Week 5 brought the seemingly insurmountable task of removing the Denver Broncos from the ranks of the unbeaten teams in the NFL. All week it was unspoken but assumed that Dallas would fail at their attempt to pull it off. Then the first quarter came and saw the Cowboys jump out to a 14-0 lead and AT&T Stadium was electric. Last week I wrote, “every loss has its own special brand of disappointment” and this one, obviously was no different. We all know how this ended but before we get to that (and trust me, we will), let’s take some time and give out this week’s game balls in our weekly “Game Balls and Close Calls” review.
OFFENSIVE GAME BALL
Honorable Mention: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten
We’re not going to address the “hot topic” of the day in this spot. If you have any knowledge as a football fan whatsoever, you can appreciate that you just saw one of the ALL-TIME best performances any quarterback has ever had. Period. Some thought the way to beat Denver was take the air out of the ball and milk clock. Others (myself included), thought you needed to match them for point. Clearly, Dallas chose the latter and Mr. Romo was up for the challenge. 69% completion percentage, 500+ yards, 5 touchdowns and vintage Romo pocket mobility to earn first downs and keep plays alive. This is the type of game that if the Cowboys offense can even come close to replicating, will put the rest of the league on notice. Romo deserved the win for his moxie and performance. For almost the entire game, he not only played perfect, he outplayed the best quarterback in the league.
Dez, Terrance and Jason all had over 100 yards receiving and combined for four touchdowns. Each one had their turn dominating the game in their own different way. Williams hit on an 82 yard bomb. Witten had seven catches, six went for first downs and the seventh went for a touchdown. Bryant was his typical explosive self, dominating in the red zone and electrifying in the open field.
DEFENSIVE GAME BALL
Honorable Mention: None
Scandrick was matched up, almost exclusively, on the hardest slot receiver to cover in the game of football in Wes Welker and limited him to his lowest amount of catches so far this season. He also would have kept Welker shut out of the end zone, had Welker not been covered by Brandon Carr on Welker’s only touchdown. In a game that featured almost no defense at all, Scandrick was easily the Cowboys best defensive player on the day. Of the four main passing targets for Denver, Welker had the worst game of the bunch and that was in no small measure, due to Scandrick’s effort.
As for the rest of the defense, this would be the second game that it was such a struggle to think of anyone else up for honorable mention that I just passed on the idea. I will go into further detail about this in a moment.
SPECIAL TEAMS GAME BALL
Honorable Mention: None
Bailey was perfect on all four extra points and both field goal attempts as well, hitting from 43 and 48 yards. His four touchbacks and average starting field position on kicks returned put the Broncos inside the 25 yard line on every kickoff. This rendered one of Denver’s dangerous weapons, Trindon Holliday, completely ineffective.
Normally this section is utilized to address key moments in the game that I believe turned the game in the favor of one of the teams but circumstances call for an audible. I have no idea how anyone who gets paid to write, comment or analyze pro football can be proud of their craft for making this loss about Romo. I understand the common fan going for the low-hanging fruit, but as a professional, you should know better. I get that the interception was ill-timed but that one throw did not lose the game for the Cowboys. There is rarely one play that loses a game. This loss is square on the shoulders of the Dallas defense.
As I mentioned in my previous column, some of the Cowboys defensive players were vocal in their disgust hearing about Denver’s offense all week. Ernie Sims said he was “sick” of hearing about Peyton Manning and that he didn’t like all the hoopla surrounding Manning. DeMarcus Ware declined to speak to the media stating, “all y’all want to do is talk about Peyton Manning” and of course Jason Hatcher came out exclaiming that nobody was “scared.” I said I liked the intensity and the nasty attitude that seemed to come through but I also warned it wouldn’t mean much if they didn’t back up the talk.
Well, none of them did much of anything to back it up. No sacks from either of the three (or anybody else for that matter). Only one tackle for a loss from this trio and four from the entire team. So you want to play the blame game? Here you go…
Blame DeMarcus Ware. Ware has now gone back to back games without a sack and has failed to register one in three of the first five games. This wouldn’t really be news except for the fact that he hasn’t done that since 2009. What’s more concerning is that the last two teams he has faced have been playing backup linemen and those backups have handled him just fine. This is the guy who came out in the offseason and called out Romo saying it was time to put up or shut up. Can you imagine the uproar if Romo went three games without throwing a touchdown pass?
Blame Jason Hatcher. If you’re going to talk the talk, coming out and only making one tackle the whole game isn’t exactly walking the walk.
Blame the linebackers. Opposing tight ends have 40 catches for 461 yards and 4 touchdowns so far against this group that was supposedly strong in coverage. In five games, the entire group has two sacks and one interception. If you’re not covering anyone and you’re not making plays, what exactly are you doing?
Blame the entire secondary. Pick an adjective. Pathetic. Embarrassing. Horrible. Wretched. Whichever you like, they are all available for use. Four of the five opposing quarterbacks have completed 60% or better of their passes against Dallas this year. Three of those quarterbacks have thrown for over 400 yards. Three have also had three or more touchdowns in one game facing the Dallas defense. Put it this way, opposing quarterbacks are 145 for 210 (69%) for 1,728 yards, 14 touchdowns and only five interceptions (three of which came from Eli on opening night). That comes out to a passer rating of 106.2. Those totals would place in the top five in every category, You still have to face Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Eli one more time and RGIII twice. It’s not going to get easier.
Bottom line. If you put up 48 points, you should win. It’s happened 374 times in the entire history of professional football and teams that have scored 48+ points are 370-4. Translation – It’s not Tony Romo’s fault.