KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott stepped up to the podium in the tunnel of Arrowhead Stadium with his sweatpants tucked into crew socks. In black ink on white ribbed socks, a message encircled his calves. The all-caps black letters read: “ATTITUDE IS FREE.”
But what exactly was the Cowboys' attitude after they brought the league’s top scoring offense to Kansas City, only to leave without a touchdown or a win?
Head coach Mike McCarthy declared: Falling to 7-3, Dallas was defeated by the now 7-4 Chiefs but not discouraged.
“Never discouraged,” Prescott added. “But pissed off for sure.”
The Cowboys’ offensive shortcomings were sufficient to anger Prescott. His yards per pass attempt fell from 8.2 through eight games to 4.5 vs. an aggressive Chiefs defense, Dallas’ total offensive production down from its 433.9 yards per-game clip to 276. Dallas led the league with 31.6 points per contest before this week; surrounded by Chiefs Nation, the visitors mustered just nine points. And Sunday’s story wasn’t about the Cowboys' defense failing to get off the field and the offense short on opportunities. Opportunities, and missed ones at that, were plentiful. The Cowboys failed to score on nine different possessions. Three of those ended in turnovers.
“Our offense didn’t hold up our end of the bargain,” said Cowboys right guard Zack Martin, a victim among many on Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones’ 3.5-sack day. “It was almost like, ‘Hey, we were right there, get a score and we’re in this thing and we’ll go down the stretch.’
“I think if you would have told us that our defense held them to 19 points, we would have felt pretty damn good about that.”
No Cowboys player attributed the deflating day to one clear factor, each taking accountability for what was a futile offensive day nearly across the board. Prescott alternately overthrew and underthrew receivers on his 28-of-43 day, failing to complete a pass of 20-plus yards and only surpassing 11 yards once before the final 2 minutes of the third quarter. Drops were rampant. Dallas’ offensive line, down Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (ankle) and inputting a new left guard in Connor McGovern, struggled to give Prescott sufficient time in the pocket or create clear running lanes. The Chiefs' pass rush capitalized.
Prescott’s time clock wasn’t in sync with receiver Michael Gallup down the right sideline on Dallas’ first play. On Prescott’s final throw, the Cowboys trailing by 10 points with one minute remaining, Jones tipped the pass to set up an interception by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.
A play featuring the offensive line’s inability to ward off the rush, Prescott’s not-quite-there-enough pass and the Chiefs' secondary capitalizing seemed to illustrate well how what could have been a shootout of explosive offenses instead became a defensive fight in the trenches.
“A lot of stuff wasn’t clicking for us,” Gallup said. “We have to make those plays when they come to us. We just didn’t make the plays today. That’s on us. … Folks just have to step up.”
On defense, the Cowboys did. Despite missing both starting defensive ends, the Cowboys held Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a pedestrian 23-of-37 passing for 260 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a lost fumble. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn dialed up a three-safety package that helped position veteran Jayron Kearse to intercept a pass just missed by tight end Travis Kelce. Quinn sent rookie linebacker Micah Parsons back to a more full-time defensive end role, Parsons channeling his speed to sack Mahomes twice, stripping loose the ball on one of those.
“He’s a special player,” Mahomes conceded. “He has a high motor, he chased me down on that strip sack. The whole game, he was in there the whole time battling and battling.
“I mean, to be that good of a linebacker and be able to play defensive end, there’s not a lot of guys like that in this league.”
Holding the Chiefs to three points in 44 minutes after they had scored 16 in the first 16 minutes signaled successful adaptation on defense. Therein lies a bright spot: If Dallas’ defense can play with the frenetic energy and ball-hawking it did against Mahomes and Co., in the same game that the Cowboys offense returns to its explosive roots, Dallas’ ceiling is high.
“We didn’t win the game,” McCarthy said. But “by no means do we feel less of who we are as a football team. Let’s make that clear.”
The Cowboys will have a chance to move past their Chiefs performance quickly, arriving back in Dallas late Sunday night to prepare to host the 5-4 Raiders at home on Thursday. The Thanksgiving Day matchup could offer a more favorable opponent and atmosphere. But Dallas will likely be without its top two receivers again, Amari Cooper sidelined through the week with COVID-19 while receiver CeeDee Lamb would need to clear concussion protocol quickly after banging his head hard in the end zone at Arrowhead and being ruled out of the second half.
He nearly scoffed at the notion that his team would do anything but respond properly, his concluding postgame interview responses as emphatic as his “ATTITUDE IS FREE” crew socks.
“I’m never worried about how this team’s going to respond,” Prescott said. “As long as I’m a part of this team, quarterback of this offense, that’s the least of my worries is how we’re going to respond.
“This is a resilient bunch. These guys in their atmosphere got the best of us tonight. It’s part of the game.
“We’ll be better because of it.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.