DALLAS -- The last time the Dallas Cowboys got a win at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions was Dec. 9, 2007. Incidentally, future Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was the Lions' coach and quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna was the starter for Detroit.
2007 was a season first-year offensive coordinator Jason Garrett unleashed the Cowboys offense led by quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, and receiver Terrell Owens. Going into the game against Detroit, Dallas had scored 30-plus points in eight of their last 12 ballgames and were riding an 11-1 record after trouncing the best of the rest in the NFC in the Green Bay Packers in Week 13.
The Lions got off to a fast 6-2 start that year. Perhaps they had "laid the foundation" as Marinelli talked about in his Monday morning press conferences after losses throughout the previous year's 3-13 campaign, which was punctuated by a 39-31 win over the Cowboys in Week 17 at Texas Stadium.
However, headed into the 2007 rematch, Detroit had dropped their last four games and were 6-6. They needed to vanquish Dallas to keep their wild-card hopes alive.
There was also a measure of revenge factored into the game. After that 2006 win, Kitna went on sports radio in his hometown of Seattle and trashed Dallas linebacker Bradie James and starting cornerback Terence Newman. The former 2003 first-round pick reminded the Lions starter of his comments throughout the week.
It wasn't Barry Sanders versus Emmitt Smith, but a new rivalry was brewing between Dallas and Detroit, which were seeing each other for the seventh straight season.
The Cowboys got off to an inauspicious start when they had to settle for a 50-yard Nick Folk field goal on the game's opening drive. The rookie sixth-rounder missed the kick, and the Lions had favorable field position at their own 40-yard line. Running back T.J. Duckett, known more for bruising rather than blazing speed, ripped off a 32-yard touchdown to give Detroit an early 7-0 lead with 7:43 in the first quarter.
Detroit's defense had a little something for Romo and company. Gerald Alexander sacked the Pro Bowler and forced a three-and-out. On the ensuing drive, the Lions drove down to the Cowboys' 1-yard line. Instead of going for a touchdown to send a message, Marinelli elected to send kicker Jason Hanson on for a 19-yard field goal and give Detroit a 10-0 lead with 12 seconds left in the quarter.
Dallas' big play offense started to awaken when running back Marion Barber scored a 22-yard touchdown run to chip into the Lions' lead 10-7 with 12:20 in the second quarter. However, even if the retorts weren't as equal in measure, the Lions were responding. On the next drive, Hanson hit a 36-yard field goal to extend Detroit's lead 13-7 over Dallas with 8:27 until halftime.
The Lions defense turned Dallas three-and-out. The Detroit defense was arguably one of the Cowboys' biggest challenges since the Buffalo game in Week 5, though not a turnover fest at all. The Lions capitalized off of a sputtering Dallas offense and running back Kevin Jones scored a two-yard touchdown on third-and-goal to give the Lions a 20-7 lead.
The Cowboys drove 65 yards on the ensuing drive, and Barber was the scoring subject again as Romo found him on a swing pass for an 8-yard touchdown. The score was critical as it kept Dallas within a touchdown of the Lions, who would get the ball to start the third quarter up 20-14.
In the second half, it seemed the Cowboys were getting somewhere when they forced Detroit to punt on their opening drive of the half. However, the Lions defense was still coming up with critical stops when necessary and dropped Romo for a sack on third down.
When Detroit got the ball back, the Lions had favorable field position at the Dallas 41 and capped off the 10-play drive with a three-yard Jones run to go ahead 27-14 with 4:24 in the third quarter.
With 14:14 to go in the game, Barber was the answer for Dallas as he punctuated a 10-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run to pull the Cowboys within a touchdown as they trailed 27-21.
All Dallas needed was a stop.
The Cowboys had already executed a fourth quarter comeback in Buffalo. Their lone loss was to the New England Patriots, 48-27, and the Cowboys' wins were so convincing they didn't need to mount many comebacks. Even though they had only done it once with Romo, Dallas never felt out of it. They only needed the ball back.
Fortune favored the Cowboys when the Lions' seven-play drive culminated in a 35-yard missed field goal from Hanson. That was the chance the Cowboys needed.
From their own 25-yard line, the Cowboys offense picked apart the Lions to secure the scenario they wanted, first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. But a Witten false start pushed it back to first and goal from the 10. If that was the worst thing he could do on the drive, no one would care.
The future Hall of Famer caught a nine-yard pass and was precipitously close to the goal line. Linebacker Ernie Sims stripped the ball and safety Greg Blue gathered it to kill the Cowboys' drive.
Dallas' defense yet again provided the stop necessary to make a comeback possible as they forced Kitna to throw incomplete on a third-and-9 from the Detroit 37.
Dallas had burned all of their timeouts so that they would have to execute the comeback with only the two-minute warning to stop the clock.
With 1:28 to go, it seemed the Cowboys would suffer their second loss of the season as defensive end Jared DeVries sacked Romo on third-and-6 from the Dallas 40. With the loose ball on the turf of Ford Field, left guard Kyle Kosier fell on the football at the line of scrimmage.
It would be fourth-and-6, but better than ending the game right there. On the last play of the down, Romo found Barber for a 13-yard gain. The Cowboys got a few free yards as the Lions had 12 men on the field when Romo subsequently spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Witten got his chance to redeem himself and Romo never wavered in his confidence in the All-Pro tight end, connecting with him for a 16-yard touchdown -- virtually on the same route up the right seam where he previously fumbled -- to deliver the game-tying touchdown. Folk's extra point gave the Cowboys a 28-27 lead.
With nine seconds to go from their own 16, Kitna couldn't lead a comeback and Dallas hung on by the skin of their teeth to make it a 12-1 start.
Sunday, Marinelli and Kitna will be on the Cowboys' sideline hoping to help Dallas to just half the win total they had when they beat Detroit in 2007. Cowboys fans are hoping going against backup quarterback Jeff Driskel instead of Matthew Stafford will lead to a win free of stressful, late-game heroics to get to 6-4 on the year.
What are your favorite memories of the Jon Kitna era of Dallas Cowboys football? Share ‘em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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