The much anticipated NFL season opener finally arrived and took place last night. For fans of the NFL, especially those of the Cowboys and Giants, this game could not get here fast enough. This was the ninth year that the NFL has scheduled the defending champion to open mid-week for the entire world to watch, with the remaining week one games to take place on Sunday and Monday. The previous eight times, the defending champion started their season with a win. Good news for Cowboys fan, that streak was put to a halt last night.
With the teams going through their respective offseason training program, training camp, and slate of preseason games, these teams have been well prepared for the regular season. However, there is no substitute for real live game action, and that was on display last night. The halftime score was 7-3 Dallas, and it didn’t take a trained eye to see that there were some kinks to still work out. However, things picked up in the second half, with the final score being 24-17 Dallas. Here are some observations to be noted from Game 1.
1) In the first half, the Giants received the ball first and had six possessions to the Cowboys five. The second half the Cowboys had four possessions to the Giants three. Both teams in the second half found more of a rhythm and got the rust off, as this was both teams first extended “full game” action of the season. The Cowboys in succession in the second half scored a touchdown, a field goal, a touchdown, and then had a time killing drive on their fourth and final possession that ended the game.
2) The defense forced a turnover and had a solid goal line stand. On New York’s second drive, Sean Lee forced a fumble that Barry Church was able to recover at 6:33 mark of the first quarter. On the Cowboy’s third possession, Tony Romo threw an interception that was returned all the way back to the three yard-line (thanks to a great horse collar tackle by Tyron Smith). The defense held firm and pushed the Giants back and forced them to settle for a field goal instead of the touchdown.
3) The defense kept the rushing and passing game in check. The Giants rushing attack had a total of 23 yards in the first half, and finished with 82 for the game (most of which came on a 33 yard scamper from Bradshaw in the second half). Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz just destroyed the Cowboys last season, with each averaging over 100 yards per game in both matchups. Last night, they were limited to a combined 96 yards on 10 catches.
4) With Phil Costa again having back issues crop up early in the game, Ryan Cook showed up big. After being acquired less than a week ago for a 7th round pick in the 2013 draft, Cook came in and played surprising well against the stout defensive line of the Giants. The offensive line as a whole had a lot of penalties called against it (including pushing the Cowboys back to 1st and 30 on their final scoring drive), but survived week one and should only get better with more time together.
5) Kevin Ogletree decided to quiet all the doubters. Speculation had been rampant that the Cowboys third wide receiver was not on the roster. The feeling was that the team would watch the waiver wire to find this player, much like what occurred with Laurent Robinson in the 2011 season. However, the Cowboys stuck to their beliefs and never went after an outside option. This seemed to pay off last night. With the Giants focusing their attention on containing Bryant, Austin, and Witten, Ogletree broke out for an 8 reception, 114 yard, 2 touchdown performance. It looks as if they may have found their man after all. I’m sure Ogletree was being picked up in fantasy football leagues last night all over the country after this performance.
6) DeMarcus Ware added two more sacks to his total to now have a total of 101.5 for his career. He has reached this impressive total in only his 113th career game. This is the second fastest all-time, behind only the great Reggie White who had reached the 100 sack mark in his 96th game.
7) DeMarco Murray is the real deal. He finished with 131 yards rushing on only twenty carries for a whopping average of 6.6 yards per rush. He had an absolute “amazing” run late in the third quarter when it looked like multiple times he had no place to run to, only to dash down the sideline for 48 yards. If he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this player.
8) Jason Garret made a few gutsy calls. On the Cowboy’s second possession in the first quarter, he went for it on 4th and 1. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Jermey Parnell decided he didn’t need to make a block and Lawrence Vickers was stopped short on this attempt. However, the more telling play about Garret’s increased coaching prowess occurred on the Cowboy’s ninth and final drive of the game. It was third and ten, with 2:11 left in the game. A similar situation occurred last season in New England in Week 6. Instead of going for the first down aggressively by letting Tony Romo try and make play and essentially ending the game, Garrett was conservative and went with three consecutive running plays. Tom Brady got the ball back with two minutes to go, took the Patriots down the field for the go-ahead touchdown. Last night, Garrett was aggressive and showed he had learned from this past mistake of late game management, and he let Romo throw to Kevin Ogletree for the first down, which basically end the game.
9) Tony Romo stepped up and played huge. His fantastic stat line of 22/29, 307 yards, 3 TD, I Int does not give this performance enough due. The way he managed the game, got his players in the correct position, read the defense, called audibles at the line, and moved around the pocket under great pressure was truly fantastic. The many pundits have started to reluctantly call Romo a top 10 quarterback. If he continues like this for the entire 2012 season, these same pundits may need to accept that he may actually be a top 5 quarterback in this league.
With this great start to the season, Cowboy fans need to be hopeful that the hunger remains. Although they have beaten the hated Giants, a team they have focused on the entire offseason, this game is still only one of sixteen. The last thing the Cowboys need to do is follow this up with an uninspired performance in Seattle in Week 2. The Cowboys need to put together a string of victories and get on roll. The goal needs to be at least ten wins, because at that level, we can start talking playoffs in a serious manner. Jerry Jones has outwardly spoken that “the time is now”, and how the 2011 season was one of the most disappointing he has had as an owner. The Cowboys were able to beat a team that has ended their season multiple times in recent years. Hopefully they can be the team we all feel they are, and not the team they’ve shown in recent years.
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