The Cowboys let a 21-6 lead dissolve in the second half, but were saved by a heroic game-winning drive led by Tony Romo and Dez Bryant in the last 4:45 of the game. Dan Bailey nailed a 35-yard field goal in the final seconds to win the game and keep the Cowboys’ division record perfect. A breakdown of the three-point win, including the positives, the negatives, and a glass-half-full outlook:
Tony Romo has the best fourth quarter passer rating on the planet, but he is defined by late-game interceptions in the eyes of many, and people still treat his impressive 14-play, 64-yard game-winning drive as unusual. It was his 11th game-winning drive in the past three seasons, which is tops in the NFL in that span, and game-winning drive no. 21 of his career.
Sunday’s drive in the final 4:45 of the game was masterful. He completed six-of-nine passes, including three third down passes to keep the drive alive, and managed the clock well enough to set up the 35-yard field goal from Dan Bailey.
And it really wasn’t just on the game-winning drive that Romo was impressive Sunday. He battled 30-degree weather and gusting wind on the road and still played mistake-free football. Yes, he threw an interception, but that throw hit Dez Bryant square in the chest and bounced into the arms of Antrel Rolle. A 60 percent completion rate, two touchdowns to Jason Witten and the great last drive is not a bad day for no. 9.
DeMarco Murray was another bright spot for the ‘Boys. Murray posted 86 rushing yards on 14 carries – his fifth time to average more than five yards per carry this season – and added 40 receiving yards on three catches. Murray continues to be an effective dual-threat running back that produces as much as the Cowboys allow him to.
The defense has been heavily scrutinized in 2013, and has spent a lot of time in the “negatives” section of this weekly installment. But it deserves a lot of credit for its performance on Sunday. The defensive unit, still missing its best player in Sean Lee, came up with two huge red zone stops early that forced Ney York to settle for three points. One of those stops came after a pass interference penalty set the Giants up with first-and-goal at the nine-yard line.
The defense was also to thank for the first touchdown of the game on a 50-yard Jeff Heath fumble return. Victor Cruz, who coughed up the ball on that play, was held to just two catches. Shutting down the opponent’s best offensive weapon has been a struggle at times for the Dallas D (i.e. Calvin Johnson, anyone on the Saints offense, etc.) but it certainly did that with Cruz on Sunday.
Well, the defense can’t completely escape negative attention. While it deserves a ton of credit for the aforementioned achievements, the Cowboy defense did surrender 202 rushing yards to a team that was averaging 77 yards per game on the ground, good for 29th in the league. The Giant rushing attack is undoubtedly better with Andre Brown back, and New York’s rushing success Sunday could’ve been a result of a beat-us-with-your-weakness mentality for the Dallas defense (Eli Manning, after all, only amassed 154 passing yards in the game). But allowing 200-plus yards in the ground game is not a good way to control possession, and won’t be something the ‘Boys can get away with many weeks.
And we don’t have to get into that play where Brandon Myers – not the league’s most athletic pass catcher – fell after a leaping catch, got up and scored after two Dallas defenders decided not to touch him while he was down. Whether that was forgetting the rules or just a miscommunication, it was bad.
That final drive – on which Dez Bryant recorded three catches for 32 yards – kind of gave the statistical illusion that Bryant played a good game (finishing with nine catches for 102 yards), but he struggled early. Three different passes during the first eight-and-a-half minutes hit Dez in the hands and didn’t result in catches. Bryant also fumbled early in the fourth quarter, turning a five-yard gain into a 20-yard loss.
Dez made the plays when he needed to, but nine catches on 16 targets is not an ideal ratio. Any ineffectiveness from the Cowboys’ no. 1 playmaker could hurt them down the stretch.
Lastly, penalties were an issue for Dallas. The Cowboys were flagged 11 times for 85 yards – just barely out-fouling their counterpart, as the Giants were flagged 11 times for 81 yards. Now, at times it seemed the refs were looking for opportunities to toss the dirty laundry. But 11 penalties show a lack of discipline that needs to improve if this team is going to think playoffs.
I suppose it’s a good sign when all the negatives from a game have qualifiers as to why they may be justifiable or how the team made up for that negative. So there’s that. Nothing was so bad that it seemed beyond repair, and the whole product – positives and negatives included – added up to a quality road win against a (somehow) hot team in less-than-stellar conditions.
And, while the Cowboys’ division is stuffed to the gills with mediocrity, the NFC North and AFC South are each giving the NFC East a run for its money for the worst division in football. All four teams from the NFC North were in action Sunday, two of the teams played each other, but not one of those teams won a game. The Packers and Vikings tied, while the Lions and Bears each suffered losses.
The Colts, the AFC South’s proud division leader, got smoked Sunday by the Cardinals, and the rest of the division totals a 9-23 record.
So yay for possibly not being the “best of the worst,” as they say.