Before Sunday’s game at Indianapolis, the Cowboys hadn’t lost a game since the Titans handed them a 28-14 defeat on Nov. 5.
So yes, quarterback Dak Prescott said, the 23-0 blanking by the Colts was a wakeup call.
“That was a very embarrassing performance by us,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said.
But just as the Cowboys followed up their error-heavy loss to the Titans with five straight wins, could the franchise’s first shutout defeat in 15 years be the team’s next launchpad?
“I think a loss like this was very much needed,” Elliott said. “I think it’s better for us in the grand scheme of the season. I think we needed to get put in check, I think we needed a reality check and I think we needed someone to remind us we still have a lot of ball left.
“Nothing’s going to be given.”
Elliott rejected excuses. Sure, missing all-pro right guard Zack Martin – the first game Martin has missed at the high school, college or NFL level – makes a difference. Left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo was taken to the hospital after suffering an eye injury.
But when asked about Martin's absence, Elliott said “we have enough talent to go out there and beat that team. We just came out there and played piss-poor.”
Elliott was one of the few Cowboys who was productive in the loss. The league rushing leader paced the Cowboys with 87 yards on 18 carries and caught a team-high seven receptions on eight targets for 41 more yards. The Cowboys compiled 292 yards of offense but never scored. Dallas went 0-of-2 in the red zone and had a 48-yard field goal attempt by Brett Maher blocked.
The Cowboys' third-ranked rushing defense let up 178 yards, which was 91.2 more than the team's average, to a Colts team that had gained 91 combined its last two games. Dallas’ pass rush failed to record a sack for the first time all season.
The locker room message was clear, Prescott said. Maybe the Cowboys were – in the quarterback’s words – “too hot to trot?”
“If anything,” Prescott said, ‘we all came together and said, ‘Hey: In a way, we needed this.’ ”
The Cowboys, at 8-6, are still atop the NFC East. But with the Redskins beating the Jaguars 16-13, Dallas can’t lock up the division title or playoff berth this week.
The Cowboys’ focus now turns to how to move on and finish the season strong. The “wake-up call” loss, Prescott said, will give Dallas important lessons to take to their matchup with Tampa Bay next Sunday. But zero points, an Elliott fumble 3 yards from the end zone and a Prescott interception 26 yards from home are among the memories leaving a sour taste.
“The way we didn’t give ourselves a chance pisses me off,” Prescott said. “Pisses everybody off.”
It’s time for the Cowboys to “take our medicine,” Elliott said.
“This is not the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. This is not who we are.”
Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
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