HOUSTON — In a league that places a premium on offense, the Cowboys appear more out of step with each passing week.
Sure, Dallas was competitive in this one, something it was unable to accomplish in its first two road losses of the season. But the inability of the Cowboys offense to generate any sort of spark or sustained performance was again their undoing.
The refusal of head coach Jason Garrett to show confidence in his offense in overtime was telling.
Ka'imi Fairbairn's 36-yard field goal proved to be the decisive points in Houston's 19-16 overtime victory. But that kick isn't what hurt most for the Cowboys on this Sunday night at NRG Stadium.
What hurt is an offense built to pick up tough yards on the ground, one that prides itself on imposing its will on opponents, backed off. Rather than handing the ball to the NFL's leading rusher on fourth-and-1 in Texans territory in overtime, Garrett decided to punt.
It's a decision that could haunt him going forward. It certainly underscores the lack of faith that exists in this offense at the moment.
"We were being outplayed," owner Jerry Jones said when asked about Garrett's decision to punt. "It's time for risks at that particular time. That's not second guessing."
The Cowboys won the overtime toss, chose to receive and promptly picked up 33 yards. On third-and-1, Ezekiel Elliott was stopped for no gain.
The ball was on the Houston 42-yard line. Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott, as any offensive player would, hoped that Garrett would go for the first down.
"Yeah, I mean, I would, but I don't question the coach's decision," Prescott said. "The defense had been playing good all night. They kept us in the game a bunch of the game, from the second quarter, then in the fourth quarter. They gave us chances all day long.
"I mean, coach made the decision to go with the defense, so ..."
So Chris Jones came in to punt. Three plays later, quarterback Deshaun Watson found DeAndre Hopkins for a 49-yard gain. The game was soon over.
Garrett made a major strategic error. After the game, he said his goal at the end of regulation was to get to the Texans' 40-yard line, believing that would give kicker Brett Maher a chance to win the game.
The Cowboys were only two yards away from that point with their first possession in overtime. Why wouldn't Garrett have his team, struggling as it was on offense, go for it there?
"Yeah, it was a long one (yard)," he said. "You know, we had a third-and-2 and we didn't make much on it, and we just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there.
"Chris did a great job with the punt. They got the ball on the 10-yard line, and hopefully you make a stop, and you win the game coming back the other way with a game-winning field goal."
There was a game-winning field goal.
This team is lost on offense. One week after amassing 240 yards from scrimmage, Elliott was held to 84 yards.
If Elliott doesn't make plays for this offense, no one appears capable of stepping up. Not Prescott. Not a group of receivers that were maddening with their ineffectiveness again on this night.
Prescott threw for 208 yards. But from the second quarter on he completed 12 of 22 passes for 111 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Prescott's first interception went off the outstretched hands of Tavon Austin. His second was a pass Deonte Thompson was unable to catch.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. All four of his interceptions this season have been deflected by his own receivers.
Only six of Prescott's completions this evening went to wide receivers.
The Cowboys didn't fall behind by 16 points as they did on the road to open the season in Carolina. They didn't fall behind by 18 points as they did in the next road loss to Seattle.
But the result was the same. In a league where nine teams scored more than 30 points in Week 5, the Cowboys barely reached half that total.
Garrett's curious decision to punt in overtime didn't give his team a chance to win.
"I mean in this league, it's almost damned if you do and damned if you don't," Houston defensive end J.J. Watt said. "I'm sure people are going to ask why he did that. "If it works, it's great. If not, it sucks. I'm glad I'm not making those kind of decisions."