ATLANTA (AP) – The Dallas Cowboys knew it would be tough to get by without Ezekiel Elliott.
Turns out, they missed Tyron Smith even more.
With their starting left tackle sidelined by back and groin injuries, the Cowboys surrendered six sacks to Adrian Clayborn in one of the greatest pass rushing performances in NFL history.
The result: an ugly 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday .
“The next man up has to be ready on a moment’s notice,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We didn’t handle the adversity of the day.”
After three legal reprieves, Elliott finally began serving a six-game suspension for allegations of domestic abuse . There was certainly no replacing a dynamic back who led the league in rushing as a rookie.
Alfred Morris started in Elliott’s place and broke off a 20-yard run, but the former Pro Bowler really didn’t have much of an impact. He finished with 11 carries for 53 yards.
Rod Smith carried three times for 14 yards, while Darren McFadden was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on his lone run.
“We became one-dimensional,” Morris said. “We got behind. I take full ownership of that. We’ll learn from this game.”
Chaz Green certainly has a lot to learn.
The third-year lineman stepped in for Smith – and spent most of the game grasping at air.
Clayborn was simply too quick off the edge, blowing by Smith time after time.
“It was more me not sticking to what I know,” Green said. “A lot of my issues were self-inflicted. It just hurts because I feel I let the team down.”
Clayborn, who had two sacks on the season and 22.5 in his seven-year career before Sunday, broke the Atlanta team record and equaled the second-most sacks by any player in a game.
Only the great Derrick Thomas has ever been credited with more, recording seven sacks for the Kansas City Chiefs in a 1990 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Clayborn also forced two fumbles by Dak Prescott and recovered one of them, simply ripping the ball out of the quarterback’s hands .
“Give them a lot of credit for completely compromising everything we did offensively,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
With the running game bogged down and Prescott running for his life, the Cowboys (5-4) never got much going offensively against an Atlanta team that has lost four of five games.
Dallas finished with just 233 yards, its worst showing of the season.
In all, Prescott was sacked eight times – just two fewer sacks than he endured through the Cowboys’ first eight games. The second-year quarterback had never been sacked more than four times in a game.
“When we got in those passing situations, we couldn’t slow them down,” Garrett said. “We didn’t protect well enough, and they put too much pressure on Dak.”
The dismal performance in Atlanta capped a tumultuous week for the Cowboys , who had been riding a three-game winning streak.
Jones is upset about a contract extension for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and didn’t dispute reports that he has threatened to sue the league.
While unhappy about with the way Goodell handled Elliott’s case, Jones said he is mainly at odds with the league over a committee of six owners, chaired by Arthur Blank of the Falcons, negotiating an extension without another vote of all 32 owners. Blank was also at Sunday’s game, but there was no indication that he spoke with Jones about their differences.
As for Elliott’s case, the Cowboys are moving on.
“He intends to come back with a fresh approach,” Jones said. “He’s learning things every day. What I want for Zeke is that he is a better person.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.