The Cowboys snapped a four-game home losing streak to the Giants at AT&T Stadium with a 36-31 victory Sunday night. The first response to the five-point victory over the G-Men:
The positives: Monte Kiffin's debut as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator saw his defense record six takeaways and two defensive touchdowns. Coming off of a season in which the 'Boys recorded only 16 takeaways under the tutelage of Rob Ryan, the six takeaways (three interceptions, three fumble recoveries) are encouraging for the new-look defense.
The most important of the six takeaways was a 49-yard interception return by Brandon Carr with two minutes remaining in the game. The Giants had cut a 17-point deficit down to a one-score game, and Eli Manning had his team 55 yards away from taking a lead.
Carr hauled in the pass, which deflected off the hand of Giants running back Da'Rel Scott, and raced down the sideline to the Promised Land to thwart the Giant comeback.
And that's the type of defensive play that will define a season. Just as Tony Romo's career has been defined in the minds of many by late-game turnovers, so too can a defensive effort that consisted of 478 yards allowed be defined by late-game heroics. DeMarcus Ware intercepting a Manning pass on the first play from scrimmage was great, and the Cowboys pouncing on a punt that bounced off of a Giant blocker in the third quarter is a nice turnover to put on a stat sheet, but Carr's pick-six in 'crunch time' is a definite plus from the Week 1 performance.
On the offensive side of the ball, DeMarco Murray was impressive. The third-year running back ran for 86 yards on 20 carries, and added eight catches out of the backfield. The first priority for Murray and the offense is to establish a consistent running game, something the 2012 version of this team couldn't do. But if the former Oklahoma Sooner can become a consistent dual-threat back for Tony Romo, more good things will come for the Dallas offense.
Miles Austin recorded 10 catches for 72 yards in the game. While Austin didn't find the end zone, he led the team in receptions and yards. After an injury-laden 2011 season and a down year statistically in 2012, a return to form for Austin would be a major benefit for the passing game. In a game where Dez Bryant was targeted just eight times and recorded just four catches for 22 yards, it was Austin who was relied on for no. 1 receiver responsibility.
Austin was one of three players to grab eight or more passes (Witten, Murray) in the game. The fact that Tony Romo was able to spread the ball and complete over 70 percent (36-49) of his passes without much help from Bryant is encouraging. Romo also played mistake-free football, with the exception of one first-quarter interception. But, more on that later...
The negatives: The fact that it was only a five-point win should bother the Cowboys. Sure, a win is a win, especially in the division, and breaking that pathetic streak of four losses to the Giants at home is huge. But a six-takeaway game shouldn't come down to Sean Lee falling on an onside kick with 10 seconds to play before a win is secured. The Cowboys could have easily run away with the game after what Giants coach Tom Coughlin called the worst first half of football he'd ever seen.
Eli Manning did post 450 yards and four touchdowns to go with his three picks in the game, which, while it's no Thursday Night Peyton Manning-esque performance, it's certainly more than the Cowboys will want to see opposing quarterbacks throw for on Sundays (even if a majority of those yards was gained in a pass-heavy second half in which a QB is playing with a deficit, like Manning on Sunday). The Cowboys were in the middle of the pack 19th-best in the NFL in passing yards allowed in 2012.
As previously mentioned, Dez Bryant was relatively quiet on the stat sheet. For a player with sky-high offseason expectations, and, if you ask Michael Irvin, MVP-caliber talent, Bryant's four catches are a disappointment. The Giants deserve some credit for the work they did on Bryant, yes. But if he thinks double-teams are something he won't be seeing a ton of, especially after his performance Sunday night, the 24-year-old is in for a rude awakening.
Bryant also left the game with an apparent ankle injury, and took his frustrations out on a Gatorade cooler on the sidelines. He would get his ankle taped and return to action in the fourth quarter.
Rookie receiver Terrence Williams also did not have a good night Sunday. The Baylor product ran the wrong route in the red zone, which yielded a New York interception and a 91-yard return to the Dallas 1-yard line. Williams also dropped two passes in the game.
Glass half-full: The offensive line was, well, less than stellar. Tony Romo was hit six times, including two sacks and a play during which Romo was sandwiched between defenders before the half. New signee Brian Waters did not play, so the 'Boys can hold out hope that the insertion of the eight-time Pro Bowler whenever that may be will be an upgrade from Mackenzy Bernadeau. If it's not, offensive line play could become an issue again for the 2013 Cowboys.
Dan Bailey knocked in three field goals, including a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter, and the special teams play was solid. The Giants failed to record any big returns, and Dwayne Harris seemed to be omnipresent on kick coverage. He showed the potential to be a game-changer on special teams, very much an under-the-radar contribution.