Sputtering Cowboys: Prescott playoff hopes fade without Zeke
By STEPHEN HAWKINS
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Dak Prescott faked a handoff, swept around to the left side with a wide open path to the end zone.
For the Dallas Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott, it's never that easy these days to score a touchdown.
Prescott's apparent 34-yard TD run was wiped out by a holding call, and the Cowboys punted after his incomplete pass on the following play in the third quarter of their 50th Thanksgiving Day game, a 28-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I take more responsibility in a loss like this, when the offense is in a funk. I'm the leader of the unit," Prescott said. "I've got to figure out what I've got to do to get that whole unit rolling better and consistent."
When 235-pound running back Rod Smith powered in for a 2-yard TD run with 12:48 left in the game, the Cowboys (5-6) finally ended a streak of 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown that is believed to be the longest such drought in team history.
Dallas went more than 158 minutes of game action without a touchdown after Prescott's TD run in the first quarter at Atlanta on Nov. 12 - a stretch that encompasses their three-game losing streak, half of Elliott's six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.
The Cowboys have been held under 300 total yards in all three of those games while scoring only two offensive touchdowns without Elliott, the NFL rushing leader as a rookie last season.
Opposing defenses have scored two touchdowns against them in that same stretch, including Desmond King returned an interception 90 yards for a TD midway through the fourth quarter for the Chargers.
"Everybody's got a piece of it. Starts up front. But the quarterback, the runners, the guys outside, certainly as a coaching staff we're always looking at ourselves and what our role is in it," coach Jason Garrett said. "Offensively, the performance wasn't up to par. It certainly wasn't enough to match what they were doing on their side of the ball."
Prescott had two more interceptions, giving him five in two games after throwing just four a year ago. Last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has nine picks for the season.
The Cowboys trailed only 3-0 at halftime, then the Chargers opened the second half with a 10-play, 77-yard drive. Then after the Prescott run to the end zone was wiped out, Los Angeles went 92 yards on eight plays and led 16-0 after Philip Rivers' 27-yard pass to Tyrell Williams.
The Cowboys have been outscored 72-6 in the second half of the three losses, including to the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) only four days before Thanksgiving.
"In each of the games we were in position at halftime, in a really good position to challenge," Garrett said. "In each of the games, we just didn't do what we needed to do in the second half. They were able to sustain drives and cash in on drives and we weren't able to match those. Happened in different ways in each of the games."
Not a good recurring theme for the Cowboys, who instead of trying to win their second straight NFC East title will instead have a struggle to make the playoffs.
Dallas is home again next Thursday against the Washington Redskins before playing three of its last four games on the road.
While surprised at the offensive struggles without Elliott, who won't be back until Christmas Eve with only two games left, Jones insists that he believes the Cowboys can turn this season around.
"Yes, I do, because I think we've got players that have played at a high level, won games," Jones said. "I know that as long as you've got a breath to get into those playoffs - we had the Giants come up the backside on us out here and beat the top seed here five, six, seven years ago and won the whole thing. That's what's great about this game."
More AP NFL: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated November 23, 2017