The ABC's of the Cowboys' 20-19 season-opening home loss to the Giants on Sunday?
Opening Day in Arlington began with a respectful observance of The 15th anniversary of 911, with a huge part of the 93,000 people present waving mimi American flags as first responders and Cowboys players unfurled a field-sized flag while George Teague recreated his famous patriotic moment, all overseen by the presence of President George W. Bush.
Every pregame note was perfect, except for the national TV talking heads bleating about Dak Prescott usurping Tony Romo for the No. 1 quarterback job for real.
The temporarily-injured Romo was on the sideline, coaching up the rookie Dak, who to his credit was unflinching but also under-productive, his offense requiring Dan Bailey to perform field-goal magic four times.
And almost a fifth.
"It doesn’t bother me,’’ Terrance Williams said of the criticism he knows is coming due to him not sprinting out of bounds with a tick left on the clock to allow Bailey a chance at a game-winning 62-yard field goal. "I’m used to people blaming me, anyway. So it’s not something new. I know what type of guy I am. I know how I work. Hearing different people talk about me, that’s not going to bother me.’'
Of course ... it does bother him. I've had post-game conversations with Williams while he is literally checking Twitter to judge the judgment of him. He is acutely aware of the frequent “body-catcher’’ criticism that is part of a social-media world in which everybody is a critic and everyone is an expert.
(As I write this, Williams has not yet posted on Twitter regarding the game. So far.)
Williams was right to issue an "I'll-never-do-that-again" apology and he was right in suggesting the problem here isn’t “character’’ or “work ethic’’; the problem here isn’t really the analysis of outsiders, either.
“At the end of the day I’m still here, I’m still doing my job,’’ said Williams, who to his credit stood in the AT&T Stadium locker room fielding waves of harsh questions. "I’m trying my best to put my team in position to win. So I can’t continue to pay attention to what people say; they’re going to talk about me regardless. Only thing I can do is focus on what my coaches say and what my teammates say.’'
Right. And what does his coach say?
“What he needed to do there,’’ coach Jason Garrett said frankly, “was simply run out of bounds. It’s a well-practiced situation. We’ve been in that situation a lot and (Williams’) instincts took him inside. Obviously, with no timeouts and 12 seconds to go (when the third-and-10 play started at Dallas’ 46-yard line), he needs to catch that ball and immediately get out of bounds.’'
Oh. And there's the "boneheadedness," which gets singled out because it was the final snap of the game. (Sidenote criticism of my man Coach RedBall: if you've taught a four-year NFL veteran exactly what to do in exactly that situation, and he doesn't do it, is he a poor pupil or are you a failed teacher?)
In reality though, Williams had plenty of fellow culprits, including the "average" work of most everyone else on this vaunted offense.
"Average" is a dirty word in the NFL, because in this parity-based league, two-thirds of the teams will end up within two games of .500 ... and therefore, "average" is nothing.
And that's where Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is today.
"I think I was average," said Zeke. "Average. That’s not why I was brought here to be average, so we’ve got a lot of work to get done. A lot to work on."
Elliott, the fourth-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, was supposed to be a reason Dallas might survive the temporary injury loss of Romo. But that's really only only going to happen because the top offensive line in the game performance at that lofty level.
It did not.
I will bet, in the coming days, as coaches look at film and I get to talk to coaches about what they see, while Collins, Doug Free and Jason Witten Will be given crumb-bum grades for their blocking efforts.
"You know, it’s the NFL," said Elliott, trying to be philosophical about his debut. "You can’t win every game, so I’ve just got to get back to work and get better next week.”
Elliott scored a TD but totaled 51 rushing yards on 20 carries for a paltry 2.6 yards-per-carry average.
“I was hoping to have a better day, for sure,” Elliott said. “The type of guy I am, the type of competitor I am, I’m a little bit disappointed. But you’ve got to start somewhere. All we can do is get better from here."
Given the fact that you are allowed only 20 points to Eli Manning's Giants, "getting better from here" it's actually realistic. While Tyrone Crawford told me that he thought his front four was "bad," The two sacks and the Brandon Carr interception give you some hope there.
But this is ultimately a quarterback game, a playmakers' game. Dallas didn't do much of that with its splash-less offense, causing some to wonder if Prescott was locked into being a "checkdown" QB.
I do not believe that was the case.
I believe the abundance of short throws and quick reads were the results of design, the intention of being to keep the kid from overthinking and getting overexposed.
Maybe if Cole Beasley doesn't have the dropsies, Prescott's numbers (25 of 45 for 227 yards) look more robust. But if you want a feel for how this gameplan was likely drawn up, look at the targets for Beasley and Witten: 25 attempts there to a couple of move-the-chain guys.
Dez Bryant, meanwhile, had one catch.
A healthy Dez (even with Romo sidelined) was supposed to drive Dallas beyond last year's 4-12 record. But in this game, the Cowboys both asked him to do too much and asked him to do too little.
"Too much"? Bryant almost made a spectacular early-game catch that was first ruled a touchdown and then overturned. We didn't see much of Dez again after that, leaving one to wonder if he must be BOTH of the Ringling Brothers AND Barnum AND Bailey in order to be involved here.
But if they are not easy schematic ways to involve arguably this team's best player? (I insist there are, and debated this point with Garrett on Monday, noting that the Giants "picked their poison'' by picking BOTH poisons of stopping Zeke AND stopping Dez, and drank heartily.) Fine. Then let them go to the circus five times a game or 10 times a game, not once a game.
The good news? An overriding theme in the Sunday night losing locker room at AT&T Stadium, from defensive leader Sean Lee expressing support for Williams despite his gaffe, to Beasley (who like Bryant could've had a TD catch but didn't) trying to boost Prescott, was one of unified support.
"It's only up from here," Beasley told Dak. "It's not gonna get any worse. It's gonna get better."
That prediction can come true, but only if the Cowboys improve on their ABCs, their"Average Bonehead Circus.”