If you would’ve told me before Sunday’s matinee showdown with the Broncos that Tony Romo would outplay Peyton Manning while leading the Dallas offense to 48 points, and I was a betting man, I would’ve put a small fortune on that yielding a Cowboys win.
Well, to avoid any controversy, no one told me that before the game. And while I’m not a betting man, it’s still probably a good thing no one presented me the offer.
Because the Cowboys allowed seven more points than Denver’s season average, and a late interception led to the game-winning field goal by Bronco kicker Matt Prater. A breakdown of the three-point Dallas loss, including the positives, the negatives, and a glass half-full outlook:
Romo threw for a franchise record 506 yards, surpassing Dandy Don Meredith’s 462 yards recorded on Nov. 13, 1966. He also threw five touchdowns and completed almost 70 percent of his passes.
Romo was matched up with the best in the game – and one of the best ever – in Peyton Manning, and threw for more yards, more touchdowns, a higher passer rating, and four more yards per attempt than the opposing signal-caller.
Oh, and he turned the ball over the same number of times. One.
His performance will be tarnished in the eyes of many by his late interception (on which Danny Trevathan – a linebacker – made a full-extension diving play to pick off the pass to Gavin Escobar), but the Cowboys wouldn’t have held a candle to Manning and the Broncos if it weren’t for Romo’s accuracy, elusiveness and big game ability Sunday.
Just as is the case when the Cowboys’ $108 million man was averaging less than seven yards per attempt entering the game, one can’t be 100 percent sure if it was more Romo Bill Callahan who had a bigger influence on the aggressive passing game Sunday, but the playcalling was leaps and bounds better than in the four weeks’ past – at least in the aerial attack. No. 9 posted 14.1 yards per attempt after entering the game dead last in the league in attempts that traveled 15 yards. Romo took risks in the passing game and still completed over 69 percent of his passes.
And all but one of those risks paid off.
Eight different Cowboys caught a pass Sunday, three of which posted 100 or more yards receiving. Dez Bryant was Dez Bryant, raking in 141 yards and two scores. Jason Witten went vintage Witten after four weeks of sub-Witten football, posting a team-high seven grabs for 121 yards and a touchdown. Terrance Williams came up with four catches – on just four targets – and 151 yards, including an 82-yard score. In Miles Austin’s absence, the receiver play was a definite positive for Romo and the Dallas offense.
And the offensive line deserves credit for keeping Tony clean. Romo had to dodge Bronco defenders on a couple of occasions, and was sacked four times, but he had eons to find an open receiver time and time again. Brian Waters becoming a more permanent piece of the O-line has appeared, thus far, to be a success for the hog mollies in Blue and Silver.
Fifty-one points allowed. That’s a number that means a lot more in this football game than the 1 in the INT column for Tony Romo. Sure, Peyton Manning is the best in the game, and one could expect that he was going to get his against the shoddy Dallas pass defense. But if the ‘Boys had simply held Denver to its season average in points, a gaudy 44 points per contest, Dallas comes away with a win.
Holding a team to its average shouldn’t be a difficult task. Especially if that average is an inflated 44 points. All the defense had to be was average, and Dallas would’ve come away the victor, rendering the late interception meaningless.
But they were bad.
The Cowboys surrendered a touchdown on five consecutive drives between the first and third quarters. A defense can let Peyton Manning be Peyton Manning and have a reasonable expectation to still not allow five straight touchdown drives, four of which covered 64 or more yards.
Knowshon Moreno averaged just under five yards per carry and amassed 150 total yards, 93 of which came on the ground. Ryan Matthews’s 62 yards were the most any single ball carrier had totaled against the Dallas defense before Sunday’s game. Manning was his usual self, and that is typically a recipe for a W, but the Cowboys still had a chance to stop the unstoppable. But Moreno was way too big of a factor.
The Cowboys needed to keep Manning off the field as much as possible to have a chance to win this game. And they did just that as they held the ball for almost the entire first quarter and jumped out to an early lead. But that control of the clock disappeared as DeMarco Murray saw only six carries after the first Dallas possession.
Lastly, Dallas is the only team in 2013 to produce an interception by Peyton Manning. And it’s that type of mistake a team like the Cowboys needs to capitalize on to beat the best. Neither Romo nor Dez Bryant, who fumbled in Dallas territory in the second quarter, can be blamed for the loss. But both of their turnovers proved costly.
The NFC East is becoming a staple of this section of these analysis pieces. Despite their second straight loss and a sub-.500 record, the Cowboys are still in first place, and have a game with Washington next week. Even if the ‘Boys lose a couple more heartbreakers like Sunday, it should be pretty easy to control their destiny in the playoff hunt in a mediocre division.
And despite the gut-wrenching loss, the Cowboys showed that they can go play-for-play with the best offensive team in football – something no one else in their division can say.