The lowest point of the Dallas Cowboys' season? Failing to defend their quarterback after a dirty hit.

Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist
·6 min read

In maybe any other season, someone would have shown up to throw hands for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton.

He would have been flattened like he was on Sunday, by one of the dirtiest hits you’ll see in the NFL, and someone would have rolled up on Washington linebacker Jon Bostic to answer the bell.

Maybe it would have been left tackle Tyron Smith, who has been through too many superbly nasty seasons and has too much pride to let someone take his quarterback’s head off. If not Smith, it would have been right guard Zack Martin, who once took part in a memorable Dallas training camp fight when he squared off with teammate Tyrone Crawford.

In the improbable event neither of those men showed up, right tackle La’el Collins might have taught Bostic a lesson the way he did to Taco Charlton in another camp scuffle that essentially became the beginning of the end for Charlton in Dallas.

Give the Cowboys that trio — or even one of the threesome — and Bostic would have had some company before he was ejected for concussing Dalton and pushing Dallas into an even deeper spiral this season.

The bottom line, someone would have stepped up and ignited a brawl that might have been a galvanizing moment for Dallas. At the very least, it could have provided a flicker of life, showing that this franchise has fight left in it.

That trio wasn’t available in Sunday’s season-lowlight 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team. And the offensive line that Smith, Martin and Collins left behind? Up to Sunday, it was defined by inexperience and inadequacy. Now, it can add invisibility to its list of woes.

The result was a three-pack of misery: Dalton’s flattening went without retribution; the Cowboys looked overmatched and out-toughed by Washington; and Dallas’ 2020 season slid further into recession in the face of adversity.

Andy Dalton on the ground as Dallas players check on him after a dirty hit.
In another season, Dallas Cowboys players would have stood up for quarterback Andy Dalton after Washington linebacker Jon Bostic's dirty hit concussed the quarterback. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Cowboys lack leadership without Dak Prescott

Suddenly, team owner Jerry Jones is only seven games into an alarming start for the Mike McCarthy regime, and his franchise can’t escape the notion that it has gone soft.

Not just on defense. Not just on offense.

It’s soft in physical and mental leadership, too. That may be a far bigger void without Dak Prescott than anyone could have imagined.

Without question, what happened after Dalton was hammered by Bostic was a full-stop moment. It’s one thing to struggle through injuries, scheme questions or even preparation. It’s a whole other to struggle for a response when someone destroys your quarterback.

Even McCarthy had to admit that much on Sunday, when he did something that head coaches won’t always do. He essentially said that his team’s reaction to Dalton’s concussion wasn’t what it needed to be.

“We speak all the time about playing for one another, respecting one another,” McCarthy said. “That was definitely probably not the response you would expect.”

McCarthy didn’t want to entertain follow-up questions. He didn’t need to. The point was clear enough: He saw the play unfold the way many others did. Then, he had to digest the notion of why nobody bothered to defend a quarterback who got plowed in a completely out-of-bounds moment.

And lest anyone forget, this comes after Prescott was lost for the season to injury. That should have been more than enough inspiration to retaliate in the face of the next man in line getting knocked out by an opposing linebacker.

Unwritten rules from the Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph brawl

At the very least, the unwritten rules of the NFL should have kicked in for someone on that field. Rarely, if ever, do you see a quarterback take a hit like the one Bostic put on Dalton and walk away from it unchallenged.

Go back and look at the infamous footage of Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett hitting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph on the head with Rudolph’s helmet. Watch the reaction of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.

Pouncey immediately rushed in and punched Garrett multiple times. When Garrett was thrown to the ground, Pouncey tried to kick Garrett in the head. When that wasn’t an option, Pouncey hit the ground and tried to punch Garrett several more times.

It was ugly stuff and enough to warrant a two-game suspension for Pouncey, which he would later defend as “worth it.” In most situations, teams would excoriate a player for losing his mind in a fight like that. But the Steelers weren’t exactly upset about it because you don’t let a player go after your quarterback like that.

Even if Bostic’s transgression was more tame than ripping off Dalton’s helmet and hitting him with it, the moment warranted a response from Dallas. They walked away from that, leaving people to question their toughness and whether they’re really fighting for each other. Sometimes, the people questioning it are the players themselves.

DeMarcus Lawrence again calls out Cowboys’ toughness

Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence raised the flag everyone is wondering about. Specifically, does this Dallas team have fight left in it?

“We need to build a stronger backbone,” Lawrence said Sunday. “[To] fight [and] make sure that we brought everything possible to come out with a victory.”

That’s the second time Lawrence has questioned his team’s toughness this season — and we’re not even out of October.

The first was after an embarrassing 49-38 loss to the Cleveland Browns, when Dallas gave up a franchise-record 307 rushing yards and Lawrence responded by saying, “I call this s- - - soft.”

This indictment was even more sweeping, because it now speaks to the entire constitution of the franchise. If you don’t have backbone in the NFL, you don’t have very much at all.

You can see this eating into the marrow of this team right now. It’s why McCarthy spoke Sunday night about running out of time to turn things the right direction this season.

It’s why Ezekiel Elliott followed up by dubbing 2020 a “s- - - - - season,” and Jaylon Smith remarked that the team isn’t playing entirely together. And it’s precisely why Lawrence said the Cowboys need more fight — because they’re quickly becoming known for a lack of it.

That wasn’t the case a few weeks ago before Prescott went down and it was clear the offensive line would never be right this season. Even when things were going wrong then, there were signs the team was going to buck back against the unrelenting tide of bad luck, bad mistakes and all-around bad football.

Sunday was different. Dallas needed to fight arguably more than any time this season. When it was presented with a moment to knuckle up, everyone instead walked away. McCarthy was right: It “definitely probably” wasn’t the response they expected.

And that definitely probably sums up this entire season, too.

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