FOXBORO -- Sunday's Week 12 game between the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium will not be shown in any instructional videos on how to execute offensive football.
Both teams found it very difficult to move the ball, score points and kick field goals. Third down was an absolute horror show, too, as these offenses went a combined 5-for-27 in those situations.
The Patriots ultimately emerged with a 13-9 victory to extend their home win streak to 21 games, including the playoffs. New England's elite defense gave another stellar performance in holding the Dallas offense to just three field goals after it scored an average of 33.25 points over the last four games.
Let's take a look at five instant overreactions and assess their merit.
1. Patriots QB Tom Brady is the problem with the offense
Brady's stats weren't pretty Sunday. He completed just 17 of 36 pass attempts (including five drops!) for 190 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a fumble. However, he is not the primary problem that ails this struggling offense. The lack of quality depth at wide receiver is a huge issue. Veteran wideouts Mohamed Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) both didn't play, leaving Brady with Julian Edelman and two rookies, N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, as his only available receivers. Harry was playing in just his second career game, and even though he had a nice touchdown catch, he clearly has a long way to go before becoming a reliable component of the passing attack. New England's offensive line didn't do Brady any favors against Dallas' pass rush, either. The Cowboys sacked Brady twice and hit him six times.
There's no question Brady has to play better for the Patriots to have a good enough offense to win in the playoffs, but it's hard to expect greatness from him when two of his top three wide receivers don't play, and two who were active had a combined 12 games of pro experience.
2. N'Keal Harry will be a legitimate red zone threat
Verdict: Not an overreaction
Harry's ability to make contested catches in tight coverage helped make him a first-round talent, and that was evident on his first career touchdown reception in the first quarter. The Patriots opened the scoring when Harry made a tremendous back-shoulder catch on the left side of the end zone and managed to get both feet inbounds while being tackled.
Red zone offense has been a huge issue for the Patriots all season. New England entered Week 12 scoring a touchdown on less than half of its league-high 44 trips to the red zone, and one of the reasons for this lack of success has been the absence of a big, reliable target in that area of the field. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was this type of target throughout his nine-year career, and the Patriots have yet to fully replace this facet of his game since he retired in March.
Harry has the strength/size (6-foot-4 and 225 pounds), hands and athleticism to serve in this role, and if he's successfully able to do it, the Patriots offense could be much-improved come playoff time.
3. Sony Michel is back
Michel ran for 44 yards in the first quarter -- his season-high for the first 15 minutes of the game. He finished with 89 yards on 19 carries (4.7 yards per attempt).
It's no secret Michel has struggled to regain the impressive form he showed for much of his 2018 campaign, where he set a rookie playoff record for rushing touchdowns. He entered Week 12 with just 515 yards (51.5 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry) through 10 games, in addition to six rushing touchdowns. Michel still doesn't have a 100-yard game in 2019.
His performance versus the Cowboys was no doubt encouraging, but it needs to happen on a more consistent basis for him to again be a reliable part of this offense.
4. The Patriots still have a kicking problem
Rainy conditions in Foxboro didn't exactly make kicking an easy endeavor Sunday afternoon, but Nick Folk was able to give the Patriots some much-needed points on a day their offense was really struggling to pick up first downs. The veteran kicker converted a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter, then missed his next two attempts from 46 and 48 yards. The 46-yard miss should've been a 41-yard attempt but a false start penalty pushed New England back. Folk bounced back from consecutive misses to hit a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that gave the Pats a 13-6 lead.
Folk's stats aren't bad by any means. He's now 7-for-9 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points in three games for New England. He hadn't attempted a field goal 40 yards or beyond entering Week 12, but he hit two of them in tough weather conditions Sunday. Folk has been solid for the Patriots, and a definite upgrade over the man he replaced, Mike Nugent.
5. Cowboys are not a legit contender
Verdict: Not an overreaction
The Cowboys have now played four teams that currently have a winning record and they're 0-4 in those games. Dallas' six wins have come against teams with a combined record of 16-49-1.
Sunday's game was a huge opportunity for the Cowboys to make a statement to the rest of the league against the defending Super Bowl champs. Instead, Dallas failed to execute offensively, lost the turnover battle. committed costly penalties and its best players mostly underperformed. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott threw for just 199 yards without a touchdown (plus an interception), and No. 1 wide receiver Amari Cooper was held without a reception against elite cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
It's foolish to take the Cowboys seriously until they stop beating up on the putrid NFC East and AFC East, and start consistently beating quality opponents.
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