Beating lower-rung teams like the Atlanta Falcons at home without your best players is one thing. Trying to take down the Kansas City Chiefs on the road without those key contributors is quite another.
Of course, the Dallas Cowboys can't solely blame those absences for their 19-9 loss to the Chiefs. The Cowboys offense struggled to get anything going, too many times outmuscled by Kansas City's defensive front. And although the Dallas defense played well overall and kept the game close, the damage done early was enough to give the home side the victory.
Again, Dallas was without the likes of Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyron Smith and Amari Cooper, news coming down on Friday that the team's star wide receiver would be placed on the Reserve/COVID list and miss the game. Making matters even worse, CeeDee Lamb didn't return for the second half after suffering a concussion.
Regardless, Dak Prescott and company simply couldn't find their rhythm throughout much of the game, in part because of the pressure brought by Kansas City. In fact, it was downright ugly.
The Cowboys just had no answer for Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones. He had a career high 3.5 sacks while also posting a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a tipped pass that resulted in the game-clinching interception.
Overall, Kansas City recorded five sacks on the day after totaling only 14 through its first 10 contests combined. That was also the most Prescott had been sacked since being taken down seven times on Nov. 29, 2018 against New Orleans.
Not helped by a receiving corps that had four drops, Prescott completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 216 yards and a 57.9 passer rating. Not that his counterpart on the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes, was that much better. The Kansas City quarterback completed only 62.2 percent of his attempts for 260 yards and a 71.9 rating without throwing a touchdown pass.
That's because the Dallas defense, after a shaky start, was able to keep the Chiefs' high-octane offense in check over the final two and a half quarters. Rookie Micah Parsons led the way, recording two sacks and three quarterback hits overall, with the unit also posting two takeaways.
The biggest difference, however, was the Cowboys' inability to get into the end zone despite driving into Kansas City territory five times, including on four of their last six possessions. Instead of reaching pay dirt, they saw two interceptions and two field goals.
Which won't get it done against a team the caliber of the Chiefs.
The Cowboys won the toss and took the ball to begin things, hoping to quickly make a statement. Instead, it as the Chief who gave early notice.
After Prescott overshot an open Michael Gallup down the right sideline and then Noah Brown dropped a pass, the Cowboys were forced to punt. Kansas City then responded by traveling 86 yards in nine plays to the end zone. A 33-yard reverse to Tyreek Hill did the most damage, but a direct snap to tight end Travis Kelce in the shotgun provided the points.
The Chiefs missed the extra point, but added three more from nearly the same distance on their next possession, Harrison Butker kicking a 37-yard field goal. The opportunity came when on the Cowboys' third snap of their next series, Prescott was strip-sacked, Jones picking up the bouncing ball to set Kansas City up at the Dallas 22-yard line.
The Cowboys got a little something going, a 31-yard end-around providing a needed spark. And Dallas eventually reached the Chiefs' 15-yard line, only to settle for a 33-yard field goal, at least on the scoreboard, 9-3.
Whatever good vibes the Cowboys might have felt certainly didn't last long. Mahomes connected with Byron Pringle on the last play of the first quarter for a 37-yard gain down to the Dallas 14-yard line. Three snaps later, the quarterback then pitched to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who scampered in untouched for a 16-3 advantage.
But while Kansas City may have picked up points on its first three possessions, the Dallas defense kept them in check on the next two. And that was then followed by rookie Micah Parsons chasing down Mahomes, sacking the quarterback and stripping him of the ball. Tarell Basham fell on the prize for the Cowboys at the Chiefs' 33-yard line, the team getting one more chance to put up some points before the half.
Unfortunately, Prescott's pass attempt down the right sideline to Lamb was picked off by Kansas City cornerback Charvarius Ward, the Cowboys' threat ended.
Although Cowboys fans were likely disheartened with the news of Lamb's injury coming out of the break, they and the team got a jolt of momentum when on the Chiefs' first drive, a Mahomes' pass intended for Kelce bounced off the tight end's hands and into the arms of Jayron Kearse. The safety returned it 34 yards to the Kansas City 36.
Dallas couldn't get into the end zone, but did narrow the score to a 10-point deficit after Greg Zuerlein kicked a 30-yard field goal through the uprights.
But while the Cowboys defense continued to apply pressure, Parsons and Dorance Armstrong both recording sacks, the Chiefs offense finally got on the board again late in the third quarter. Three straight Kansas City completions for 22, 10 and 12 yards set up Butker for a 53-yard field goal and a 19-6 lead.
Prescott had completed four passes for a combined 50 yards to end the third quarter, the Cowboys seemingly finding their form. But a penalty and two plays that lost yardage at the start of the fourth frame resulted in another Zuerlein field goal, this one from 48 yards.
Kansas City missed a 51-yard field goal that gave Dallas the ball at its own 41-yard line. But desperately needing to reach the end zone, the Cowboys instead went three-and-out, forced to punt.
When Dallas then had to start its next possession at its own 3-yard line with 2:35 remaining in the game, all hope seemed lost. Prescott, though, moved his troops down the field to the Chiefs' 20-yard line. But a pass intended for Malik Turner was tipped at the line of scrimmage by the nemesis Jones, the ball fluttering into the arms of cornerback L'Jarius Sneed. Game over.