Home loss will be test of Cowboys’ mettle
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-field of AT&T Stadium.
But let’s back up. Twelve-and-a-half minutes had elapsed in the first 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.
“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 first-team all-pro honors, and has two this season.
For his performance Monday night, arguably the momentum changer in the Cowboys’ first 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 differently.”
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 fifth 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 first quarter or first 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 fingers 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 field?
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota runs past Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for a fourth-quarter TD on Monday.