As the calendar turned to October, the New England Patriots turned further away from .500.
The Dallas Cowboys routed the visitors by a score of 38-3 Sunday at AT&T Stadium, where the deficit of 25 points in the first half and the deficit of 35 points in the second half marked the largest of head coach Bill Belichick’s career.
Here’s a look back on what became a runaway and a 1-3 record.
Jones unravels as three turnovers become two touchdowns
The Dallas defense tallied a dozen sacks and a handful of interceptions through its September matchups while allowing 130.7 passing yards per game. The reasons why were there on Sunday. An offensive unraveling also was.
Mac Jones completed 12-of-21 passes for 150 yards with two interceptions before being benched in the third quarter for Bailey Zappe. New England’s starting quarterback began under center with a play-action connection. In the face of pressure from perennial NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Micah Parsons on the next possession, he hit tight end Mike Gesicki in a tight window for another first down. Things changed in a hurry.
A QB sneak fell short for a turnover on downs. It would not be the last turnover for the Patriots nor Jones, who soon scrambled out of the pocket on a strip-sack by defensive end Dante Fowler and a touchdown by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. No. 10 then sent a late pass across the field for wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland jumped on the repeated mistake, going 46 yards the other way for points with 54 seconds remaining prior to halftime. Bland came out of the tunnel with his second interception on a pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster in man-to-man.
Gonzalez departs from secondary while Prescott goes 28-of-34 passing
The last time Dak Prescott crossed paths with the Patriots, he amassed 445 yards through the air en route to a walk-off overtime win. On Sunday, the Cowboys quarterback got the game underway with a drive that included two missed tackles as well as pickups of 28 and 18 yards to wide receivers Michael Gallup and Jalen Tolbert. The upper hand was maintained.
Prescott completed 28-of-34 throws for 261 yards and one touchdown against a secondary that continued to navigate without the injured Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones. Christian Gonzalez started at cornerback alongside Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade in the nickel. But the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month went from the blue medical tent to the locker room following a tackle with 1:44 left in the first quarter. Downgraded from questionable to return due to a shoulder injury, he had helped cover wideout CeeDee Lamb, who caught a go-ball touchdown from 20 yards out on the next snap.
Just 40 percent of the opportunities in the red zone had resulted in touchdowns for the Dallas this season. Off-the-ball linebacker and captain Ja’Whaun Bentley had a hand in a pair of pass deflections in that range for New England. Safety Kyle Dugger led the way with 15 tackles, including a stop for loss on running back Tony Pollard to force the initial field goal.
Three penalties on Onwenu
With Cole Strange downgraded to out before the flight to Texas, the starting Patriots offensive line included Trent Brown at left tackle, Atonio Mafi at left guard, David Andrews at center, Mike Onwenu at right guard and Vederian Lowe at right tackle.
Two false starts and a holding penalty were accepted against Onwenu, who paced the team in snaps played last season, before intermission. The last of which took away a gain of 12 yards that had moved the chains.
By game’s end, the Cowboys stood with two sacks and 2.3 yards per carry allowed to the opposing backfield. The line of scrimmage moved one direction.
Elliott’s run back to Dallas ends with six carries
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft made his way back to old stomping grounds on Sunday. And on the ground, Ezekiel Elliott made his way through for just 16 rushing yards on six carries in a game script that got away.
The veteran running back took the field on the second series. Against the organization that released him in March after a tenure that spanned 80 touchdowns and 10,741 yards, he had a long of nine on his opening run.
Rhamondre Stevenson started and was held to 40 scrimmage yards on 16 touches.
Patriots register three sacks, lose Judon in fourth quarter
A pair of NFL All-Decade selections reside on the Dallas offensive line. But with left tackle Tyron Smith ruled out on the final injury report and right guard Zach Martin listed as questionable along with center Tyler Biadasz, New England managed three sacks.
Josh Uche turned a pick stunt into a three-and-out. Jahlani Tavai got the next to force a field goal. And captain Deatrich Wise Jr., who was previously involved in a twist up front, had a takedown on fourth down.
But Matthew Judon exited holding his right arm early in the final quarter and headed into the tunnel. A Pro Bowler since 2019, the outside linebacker recorded four sacks in September for New England. He was announced as doubtful to return with an elbow injury.
Rookie’s 42-yard catch marks New England’s explosive play
New England’s offense opened Sunday in “13” personnel. By the time its starting quarterback’s afternoon was over, however, only tight end Hunter Henry and a rookie wide receiver had caught more than a single pass.
Demario Douglas turned both of his targets into completions. A stuttering, spinning long of 42 yards down the left sideline on third down was the first. It set up a field goal in the early stages of a game that once stood at 3-3.
The Liberty product, who finished with 45 receiving yards, had one fair catch and went backward on his only returnable punt with the uprights at his back.