboys’ offense went 2 for 5 inside the red zone, with as many turnovers as touchdowns (two). Patriots backup cornerback Justin Bethel made a terrific deflection on Kyle Dugger’s interception in the end zone.
And the Patriots’ D made the play(s) of the game with four straight stuffs from the 1-yard line, twice stopping Ezekiel Elliott and twice stopping Prescott, with Ja’Whaun Bentley punching the ball out of Prescott’s hands on fourth down.
On the other side, the Patriots’ offense entered the game as the NFL’s second-worst red zone offense, but finished both opportunities Sunday with a touchdown.
▪ The Cowboys did their best to keep the Patriots in this game. They finished with 12 penalties for 115 yards, including a couple of early holding calls that stalled their drives, an illegal hands to the face penalty that wiped out a 44-yard completion, and a penalty for 12 men on the field in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys also went just 1 for 6 on third down in the first half (3 for 13 for the game), and committed two red-zone turnovers. If the Cowboys played a cleaner game, this could have been a blowout.
▪ Sunday’s game was a good example of how completion percentage is an overrated stat. Jones was efficient, completing 15-of-21 passing for 229 yards, hitting his first 10 passes. But his accuracy was a bit off on several throws, forcing the receiver to adjust for the ball instead of running in stride. And it finally came back to bite Jones late in the fourth quarter when his slant pass to Kendrick Bourne was too high and far, and it ended up being deflected into the hands of Trevon Diggs, who returned it for a pick-6.
Jones is completing over 70 percent of his passes on the season, but he still has to work on his accuracy.
▪ The Patriots’ patchwork offensive line was exposed in pass protection, and led to Belichick playing a game of musical chairs with his personnel. Yodny Cajuste started his second consecutive game at right tackle, but was benched in the second quarter for Mike Onwenu after getting bull-rushed by Randy Gregory and giving up a sack-fumble (Jones was lucky not to get hurt on the big hit).
Justin Herron started the game at left tackle, got benched for Isaiah Wynn at the same time Cajuste got benched, but came back into the game when Wynn also gave up a bad sack to Gregory.
It’s never a good sign when you’re still rotating both of your tackle spots six games into the season. Wynn, who hasn’t practiced the last two weeks because of COVID-19, has been a big disappointment this season.
▪ What happened to Belichick being the special teams guru? The Patriots went nearly six full years without a blocked punt before this season, the last one coming from the Eagles in 2015. But the Patriots had a punt blocked by the Saints in Week 3, then again by the Cowboys. Considering how much practice time and roster space the Patriots use on special teams players, having these types of breakdowns are inexcusable. Special teams coordinator Cam Achord needs to be put on notice as well.
More Patriots-Cowboys coverage
▪ Chad Finn | Unconventional Review: The Patriots had to have Sunday, and per usual, they couldn’t quite get it
▪ Cowboys 35, Patriots 29 (OT): In a game of plot twists and incredible lead changes, Patriots were finally knocked out by Cowboys
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.