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Jerry Jones left 'frustrated' after error-prone Cowboys fall to Pats

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Last week, after the New England Patriots outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that featured little offense, Tom Brady spit out what has been plain for much of the season. The Patriots are being carried toward the playoffs by their defense and special teams.

He left out one more thing: the mental meltdowns of opponents.

That has long been part of the Patriots' formula for success. Bill Belichick is surely the greatest coach of this -- and probably any -- era, and he regularly outschemes his opposition. But it is more than that. Other teams are simply not that smart and they play that way. They don't just make mistakes. They make bad decisions.

The Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, for instance.

Let's let Dez Bryant explain it. Late in the game, the former Cowboys receiver tweeted this: "What I see from the game so far.... Dallas has the better players but New England has the better coaches and game plan."

Or this, more ominously, from owner Jerry Jones: "With the makeup of this team, I shouldn't be this frustrated."

Neither of them was wrong, or at least not entirely wrong. The Patriots beat the Cowboys13-9 on Sunday because their secondary is stifling (Stephon Gilmore held Amari Cooper catchless), and their special teams -- despite two missed field goals in hellacious kicking conditions -- is superb. They are Super Bowl caliber.

On offense you could make an argument, though, that the Cowboys have the better players right now, given the depleted state of the Patriots' offensive line and receivers. Tom Brady had the kind of day that is not likely to put him in a better mood -- he finished 17 of 37 for 190 yards and one touchdown -- and even the flash of red zone promise from rookie N'Keal Harry is not likely to completely assuage fears that the Patriots simply don't have enough reliable firepower right now if they get caught in a playoff shootout. Ten of the Patriots' points came off short fields from a blocked punt and an interception on drives that totaled 15 yards.

"Special teams is totally a reflection of coaching," Jones said. Ouch.

But the secret sauce to the Patriots dynasty -- which will get them to the playoffs again and probably to at least a first-round bye -- is counting on the opponent to do stupid things. And the Cowboys, alas, obliged on Sunday. They made one mistake after another, a drive-killing penalty here (looking at you Tyron Smith), a weird personnel decision there (why wouldn't you use Ezekiel Elliott on third-and-short?). But the worst moment, the one that must give Jones even more pause when he evaluates Jason Garrett's tenure, came late in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys finally rolling after being smothered all afternoon.

The Cowboys were trailing 13-6 with little more than six minutes to play and they had gotten all the way to the Patriots' 11-yard line in large part because of one of the day's few explosive plays, a 47 yard catch and run by Randall Cobb. The drive had stalled, with two straight incompletions on second and third down. Given that the Cowboys had gotten this close just once before (and had missed that field goal attempt) and there was no guarantee they would even get the ball again, conventional wisdom suggested they should go for it on fourth-and-7. Instead, Garrett called for the field goal team. That made the score 13-9, which meant the Cowboys still needed a touchdown to win and another field goal would have done them no good.

The end result is the Cowboys are atop the NFC East, but are 0-4 against teams with a winning record and they didn't give themselves much of a chance to beat one on Sunday. Jones has a decision to make about Garrett after this season and the Cowboys may very well delay the decision by getting to the playoffs. But the team, at 6-5, has been stuck in neutral for several years despite the talent on the roster -- and after watching this game, nobody has to wonder why.

"I don't think there's a game that a coaching staff has ... that it couldn't do better in," Jones said. "I just don't like it that we've got so many as I'm standing here tonight."

With Jones seemingly lighting on fire the seat underneath Garrett, the Patriots have claimed another victim. Brady still sounded unhappy, and that probably won't improve until Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu are back on the field. The Patriots have always built toward playing their best football in December and January, and December is upon them without the offense playing its best. It is a problem without an obvious solution until Brady has the time to develop more chemistry with the personnel he has. Despite whispers last week, it seems extremely unlikely that the Pats would try to bring back Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski is not walking through that door. For better of worse, this is what Brady has been given to work with.

"Every team develops at different times," Brady said. "We take challenges as they come. It was a great win. They're a good football team, I'm happy we came away with more points than them."

Brady is enduring the football equivalent of first-world problems. The Patriots are 10-1, and in the lead for home-field advantage in the AFC. They have three more games against winning teams left on the schedule: at Houston, home vs. Kansas City and Buffalo. The Pats may be more flawed on offense than they have been in years, but their opponents only wish they had their problems. The Cowboys have far deeper issues, ones that can't be cured by a few strong practices.

"You should be able to come up here in a season with a good team and be able to play the New England Patriots, with the way they're going during these years and pegged with the home-field advantage in this climate, you should be able to come in here and lose a game and not have it [be] a statement game one way or the other about your team," Jones said. "We've managed to get ourselves in a position where playing this game was a statement game about us.

"It's frustrating to me to just be reminded that some of the fundamentals of football and coaching were what beat us out there today."

It's nothing new in New England.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter at @judybattista

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