Tony Romo went from zero to hero in the final four and a half minutes of Sunday’s 27-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Cowboy signal-caller led a 90-yard touchdown drive that ended with what would be the game-winning touchdown to Dwayne Harris. Had Dallas not covered those 90 yards in the final 2:09, Romo would’ve shouldered the blame for the Cowboys’ worst lost of the season because of his interception with 4:35 to play – which didn’t cost Dallas anything other than some game clock.
But luckily for everyone close to the situation, Romo and the Dallas offense did march 90 percent of the field and get the victory. A breakdown of the four-point win, including the positives, the negatives, and an all-new glass-half-empty outlook:
Jason Witten led the team in catches (8) and yards (102) and was the most consistent receiver in Romo’s arsenal. It was Witten’s second 100-yard performance of the season, and his 26-yard score was his first since Oct. 6. Throwing to Witten worked all game – sans one dropped pass early – and Romo kept feeding him (to the tune of 10 targets, tying a season high), which is good news for the passing game.
And Romo deserves credit for the game-winning drive, which featured two passes to Witten. Tony was asked to throw the ball 51 times Sunday, so throwing one interception is nothing to hang his head about, and can almost be expected of any NFL passer. (Only two of the 15 quarterbacks to attempt 50 passes in a game in 2013 didn’t throw an interception). Romo did a good job not letting the interception affect him or his team, and bouncing back to put together a long drive in the waning moments to secure the win.
The Cowboys’ defense may have found a new defensive end, and an avenue for some good smoothie recipes. Everette Brown, who was in the process of opening a smoothie shop in North Carolina when the Cowboys gave the ex-Panther a call to fill in on defense. Brown had a solid Cowboy debut, recording two tackles and a sack, and also forcing a Christian Ponder fumble in the final moments of the game. It’s too soon to anoint Brown as the next DeMarcus Ware, but a promising pass rusher is encouraging for a defense that has struggled mightily in 2013.
The good news is that the Dallas defense surrendered 26 less yards than its season average… The bad news is that means they still gave up 393 yards to the league’s 27th-ranked yardage offense. Kiffin’s Crew did force two turnovers, including a sack-fumble in the end zone for a defensive TD, which was huge when the offense (for some reason) struggled against the Vikings’ defense. Still Minnesota had multiple 11-play touchdown drives, and another that went 87 yards on eight plays.
And news flash, people: Minnesota isn’t very good.
Dez Bryant’s “passion” or what have you was called into question again this week when he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after taking his helmet off while pleading his case that he was interfered with on an incomplete pass. The only thing worse than that penalty is the people that will talk about that penalty incessantly for the indefinite future. Since I have already voiced my opinion on last week’s “sideline rant” (it wasn’t a big deal) and I don’t want to fall into that annoying group of pundits, I’ll leave attitude talk out of this article.
But Dez still belongs in the negative group after Sunday’s game. In addition to the penalty, Dez dropped multiple passes, and converted only six catches on 11 targets. Sure, a couple balls were thrown behind him, but a superstar receiver – which he undoubtedly is – should come up with those catches. Bryant wasn’t the only one, either. Terrance Williams, who had 24 catches on 28 targets entering the Detroit game, has only four catches on 17 targets in the past two weeks after a 2-of-7 day Sunday. The Dallas receiving corps dropped something like eight passes against the Vikings. It’s not rocket science to say, well, that isn’t a good strategy, even if the QB is hurling it 51 times.
Balance. That has been a cliché thrown around about the Cowboys’ offense all season – it needs balance. The ‘Boys have struggled to consistently establish a running game to compliment Romo’s aerial attack, but it’s to the point where, as a sportswriter, I am defeated.
When the running game is effective – like Sunday, when DeMarco Murray recorded 31 yards on four carries in his return to action – Bill Callahan will abandon the idea entirely. Four Cowboys carried the rock Sunday, totaling 36 yards on nine carries. But where was DeMarco? At a clip of almost eight yards per carry, he might have been able to provide some relief for Romo and his 6.6-yards-per-attempt passing game.
And, when the ground game isn’t working – like it in the Philadelphia and Detroit games, when Dallas averaged 2.8 and 2.4 yards per carry, respectively – is when Callahan will feed the backs 26 times per game. Still shy of that coveted “balance,” but a significant difference nonetheless.
So, as long as Murray is effective, expect him to continue to be severely underutilized, and for the offense to continue to be unnecessarily one-dimensional.