Six weeks in the books and the Dallas Cowboys have scraped their way back to a 3-3 record. Not exactly inspiring but the good news is that A. 3-3 is good enough to be tied for the division lead and B. They are undefeated in both divisional play and within the conference. The latest win came at the expense of the hated Washington Redskins before a national television audience on Sunday Night Football. The win may not have been pretty but it was definitely effective given that somehow Dallas put up 31 points even though they barely eclipsed 200 total yards on offense. Here is this week’s version of “Game Balls and Close Calls” as we breakdown the week’s stand out performers.
OFFENSIVE GAME BALL
Tyron Smith / Doug Free
Honorable Mention: Cole Beasley, Tony Romo
I am giving both Smith and Free a game ball. Call it a cop-out, but they both deserve one. As I stated in this week’s edition of the Four Quarters, the Cowboys have won every game that Tony Romo has been sacked twice or less. With the Redskins coming in averaging almost four sacks per game, it was crucial to keep Romo clean and both Smith and Free did just that. Washington was able to only register one sack, which came from a linebacker, up the middle on a blitz that they brought eight guys after Tony. Even though it did not manifest itself into tons of yards or points, the ability to have a bit of time to work over the secondary was huge as Dallas seemed to get points or extend drives whenever it was needed. Smith and Free not only shut out vaunted pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo but they also were not flagged for any penalties.
Cole Beasley followed up his performance last week (which may have been the best of his short career) with another stellar performance. Beasley led the Cowboys in both receptions and yards while half of those catches went for first downs. If he can continue to emerge as a reliable slot receiver, Beasley will add another weapon to an already potent offense. Romo’s numbers won’t “wow” you but he did but like Beasely, he seemed to make enough plays at the right times to keep drives alive even though he had no running game whatsoever to rely upon.
DEFENSIVE GAME BALL
Honorable Mention: Jason Hatcher, Sean Lee, Brandon Carr
You could make a case that the entire defensive line deserved a game ball given that guys like Drake Nevis and Cesar Rayford weren’t even in camp with Dallas to start the year and Nick Hayden and George Selvie were definitely questions coming into the year, but Wilber made the defensive play of the game. Before DeMarcus Ware’s injury, the line was doing well against the run but could not get to RGIII. After Ware left, the “other guys” stepped up their game and brought down Griffin three times. Wilber’s sack/fumble/fumble recovery highlighted the efforts. After Dallas had extended the lead to eight points, Wilber was able to blind side Griffin from behind deep in Redskins territory causing him to fumble. With Wilber pouncing on the ball inside the ten yard line, it set up another touchdown which resulted in a 15 point lead and represented the end of any hopes Washington had for an upset.
Hatcher, Lee and Carr all took their respective spots as the leaders of their units to the next level in this game. With all the injuries on the defensive front, Hatcher handled business getting two sacks of his own and chasing Griffin out of his comfort spots. Lee made play after play leading the team in tackles and getting a pressure on Griffin which almost resulted in an interception. Carr dominated the Redskins wide receivers limiting those he covered to only two catches the entire game.
SPECIAL TEAMS GAME BALL
Honorable Mention: None
The night belonged to Harris and boy did the Cowboys need him. With Dallas struggling to find offensive continuity and heading towards the two-minute warning clinging to a 7-3 lead, Harris took a punt 86 yards to the house and electrified the crowd. After Washington scored two more field goals to cut the lead again to one score at 14-9, Harris did his thing again. This time he took back the kickoff 90 yards setting up yet another Cowboys touchdown. Those two plays were not only big factors to the team’s success, but they were historically significant as well. Harris became just the third player in NFL history to have a punt return and kickoff return of 85+ yards in the same game. Dwayne Harris deserves both the game ball for special teams and the MVP of the night for the sparks provided to get Dallas the win.
In my opinion, these plays were the most crucial to the success of the Cowboys in this game, contributing greatly to the win.
1. LATE FIRST QUARTER, 2:27 LEFT, 3RD AND GOAL FROM THE COWBOYS 9 YARD LINE - Washington decides on a third and goal situation to try to catch the Cowboys sleeping and they do. Instead of passing, the have a designed QB draw in effect and RGIII has a lead blocker and tons of space with only one man to beat. Sean Lee. Lee takes on a block from an offensive linemen, sheds the block and somehow hops around the blocker to get to Griffin and stop him short at the 2 yard line. Instead of a tie ball game, this plays preserves a 7-3 lead which Dallas never relinquished.
2. EARLY SECOND QUARTER, 9:29 LEFT, 4TH AND 14 FROM THE WASHINGTON 45 YARD LINE - With the lead still only 7-3, Dallas forces the Redskins off the field on a third and long, Washington punts the ball down to the 24 yard line, were the ball hits rookie CB B.W. Webb and is recovered by Washington giving them excellent field position however, the ruling on the field reverses this action. The officials huddle and agree that Webb was blocked into the ball, therefore allowing Dallas to retain possession. Had this not been decided, the Redskins almost certainly would have scored another field goal at the very least.
3. LATE SECOND QUARTER, 2:45 LEFT, 4TH AND 12 FROM THE WASHINGTON 35 YARD LINE - Another punting situation for the Redskins turns disastrous for them as the 51 yard punt is returned 86 yards for the score by Dwayne Harris, changing momentum entirely and giving the Cowboys a 14-6 lead. Up to that point, Dallas had been completely ineffective offensively. Harris’ returned got the crowd involved but more importantly gave the Cowboys a cushion they would maintain for the remainder of the game.
4. EARLY THIRD QUARTER, 9:12 LEFT, 2ND AND 10 FROM THE WASHINGTON 15 YARD LINE - After Harris’ second huge return of the game setup the Cowboys in scoring position, Tony Romo finished the job. Forced out of the pocket and making moves to avoid the blitzing linebackers up the middle, Romo escapes a sack and flings a perfect throw on the move off his back foot into the back corner of the end zone where Terrance Williams makes an equally impressive catch. Williams makes sure to get his two feet just in bounds to count the touchdown good and give Dallas a 21-9 lead which would end up being the go ahead score of the game.
5. EARLY FOURTH QUARTER, 9:47 LEFT, 2ND AND 19 FROM THE WASHINGTON 11 YARD LINE - Following a field goal by Dallas which was an answer to a Washington touchdown, the Redskins have the ball down 24-16 but are backed up. The Dallas defense comes up big with third and final sack of the game. As Griffin is forced to move around in the pocket, he does not see that Kyle Wilber has moved past him but has not given up. Coming from behind, Wilber levels Griffin, causing the ball to come free which is promptly recovered by Wilber as well. Sack, fumble, recovery. The trifecta for any defender which ends up giving the offense another possession with amazing field position. Two plays later, Dallas punches in another touchdown for the final score of the game.
Even though Dallas did not play their best game or the most aesthetically beautiful game of the year, this was a very important win that showed something else more important. Heart. After such a tough loss the week before and with stars on both sides of the ball leaving with injuries, the team showed resiliency by making plays when they were most needed by guys you may not expect such as Kyle Wilber and Dwayne Harris. Had the Cowboys lost this game, they would have been in third place, behind both the Eagles and Redskins, however they now go into next week’s game at Philadelphia tied for the division lead.