FRISCO, Texas — The Cowboys showed up to practice angry this week.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was glad they did.
“I mean we were pissed,” Prescott said Thursday. “I’d have been even more pissed if I came in here and guys weren’t.”
“Pissed off Monday night after the game, Tuesday morning,” added linebacker Jaylon Smith, de facto quarterback of Dallas’ D in veteran Sean Lee’s absence. “Pissed off now.”
Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford turned the question around.
“Think about how you would feel,” he told reporters, “after a loss that can’t happen. We can’t lose right now.
“We ain’t got no other choice but to win these games.”
Mathematically, the 3-5 Cowboys aren’t playoff ineligible. But an offense whose 19.2 points ranks 26th in the league knows time is ticking. Losing Jason Witten (retirement), Dez Bryant (released, now with Saints) and Travis Frederick (autoimmune disorder) gives Dallas no reassurance about its dip in production since 2016 from 26.3 points per game to 22.1 in 2017 to 19.3 this season.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott and recently traded-for receiver Amari Cooper are each top-5 draft picks under 25 years old.
The offense has weapons. But it’s not capitalizing.
“We’ve just got to get better all the way around this whole team and play complementary football,” Prescott said. “The run game’s got to be good when the pass game has got to be good.
“One can’t be up and the other down.”
They attacked this process vigorously Wednesday.
The defense studied third downs more carefully this week after allowing Tennessee to convert on 79 percent (11-of-14) of third downs Monday, more than twice as loose as the D’s previously stingy 39.4 percent. The offense continued to scheme Cooper into its game plan this week, interested in exploring the versatility and “mismatch” (Prescott’s words) he showed in college at Alabama running out of both the backfield and slot.
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The team also worked to set aside the emotions that left Prescott sitting in his AT&T Stadium locker alone for minutes after the 28-14 loss Monday. He was processing another game of ball insecurity, this time with an end zone interception and third quarter fumble. Prescott now has 12 turnovers in eight games after a career built on excellent ball security, including a rookie season in which he threw 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Turnovers are new to the 135th pick of the 2016 draft.
So is a 3-5 record.
Prescott’s never dropped this low at the high school, college or NFL level.
“I don’t like to lose,” Prescott said, explaining why Monday hit him so hard. “It’s not something I’m used to and not something I plan to ever get used to.”
He processed that disappointment at his locker, he said.
“It’s moving forward, being positive and knowing how to steer the team we’ve got, the offense we’ve got and where we’re going to go.”
Where the Cowboys go first is division-rival Philadelphia, whose 4-4 record is good enough for second in the division. Even without top running backs Jay Ajayi (ACL tear) or Darren Sproles (hamstring), the Eagles own the best time-of-possession advantage in the league at 33:46. The Tennessee Titans held the ball 8:52 longer than the run-first Cowboys on Monday.
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