ARLINGTON, Texas — It was the tale of two halves for the Dallas Cowboys when they hosted the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 at AT&T Stadium. Entering the game as a three-plus touchdown favorite to defeat the winless visitor, the Cowboys looked like anything but an unstoppable force in the first half. Both the offense and defense looked out of sorts in play and discipline — the latter manifesting in a string of penalties that helped the Dolphins flip field position early and often — fueled by questionable decisions from a team that’s been as sharp as a new razor in their first two 2019 outings.
At halftime, the Cowboys were up by only four points. By the end of the game, the team had a 31-6 victory in its pocket.
A microcosm of the slow start came by way of an ill-advised pass heaved deep downfield by Dak Prescott to start the second quarter that was intended for wide receiver Randall Cobb. Despite having good protection and buying himself even more time with his legs, Prescott heaved what would be only his second interception of the season, later admitting he made a big mistake by going for the home run.
“Just bad by me,” he said following the game. “Just terrible. I think I saw both guys and went to throw it, and it got away from me. I think I was looking at both of my guys at the same time and it got away from me, and it just wasn’t a good play.
“It’s another thing I can learn from. …These guys are doing a great job protecting up front. I don’t need to go out there thinking I have to make every throw. Just check it down and keep the drive going.”
Not afraid to take full accountability, Prescott wants to go forward learning when to swing for the fences and when to take the single.
“I was just being too greedy,” he said definitively. “It was one of those heat checks or whatever you wanna call it. I was just trying to do too much in the first half. I said it to [offensive coordinator Kellen Moore]. That was on me.
“I was just being too greedy. That’s why I said it’s a great tape to learn from — for me probably more than anybody else. [I need to] just take what the defense gives me. You want these shots and you get these shots in a couple of games, and you get anxious.
“You want them again, but just stay within it and check it down to those backs who can get just as many yards as those deep throws, and just allow the game to come to me. That’s what I did in the second half.”
It’s true; Prescott started the third quarter in antithetical fashion to how he began the second. He led the Cowboys to two scoring drives to stretch the lead to 24-6, and never looked back. The team went as Prescott did, who followed a first half that saw him throw for just 106 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a 57.5 passer rating, to a final stat line of 246 yards with two touchdowns and a 91.4 rating.
That included a locked-in Prescott going 10 for 12 on passing attempts over the final two quarters.
“This should be a great tape to learn from,” he said. “That was a team that played really, really hard. We had a lot of penalties and we stepped on our own feet a lot of the times — that derailed us or caused us to punt the ball or not get points. When you have those things, that’s good tape to learn from [to find things] we can clean up.
“To finish with 30 points and finish like we did — to play in the second half like we did with the energy, and just finishing it off. We have a lot of confidence going into this next week.”
While Prescott helped wake up the offensive unit with the aid of great outings from Amari Cooper, Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott — the latter two both rushing for more than 100 yards on the day — it was All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence lighting a fire under the defensive players. When I asked Lawrence what was said in the locker room at halftime that caused them to truly clamp down on Josh Rosen and Co., his answer was right on brand for the unequivocally blunt pass rusher.
“The mindset was wake the f— up,” he told me. “We knew what we were coming into — an early game and going out there and forcing our will on them. This is our house. There shouldn’t be a reason you don’t wake up out of the bed, stretch and start hitting — especially when a man is trying to take your turf.”
In the end, the Dolphins didn’t succeed in their attempted invasion of AT&T Stadium, and will now look for their first win of 2019 elsewhere. The Cowboys — who have obliterated their first three opponents by a combined score of 97-44 — can take solace in the fact the slow start against Miami proves they haven’t even reached mid-season form yet. If they can learn from their first half drudge in Week 3, they’ll be formidable for anyone who comes their way.