Home loss will be test of Cowboys’ met­tle

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Jori Ep­stein

AR­LING­TON, Texas — Cowboys corner­back By­ron Jones bolted from the side­line and shoved Ti­tans de­fend­ers Jur­rell Casey and Wes­ley Wood­yard off the navy and white star painted at mid-field of AT&T Sta­dium.

But let’s back up. Twelve-and-a-half min­utes had elapsed in the first quar­ter of “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” when Ten­nessee safety Kevin Byard dived in the Cowboys end zone, in­ter­cept­ing Dak Prescott’s pass in­tended for Amari Cooper.

Byard raced the stolen ball to the 50yard line, team­mates join­ing him to dance atop the Cowboys star logo. The taunt mir­rored wide re­ceiver Ter­rell Owens, who’d mocked Cowboys Hall of Fame run­ning back Em­mitt Smith with the same jibe 18 years ago.

Jones, stand­ing on the side­line, wasn’t hav­ing it.

He ran.

“Just de­fend the star,” Jones said af­ter Dal­las’ 28-14 loss to the Ti­tans dropped its record to 3-5. “There’s no rea­son for them to dis­re­spect the star like that.

“You can have fun. I un­der­stand the cel­e­brat­ing. But you over­step the bound­aries when you go on the star.”

In­ter­cep­tions aren’t new for the third-year safety out of Mid­dle Ten­nessee State. He tied Jaguars corner­back Jalen Ram­sey for most in the league in 2017 at eight, earn­ing first-team all-pro hon­ors, and has two this sea­son.

For his per­for­mance Mon­day night, ar­guably the mo­men­tum changer in the Cowboys’ first home loss this year, Byard earned a nod from Owens, three months af­ter his Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in­duc­tion.

“I feel like I’ve seen this be­fore,” Owens tweeted af­ter Byard’s im­i­ta­tion. “I gave ’em the drip, they sucked it up, I got ’em on it.”

Owens later added “#NoBig­gerFanThanMe.”

Not bad cash­ing in for Byard, who planned the cel­e­bra­tion at the Ti­tans’ team ho­tel and ex­pected “some­body to knock my head off.” (They didn’t.)

“What can I do if I make a play and re­ally just show the team that we’re not scared?” Byard said he thought. “We’re here to play ball. We’re here to win.”

On Tues­day, Ti­tans coach Mike Vra­bel ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure with Byard: “That’s not what we want as an or­ga­ni­za­tion. That’s not what I want as a head coach. I want our guys to play as hard as they pos­si­bly can, for each other, be­tween the whis­tles, as phys­i­cal, as ag­gres­sive, as clean as they pos­si­bly can. I get that there’s things that cross the line be­tween whis­tles. Once the whis­tle blows, cel­e­brate with a team­mate. Find some­body else in a Ti­tans uni­form. Find a coach. Cel­e­brate with them. But we don’t need to do that . ... I talked to Kevin this morn­ing. I’ll talk to the team again to­mor­row . ... That’s not what I want. If that’s what they want, then we see it very differ­ently.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team, com­ing off 15 days rest, looked tired. De­fend­ers ac­knowl­edged the slip.

“The frus­tra­tion’s high,” said de­fen­sive line­man Ty­rone Craw­ford, who notched one of Dal­las’ four sacks. “I mean, it’s shock­ing. It was shock­ing to see ... the amount of points.”

The Cowboys must con­sider what 28 more points sur­ren­dered, 297 yards gen­er­ated and a fifth loss all mean.

“We just got to look at it as what team do we want to be,” By­ron Jones said. “Do we want to show up as the team in the first quar­ter or first half, or do we want to be the im­pos­tors that showed up in the sec­ond half?

“Like coach says: We have the right type of guys in this locker room, high­char­ac­ter guys. Lesser men would back away or shy away and point fingers and break the team apart. But we don’t got those type of guys here.”

For Jones, the “lesser men” sen­ti­ment might also ex­tend to al­low­ing op­po­nents to dance glee­fully as Ti­tans de­fend­ers did af­ter Byard’s in­ter­cep­tion un­til he took a stance.

“It’s no need for it,” he said. “When you come into the Cowboys arena, peo­ple don’t do that. It’s just about re­spect­ing the brand, re­spect­ing the star.”

Jones made a state­ment when he raced from the side­line and shoved Byard’s crew of dancers.

But in the eight re­main­ing games this sea­son, can the Cowboys make a state­ment on the field?

MATTHEW EMMONS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Ti­tans quar­ter­back Mar­cus Mar­i­ota runs past Cowboys de­fen­sive end DeMar­cus Lawrence for a fourth-quar­ter TD on Mon­day.

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