Opening Day is a clean slate in the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys could use all the absolution available coming off of a 6-10 season, their fourth losing season in the past five. With free agent additions like quarterback Drew Bledsoe, cornerback Anthony Henry, and dual first round picks in linebacker DeMarcus Ware and defensive end Marcus Spears, 2005 was a fresh start for third-year coach Bill Parcells.
The Cowboys were moving from their 4-3 defense, the last staple of founding coach Tom Landry, to Bill Parcells’ much preferred 3-4. In this game, Cowboys rookie linebacker DeMarcus Ware would get a chance to prove why Dallas drafted him over nationally favored Shawne Merriman, the Chargers’ 3-4 outside linebacker taken immediately after Ware’s selection.
San Diego had a good 2004 season that culminated in an AFC West title, but that is as far as their postseason went. The Chargers met an overtime defeat in the AFC Wildcard at the hands of the New York Jets. With a retooled team, Marty Schottenheimer was expected to at least get San Diego back to the postseason in his fourth year with the Bolts.
Dallas started the 2005 season with the ball in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego wearing their white jerseys, but their drive was cut short when a bad center-quarterback exchange between Al Johnson and Drew Bledsoe led to the Cowboys’ first turnover of the day. Eleven plays later, the Chargers scored a touchdown to go up 7-0 behind ex-TCU runningback LaDainian Tomlinson’s 28 yards rushing.
On the Cowboys’ ensuing drive, four consecutive penalties and a seven-yard sack pushed Dallas to their own 1 yard line facing a 3rd and 27. Cowboys fans were probably never more thankful for a play that wasn’t even close to making the sticks as they were for Keyshawn Johnson’s seven-yard grab. At least punter Mat McBriar wouldn’t be punting that far under his own goal post. At least the drive didn’t result in any points surrendered to San Diego.
Dallas eventually found the end zone thanks to two grabs by second-year wide receiver Patrick Crayton. His 52 yards on that scoring drive, which included a 20-yard touchdown, validated why Bill Parcells chose him over the now cut Quincy Morgan. Dallas had tied things up. Things weren’t as dire as they were a drive ago. They kept getting better, for the Cowboys tacked on seven more points after free agent addition Anthony Henry’s pick on Drew Brees thanks to
The Chargers managed to go on a drive totaling over seven minutes to knot things up at 14 before the halftime break. Then, the Chargers came out with the first possession of the second half to build a 21-14 lead after wide receiver Keenan McCardell caught a 17-yard touchdown. On the very next drive, Dallas responded with a touchdown of their own, a five-yard scamper by second-year runningback Julius Jones, the Cowboys’ top draft pick in 2004 and runningback they chose over Steven Jackson.
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding added a 33-yard field goal to put San Diego up 24-21 heading into the final quarter. It was a lead the Chargers retained all the way until 3:10 left in the game when Drew Bledsoe found Keyshawn Johnson on a two-yard touchdown catch nine-play drive.
With 3:01 left, Austin (TX) Westlake product Drew Brees had plenty of time to mount what would be his eighth game-winning drive. It was an eleven-play drive that began back at his own 34. He found Keenan McCardell for 17 yards and then third-year wide receiver Eric Parker for a 33-yard gain to take things to the Cowboys’ 7. Only seven yards away and a touchdown away from taking the lead. On 4th and 7 from the Dallas 7, the Texas High School Football alumnus dropped back and looked for Eric Parker again in the end zone.
Instead, free agent cornerback, and Parcells pet cat from his Jets tenure, Aaron Glenn intercepted Brees for a touchback. The lead was preserved. Cowboys win for the first time on Opening Day since 1999 when Troy Aikman found Raghib Ismail for a bomb in overtime. How appropriate Troy Aikman, now a FOX Sports broadcaster, was calling this game.
Dallas had their second winning season of the decade in 2005, but it came with a lot of close shaves that missed the jugular some weeks, like this one, and connected for blood-spurting defeats in others. At their best, the Cowboys were 7-3, but sputtered to a 9-7 finish losing all postseason hope minutes before their season finale against the Rams on the series finale of ESPN Sunday Night Football. It would be nine years since the Cowboys had last won a playoff game. How long could that streak hold out?
The Chargers also finished 9-7 on the year, and looked like they could wrap up a wildcard spot after defeating the undefeated Colts at home in Week 15. However, a loss to the Chiefs on the road, followed by a loss at home to the Broncos in the season finale wherein starting quarterback Drew Brees tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder, put San Diego on the couch and in a new direction quarterback wise. They released Drew Brees and went with their 2004 draft pick, Philip Rivers.
Philip Rivers remains in San Diego, and he will welcome the Cowboys back into Qualcomm Stadium this Sunday, this time wit his team wearing the white jerseys. Will they ensure victory? Who knows? The Cowboys haven’t lost in San Diego since 1983 when Return of the Jedi came out. The only Cowboys returning from that 2005 team are DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Tony Romo. Like their 2005 teammates, they’re hoping to come out of San Diego with a win.
Will history repeat itself or write an entirely different chapter?