FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One of the great things about having Jerry Jones as an NFL owner is that he always does things his way, like speaking to the press after every Dallas Cowboys game.
And when you have a game as frustrating to watch as the Cowboys’ 13-9 loss to the Patriots, Jones can sometimes go off the script and hand the media a story.
Jones did that Sunday night when he basically said his head coach, Jason Garrett, and his staff lost the Cowboys the game.
“With the makeup of this team, I shouldn’t be this frustrated,” Jones said in a hallway off the Cowboy’s locker room at Gillette Stadium.
“It’s frustrating to me to just be reminded that some of the fundamentals of football and coaching were what beat us out there today.”
It’s just one of the takeaways from the day in the NFL:
1. What got Jerry Jones so upset with his coaching staff?
Well, there were multiple things, but we’ll start with the special teams, which is coordinated by Keith O’Quinn, who is in his second year on the job.
A blocked punt set up the Patriots’ only touchdown in the first quarter. Then there was an embarrassing sequence near the end of the third that resulted in the Patriots claiming about 30 yards of field position from the Cowboys — just through coaching.
New England ran a late shift on their punt block unit and that caused a delay of game from the Cowboys. On the next play, the Patriots did it again and caused an illegal motion penalty. By the end of it, the Cowboys went from pinning the Patriots deep from their own 40 to New England having the ball at its own 38 after Dallas had to punt from its 30-yard line.
That’s flat-out embarrassing. Belichick was probably chuckling to himself how much he was toying with the Cowboys.
“Special teams was really, probably, the determining difference,” Jones said. “To me, special teams is 100 percent coaching.”
Then there were Garrett’s decisions to pass up going for three reasonable fourth downs — fourth-and-3, fourth-and-5 and, finally with 6:08 left from the New England, fourth-and-7 — for field goals.
“It’s a significant setback for our team,” Jones said. “We needed this win. We needed a win against an opponent like this.”
2. What will the Chiefs see on film that they’ll be able to exploit on the Raiders in Sunday’s showdown?
There were a million reasons for the Raiders to be disheartened after their 34-3 trap-game loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium. And there was one very big reason why the Chiefs, sitting at home with a bye week, will be licking their chops ahead of Sunday’s AFC West tilt at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Raiders allowed the Jets to have seven explosive pass plays of over 20 yards, and three were over 30, including Sam Darnold’s 69-yard toss to Braxton Berrios.
Coming into the game, the Jets had 24 such plays, which ranked tied for 28th in the league.
The Chiefs, led by NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and a host of targets that were getting healthy this week, are third in the league with 44 explosive pass plays.
That sound you hear is coach Andy Reid ripping up his game plan and putting more deep passes into it.
3. Why did Sean Payton take a shot at the officials after his win over the Panthers?
Payton, the architect of the league’s pass interference replay rule after his team was robbed on a noncall in the NFC Championship game against the Rams, saw his team, ironically, almost lose Sunday’s game against the Panthers when the officials overturned a non-pass-interference call with 2:21 remaining on third down from the New Orleans 3-yard line in a tie game.
In an iffy interpretation of the rule — since very few of the plays have been overturned previously — C.J. Gardner-Johnson was flagged for pass interference on Panthers receiver Jarius Wright.
The Saints eventually held the Panthers to a 28-yard field-goal attempt, which they missed with two minutes remaining. The Saints won the game on a 33-yard kick.
“It wasn’t our best game and by far it wasn’t their best game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, referring to whether it was difficult to overcome 12 penalties. “And quite honestly, it wasn’t New York’s best game. … Sitting in on every one of those meetings, I don’t know that it’s exactly what we discussed where we are today with it. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not. But we’ve got to be able to adjust to it.”
4. How did a “Duck” save the Steelers’ season?
Trailing the winless Bengals 7-3 in the third quarter, coach Mike Tomlin elected to bench an ineffective Mason Rudolph in favor of … (checks roster) … Devlin “Duck” Hodges, an undrafted rookie out of Samford, where he won the Walter Payton Award (the FCS’ version of the Heisman Trophy.) Hodges was waived during final cuts but re-signed to the practice squad.
It took Hodges three plays to make a difference as he hooked up with James Washington on a 79-yard touchdown pass. Hodges completed 15 of 20 passes for 132 yards, a touchdown and an interception for an 87.9 rating as the Steelers outscored the Bengals 13-3 after Hodges was inserted.
“I looked pretty smart, didn’t I?” Tomlin said after the game. “It’s football. We’re not going to read too much into it. … You’ll make more out of Duck’s contributions than need be, so be it. It comes with the position. They get too much credit at times, they get too much blame at times.”
The win moved the Steelers to 6-5 and, for the moment, the sixth seed in the AFC. A loss would have dropped Pittsburgh a game behind Oakland and Indianapolis.
Tomlin said he wasn’t sure who will start at quarterback going forward.
5. Despite a second-straight home loss and the offense looking terrible again, why do the Eagles still have much to play for?
The Eagles might have dropped to 5-6 after losing 17-9 to the Seahawks but coupled with the Cowboys’ loss to the Patriots, Philadelphia is still just a game back in the NFC East — a division that apparently no one wants to win.
The Eagles have a great opportunity the next three weeks against Dolphins, Giants and Redskins before a showdown at home against the Cowboys. In the same stretch, the Cowboys have the Bills, Bears and Rams — a much tougher schedule.
The Eagles’ defense has been outstanding — they haven’t allowed more than 17 points in the past four games — but coach Doug Pederson has to find a way to get more out of a punchless offense that has seen Carson Wentz completely crumble the past three games.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.