Dak Prescott was baffled by the Patriots’ defense on one first-quarter play Sunday.

And not in the way New England typically intends.

One play after standout rookie Christian Gonzalez was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury, Prescott expected the Patriots to line up in a soft, conservative defense to mask their glaring personnel deficiency at cornerback. Instead, New England played man coverage, with Myles Bryant lined up opposite top Dallas Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb.

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Bryant is a valuable and versatile depth piece in the Patriots’ secondary, but he’s not a perimeter cornerback and, if injuries hadn’t decimated his position group, wouldn’t be asked to man up one of the NFL’s top wideouts. He’s also listed at 5-foot-9. Lamb, a Pro Bowler in each of the last two seasons, is 6-foot-2. You probably can guess how that matchup went.

Prescott hit Lamb for a 20-yard touchdown that gave Dallas an early lead it never relinquished in a 38-3 battering of the visiting Patriots at AT&T Stadium.

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“We went into the timeout break because New England’s Gonzalez got hurt,” Prescott told reporters after the game, via a team-released transcript. “Coming out of that, we had a great play design.

“We expected them to go into a shell look or play it soft. I was surprised, to say the least, when they went man-to-man and allowed CeeDee to be 1-on-1.”

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The Patriots only had so many options, though. When Gonzalez went down, they were forced to play the rest of the game without their top four outside cornerbacks. Jack Jones and Marcus Jones both are on injured reserve, and Jonathan Jones hasn’t played since Week 1 as he nurses an ankle injury.

Without all of those key pieces, the Patriots had to play an undersized slot/safety at one outside corner spot (Bryant) and a player who’s typically a healthy scratch at the other (Shaun Wade), with safeties Jalen Mills and Marte Mapu rotating in the slot. That’s not an ideal setup, to put it kindly.

That group actually held up reasonably well for much of the game, however. Lamb finished with just four catches for 36 yards, and the Cowboys didn’t score their second offensive touchdown until more than halfway through the fourth quarter. Dallas settled for field goals on each of its first three red-zone trips but scored two defensive touchdowns off Mac Jones turnovers to break the game open.

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Bryant had 10 tackles and two forced fumbles and played every defensive snap for just the second time in his career. Wade entered Sunday with 81 career snaps, with 38 of those coming in the previous week’s win over the New York Jets. He played 62 against Dallas and didn’t leave the field after Gonzalez’s exit.

The severity of Gonzalez’s injury had yet to be reported as of Monday morning, so it’s unclear how much time he’ll miss. The Patriots badly need to get Jonathan Jones back ahead of this Sunday’s home game against the New Orleans Saints. Jack Jones is eligible to return from IR this week but reportedly might not be ready to do so.

The Patriots might need to consider moving Mills back to cornerback, where he started 26 games for them over the last two seasons, or making a move to acquire reinforcements at the position.

New England also lost star edge rusher Matthew Judon to a reported torn biceps tendon that could sideline him for the rest of the season.

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Featured image via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images