There are no “gimmes” in the NFL, and today’s match with the Cleveland Browns was anything but that. In a game where Cowboys fans boastfully predicted 38-17, 31-14 type margins, it took a two Dan Bailey kicks to beat the 2-7 Browns: first to even get to overtime, and a second to win in the extra period.
“I really like the way we made adjustments. I was here in the locker room at halftime,” Jerry Jones met with the media after the game. He was pleased his team moved to 5-5 on the season.
The end is always a good place to start. After going up 17-13 on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant, the Cowboys stripped Browns 29-year old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden four plays into the ensuing drive. The Cowboys took over at the Browns 18 with 5:45 left. Realistically, all the Cowboys needed at the minimum was a field goal.
If you’re even a frontrunning Cowboys fan who switched teams after the Eagles victory, you know it’s never that easy.
Romo fumbled the ball and gave it back to Cleveland at their own 35. With “mo[mentum]” wearing a mud brown jersey and orange helmet, Cleveland stormed down to the Cowboys 1 in eight plays. On 3rd and 1, rookie runningback Trent Richardson tried to jump over the top of the pile for no gain. Then, Brandon Weeden threw a questionable fade route to backup tight end Jordan Cameron that he caught out of bounds.
Starting from their own 1 yard line, the Cowboys were only able to advance it to their 4 with three consecutive Felix Jones runs. They were giving punter Brian Moorman enough room to angle the ball out of bounds.
At least, that’s what Brad Sham and Babe Laufenberg of the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network, and every other fan with a football IQ over Rex Grossman’s quarterback rating, thought the Cowboys should do. They were all recalling the dreadful occurrence in the Meadowlands in 2010 when Giants punter Matt Dodge punted down the middle of the field for DeSean Jackson to take all the way back to the house for a walkoff touchdown.
Instead, Moorman punts the ball right down the middle of the field to hot Browns returner Josh Cribbs. Thankfully, Cribbs only got 21 yards on the return, but unthankfully, John Phillips horse collared Cribbs and pushed the ball 15 yards extra to the Dallas 17.
Browns tight end Ben Watson, of New England Super Bowl fame, only had 1 touchdown on the year. He made his second of the game on the succeeding play. It was a 17-yarder right down the middle of the field, just like his 10-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter to put the Browns up 7-0.
Now, the Browns were up 20-17 with 1:07. The only reasons for optimism were the Cowboys receivers going against Sheldon Brown and Cleveland’s inexperienced secondary and the fact Dallas had one timeout. Though their drive began at their own 20 due to a Phil Dawson touchback, all the Cowboys needed to do was drive about 40 yards to give Dan Bailey a shot to tie the game and send it to overtime.
On 2nd and 6, Romo threw the ball to Kevin Ogletree, who dropped the ball and took a helmet-to-helmet shot from Browns safety T.J. Ward. Ed Hochuli’s crew called the personal foul and the Cowboys took over at their own 39 with 54 seconds left. Then, Miles Austin caught a ball to bring it to the Browns 49. Dwayne Harris got in on the pass interference giveaway and netted a 35-yard call on ex-Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown. The Cowboys now had the ball at the Browns 14, well within field goal range.
Romo scrambled up the middle for 5 yards to give 90,000 Cowboys fans heart palpitations, along with the millions around the world. Dallas called their final timeout. Romo overthrew Austin way too high in the right corner of the end zone, and then managed to draw a delay of game penalty to undo his 5-yard run. They were back to the Browns 14. Romo then had the ball slip out of his hands on a pump fake into the flats to fall incomplete. Thankfully.
Bring on Bailey.
Dan Bailey connected on a 32-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. It split down the uprights perfectly.
The Cowboys won the coin toss and took possession. Unfortunately, an eight play drive from the Dallas 20 was not able to put the Cowboys into field goal range. The Cowboys defense, who had given up 13 points to the Browns in the first half and 7 points with less than two minutes in regulation, revitalized and forced the Browns to punt after three plays. Jay Ratliff stuffed Trent Richardson. Bruce Carter defended a swing pass to the rookie in the flats. The defense gang-tackled Josh Gordon four yards short of the marker. The Cowboys defense truly forced a 3-and-out.
Jason Garrett talks about “all three phases” to the point of ridicule. The third phase did show up beautifully for the Cowboys in overtime. Dwayne Harris received the Reggie Hodges punt at the Dallas 32 and then juked and circled the width of the field to find a seam that was good for a 20-yard return.
Romo commanded and gesticulated from shotgun at the Cleveland 48. He found Austin for 9 yards. Lance Dunbar took a handoff for 7 yards more. In two successive plays, Austin caught slant routes that were under official review. The first one was for a fumble on an incomplete pass, but Ed Hochuli, after a lengthy explanation that gave Cowboys Radio color man Babe Laufenberg a Chris Matthews-esque thrill up his leg, said it was not reviewable because the booth didn’t buzz down, even though Browns head coach Pat Shurmur tried to coax the referees into it. Then, the second Austin catch was reviewed because it looked like he bobbled it as he took it to the ground. Hochuli ruled it a catch; play ball.
On 3rd and 2 from the Cleveland 24, Lance Dunbar picked up the crucial two yards and one extra yard. He rushed for one more yard on 1st and 10 before Jason Garrett sent Dan Bailey out for a 38-yard field goal to win the game and go 5-5.
“I was confident no matter what happened. I was going out there and putting it through,” Bailey said after the game, who was 3/3 on the game and tied Rafael Septien for most career field goals made in overtime.
Tony Romo went 35/50 for 313 yards and 1 touchdown. The Cowboys runningbacks, Felix Jones and Lance Dunbar, only took the ball 19 times for 53 yards. Felix Jones had a 2-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter to cut the Browns lead to 13-10. Dez Bryant broke out with 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Ogletree had 1 catch for 10 yards, but Dwayne Harris had 3 catches for 20 yards. Cole Beasley even made an appearance with one catch for 10 yards. Anthony Spencer and Gerald Sensabaugh had a forced fumble each. Spencer had one sack on the day, while Ware and Hatcher combined for a half sack each.
The Cowboys defense gave up 109 rushing yards on 33 attempts with rookie Trent Richardson carrying 28 times for 95 yards, and also catching 6 receptions for 49 yards. Brandon Weeden was 20/35 for 210 and 2 touchdowns. Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon caught the ball 5 times for 53 yards.
There was much consternation about how the Cowboys makeshift offensive line, which featured Mackenzy Bernadeau at center and Derrick Dockery at right guard, would play. They gave up 7 sacks, and 9 if you count the illegal contact calls that resulted in Romo sacks. To say Romo was running for his life all day would be abusing a cliche.
Tryon Smith suffered a high ankle sprain during the game early. Richie Whitt from 105.3 The FAN reports that Smith would have returned to the contest, but the pain threshold was too great. Smith appears to be out 2-4 weeks, but MRI’s are coming Monday. Kevin Ogletree left the game and is being evaluated for a concussion. “Rocket” Ismail from the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network reports that the Dallas Cowboys could be in talks with bringing back Andre Gurode to help out this beleaguered offensive line.
More to come on Monday as the Cowboys have a short week to take on the Washington Redskins, who plastered the Philadelphia Eagles 31-6. The Redskins have never beaten the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, both with both respective teams’ performances today, a heartbreaking “1″ could appear in the right side of that column.