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Dallas gets skunked

Penalties really stink up the place

FOXBOROUGH -- After a performance rife with mistakes, running back Troy Hambrick borrowed a line from Bill Parcells to capture the frustration felt by the Dallas offense. "How many times does a skunk have to hit you in the face before you know it smells?" Hambrick asked reporters.

Translation: How many penalties and turnovers did the Cowboys need to commit before figuring out those mistakes would cost them the game? The answer: The Cowboys committed 10 penalties for a loss of 78 yards. They also turned the ball over three times. As a result, the Dallas offense never gathered momentum and never scored, allowing New England to maintain its two-game lead in the AFC East with a 12-0 victory last night at Gillette Stadium.

Or, as Hambrick said in continuing his skunk analogy, "Now we know as a group it stinks."

He added: "It's pretty frustrating to know that we didn't execute well as an offensive unit. But we got beat by a good Patriot group. You take the bitter with the sweet. When we had something going, penalties killed us. We actually shot ourselves in the foot tonight. I think everybody has to step up and be accountable for the job that we need to do.

"We, as a group, made enough mistakes to lose the game. We've made mistakes before coming down to this game here, but we were still able to pull it out. This was the game that bit us back."

It was the second time this season the Cowboys have been shut out. They were beaten, 16-0, by the Buccaneers Oct. 26. But last night Dallas was not without opportunities to score.

The Cowboys' best chance came on a drive late in the third quarter. They were at the New England 19 when Quincy Carter scrambled, then attempted to hit Jason Witten with a short pass. It was the first time all night Dallas had entered the red zone. But the throw was behind Witten and bounced off his hands to Ty Law for an interception that stopped the drive with 2 minutes 26 seconds remaining in the third.

"It was tough on us," said Carter, who was sacked once and threw three interceptions. "It seemed like every time we got something going, we either had a penalty or a turnover. When you're in these type of games, you can't make mistakes. The team that made the least amount of mistakes came out with the victory. We've got to find ways when we get in these big games to limit our mistakes . . . That's just the bottom line. It was a big stage here, and I don't make any excuses. But as a football team, especially offensively, we didn't make the plays when we had to."

The Cowboys tried to get a good drive going again in the fourth. But they were stopped on fourth and 1 at midfield with 9:21 left. Hambrick tried to run up the middle, but he was thrown for a 2-yard loss by Tedy Bruschi.

"I just sort of felt it. I saw a gap and felt it," Bruschi said. "I used my instincts and hit the hole. On fourth down, it's like a turnover. We considered that a turnover because it gives our offense the ball right there."

It was clear what made the difference. And like the mistakes they made last night, the Cowboys' offensive players kept repeating themselves.

"After the turnovers we had, the penalties we had, you're not going to win a game," said tight end Dan Campbell. "And that's what we did. And that's it. It's really cut and dry. There's really nothing else to it.

"We were driving the ball, driving the ball, penalty, penalty. Driving the ball, penalty. Then, of course, turnover."

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 8 2 0 .800 19.6 15.5
Dolphins 6 4 0 .600 17.7 14.7
Bills 4 6 0 .400 15.9 17.0
Jets 3 7 0 .300 19.7 21.1
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