Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote admitted his side clocked off for the majority of the game after a red-hot start against Manly in Round 12 of the Telstra Premiership.
A rout appeared to be on the cards early after the game's first set almost resulted in points, before prop Matt Scott barged his way over the try line on the very next set.
But that only made room for complacency, with the Cowboys giving up the next two tries to trail 8-6 at half-time.
Despite completing at a high rate over the first half, the Cowboys never found that same spark after Scott's try in the third minute.
Coote said it was the first time the group had switched off in two months.
"It started off in the first half, we thought we could just come down (the field at will). 'Thumper' got that early try and we just switched off I think," Coote said of the decline in focus.
"It probably comes down to preparation."
It was the fourth time in 12 games this season that the Cowboys had scored first points but in a recurring pattern for the club, they have let their opposition take back the lead in three of those games.
Veteran Gavin Cooper was just as critical of their performance after the game, saying they "hadn't earned the right to put (Manly) away".
"You go back 12 months and that was the sort of stuff that was getting us in trouble; we were getting out of the blocks really well and we'd let teams back into it. Probably because we thought it was going to be easy compared to what it was," Cooper said.
The Cowboys went seven consecutive sets without a completion in the latter stages of the second half after continuing to unnecessarily force the issue.
Johnathan Thurston and Lachlan Coote both failed to find grass before the touch-line, and Kane Linnett and Justin O'Neill dropped it cold – all in the final 20 minutes as the Cowboys stumbled toward the miracle finish that is now a trademark.
"That's horrendous, eight-from-18 (second-half completions)," Cowboys coach Paul Green lamented post-game.
"We started to look for things that weren't actually there and pushed passes.
"The more we made errors, the more pressure we felt to get something happening."
In positive signs for the Cowboys, their defence has tightened up considerably since Green called them out following their win over the Broncos in Round 10.
They have conceded just two line breaks in both games against Wests and Manly while averaging 5.1 on the season prior to that.
"It was a really good effort defensively considering all the ball we gave them," Green said.