Guregian: If this is the real Patriots, the season’s not lost

FOXBORO — To Tell the Truth. That was the underlying theme for the Patriots sitting at 2-3, with the Cowboys coming to town.

This was pretty much a tell-all game to find out what the Patriots were made of, and if there was hope for them the rest of the season.

Heading in, it was hard to get a firm read on Bill Belichick’s team with losses to Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa, and wins against two of the worst teams in football (New York Jets, Houston). But with Jerry Jones’ team invading Foxboro, it was like having the big reveal.

So who are the real Patriots?

A team that’s going to make things interesting heading into the December, and perhaps beyond. And that’s the feeling, even with a crushing 35-29 overtime loss to the Cowboys.

This was an inspired effort, and then some, for the Patriots, who hung in against a better, more talented football team.

They lost, and are now 0-4 at home. But if this is the team that shows up every week, if this is the Mac Jones we’re going to see from here on out, they’re going to win their share of games, and make it interesting, even starting out 2-4.

“It’s a tough one to lose,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “We went toe-to-toe with them for 60 minutes. They just made a few more plays than we did.”

Forget calling it a moral victory. What it was, was a positive sign going forward, for the rest of the year.

While they hung in with Tom Brady and Tampa Week 4, this was different, much different. It was an even more telling game about what the Patriots are capable of, and perhaps a launch point for them going forward.

This was tough, hard-nosed, entertaining football for four quarters and beyond. Dak Prescott (36 for 51, 445 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) just refused to lose, hitting CeeDee Lamb with a 35-yard touchdown pass to win the game in overtime.

“It’s not about how you start. It’s about how you finish,” Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne said, reflecting the emotion of the team.

Many probably thought the Pats were dead much earlier, after Jones threw a pick-six to Trevon Diggs with 2:36 to play, with the Cowboys going up by five.

But they were hardly done. The Patriots boldly stood up then, and in this game in general.

Jones simply shook off the play.

He came back with just over two minutes to play, and fired a 75-yard bomb to Kendrick Bourne for the go-ahead score.

It was a perfectly thrown ball, with Jones going right back at Diggs. It was a sensational “take that” moment for the rookie quarterback.

“Guts. He’s got some guts,” said center David Andrews after the loss. “How do you respond any better than he did? We needed a play and got one from him.”

And who was it that called Jones (15 for 21 for 229 with two TDs and an interception), a “peashooter?” Think again, Rex Ryan.

The better question might be: Where has that been all year?

The Patriots have been extremely cautious with the rookie quarterback to this point, but he has those type of plays in him. He’s more than capable of throwing the ball downfield, and that’s going to speak volumes going forward.

The Patriots defense, meanwhile, which was unwavering all game, just couldn’t hold the fort any longer. They kept losing bodies, and were on the field double the time than the Cowboys.

The Pats did win the toss but didn’t score on their first possession in the overtime, leaving the door open for Dallas, who simply won the war of attrition. The Pats just couldn’t hold off the league’s second-ranked offense any longer.

In all, the defense was on the field for 82 plays, versus 50 for the offense. Perhaps some of that was by design with a bend-but-don’t break defense, but they eventually broke in the end.

“It sucks,” said Andrews. “I thought we battled … we showed some mental toughness. A few plays here or there, but that’s how it goes in this league. There’s no margin for error.”

The Patriots had forced the issue for much of the game.

While they might not be in Dallas’ league talent-wise, they simply played a smarter, gutsier brand of football to take a 14-10 lead at the half.

And for a change, the Patriots started out fast, and Josh McDaniels took some of the shackles off Jones.

Prescott & Co. moved the ball, but were stalled time and again in the red zone. A goal line stand before halftime had been the signature moment of the game, and perhaps the season, with the Patriots holding firm on four tries by the Cowboys at the one-yard line.

On fourth down, a diving Ja’Whaun Bentley managed to knock the ball from Prescott, who dove forward and tried to stretch the ball over the goal line. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but after review, it was correctly ruled a turnover, and a huge statement from the defense.

The Patriots also produced a tipped-ball interception with the Cowboys poised to score in the red zone, with Kyle Dugger coming up with the ball at the goal line to nullify another potential score.

The Patriots essentially gave the Cowboys all they could handle, but It was still far from perfect in the end, and with a team like the Cowboys, you can’t let your foot off the gas — offensively, but especially, defensively.

Looking at the game as a whole, the Pats still had issues with the offensive line. Jones got rocked on more than one occasion, with tackles Yodny Cajuste and Isaiah Wynn both getting beat by Randy Gregory.

And the secondary still looks thin. There’s no way around that. Lamb torched them, with nine catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Amari Cooper had five catches for 55 yards, and tight end Dalton Shultz also had five catches for 79 yards.

The backs, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 110 yards. The defense just couldn’t stop the bleeding in an emotional-roller coaster of a game.

“They just made more plays than we did,” said Bentley.

They gave the NFC-contending Cowboys all they could handle, and if they continue to play like that, they can still make something of the season.

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