ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys started the season with three straight victories against teams that are now a collective 2-12, two of them winless.
Now they’ve lost two in a row to a pair of division leaders with 4-1 records.
Translation: Stop the Super Bowl talk for now with a team that already had lofty expectations before its best start in more than a decade.
“I think it is a reality check,” star running back Ezekiel Elliott said after Sunday’s 34-24 loss to Green Bay in which the Packers led 31-3 late in the third quarter. “I think we’ve just got to take this loss, take these last two losses, and use them as fuel.”
The only rebuttal the Cowboys (3-2) have for suggestions that the first three weeks were a fluke is that quarterback Dak Prescott, normally good at avoiding turnovers, matched his career high with three interceptions while Aaron Rodgers didn’t have any.
While the first interception should have been caught for a big gain by Amari Cooper in a scoreless game on the first Dallas drive, and the Cowboys thought the third should have been nullified by a pass interference penalty, the other was a poor decision by Prescott.
He also had an interception in the end zone scrubbed by two defensive penalties on the same play. Prescott threw one interception in last week’s 12-10 loss to New Orleans and has a career-long streak of four straight games with at least one pick.
“This is not good enough against a bunch like this, last weekend or this weekend,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I accept that. We got to get better. You turn that ball over, you’re not going to beat these good teams in the NFL. They will beat you.”
The Cowboys have a good chance to enter Week 6 with the No. 1 offense in the NFL at 453 yards per game, 8 more than Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Dallas just had its most yards ever in a loss (563), and Prescott had his second 400-yard game of the season with a career-best 463 yards passing.
The problem for Dallas against the Packers was not being opportunistic early when the game was close. After Cooper’s drop-turned-interception, the Cowboys were in scoring range again when Prescott took a sack that forced a punt. Then his bad interception came with the Cowboys at the Green Bay 35-yard line.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
While the final rushing total for Green Bay’s Aaron Jones wasn’t overwhelming at 107 yards (along with a franchise record-tying four touchdowns), he had a stretch of four carries of at least 11 yards in five attempts while the Packers were building a 17-0 halftime lead. The only carry under 11 yards in that span was a 3-yard score.
After letting the Saints somewhat dictate the pace with the running game last week, the worst thing for the Cowboys against the Packers was repeatedly letting Jones get outside late after getting gashed inside early. There were plenty of culprits: defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.
Receiver Michael Gallup is averaging 113 yards receiving per game after another 100-yard game following a two-week absence because of a knee injury sustained in Week 2. He got his first touchdown on a 40-yarder that was the first Dallas TD late in the third quarter. The second-year player is emerging as a significant threat.
Brett Maher missed two field goals against the Packers, a 54-yarder late in the first half that gave Green Bay a chance to get more points, although the Packers stalled. The second was a PAT-length 33-yarder with the Cowboys playing for a seven-point deficit and a chance at an onside kick inside two minutes.
RT La’el Collins left with a knee injury in the second half after being questionable with a back issue coming into the game. Owner Jerry Jones said it was a medial collateral ligament injury and was optimistic about the prognosis. Dallas also is hopeful six-time Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith will return after missing a game with a sprained ankle.
Minus-5 — The Cowboys’ turnover margin in the two losses, and it’s minus-4 for the season. Dallas has won the turnover battle just once, in the 35-17 win over the Giants in the opener when the Cowboys led 35-10 late in the third quarter.
The Cowboys won’t get much credit if they stop their two-game losing streak Sunday at the New York Jets because it could mean three of their four victories are against winless teams. Dallas’ season could turn one way or the other in two weeks at Philadelphia. The Cowboys and Eagles are tied atop the NFC East right now.