Admit it. Watching the Cowboys’ 21-6 lead evaporate in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s division game, every Cowboy fan knew deep down in their gut that with 4:45 remaining in the game, Dallas was likely to go three and out and give the ball back to the suddenly hot Giants. We’ve seen it far too many times in the last several years.
Instead, Tony Romo led the Cowboys on a masterful, gut-wrenching 14-play drive that ended with Dan Bailey’s game winning 35-yard field goal as time expired. The drive included three critical 3rd down conversions – something the Cowboys offense has not been very good at this season (tied for 28th in the league at 33%). In this game alone, they had only converted 2 of 9 third downs up to this point (22%).
When the final drive started with a false start penalty on 3rd and 2 stretching it to 3rd and 7, you just knew the Cowboys were about to punt it back to the Giants where Eli would lead them to the game winning score. We’ve seen this script before. The post-game story would be all about how the Giants were back and how Eli had suddenly regained his magic. And, Cowboy Nation would be on suicide watch once again. But, it wasn’t to be. Not this time!
Romo hit Dez Bryant on a back shoulder throw that Dez managed to somehow corral despite being interfered with and falling backwards. The ball was still moving as he hit the turf but he somehow managed to hold on – something he had uncharacteristically had some problems with in this game up to now. Not Dez’s best game by far. But, there are turning points in every game and season and that single play – a magnificent throw by Romo in the wind and cold and an unbelievable catch by Dez – may have ultimately saved the Cowboys’ season.
Dez came up big again the next series – catching not only a 5-yard pass from Romo on first down, but also gaining 8 yards on 3rd and 5 to deny the Giants again.
Then, Garrett and Callahan suddenly remembered that Miles Austin was playing and wasn’t injured yet. They targeted him on two straight plays – the first a drop but then on 2nd down, Miles caught a huge 17-yard pass to keep the drive going. It was Miles only catch of the day. To say he is in the twilight of his career would be unbelievably kind – but I’m glad we had him on that play. The Cowboys were now at the Giant 28-yard line and forced the Giants to use a time out to stop the clock with 1:43 remaining. On a normal day, the ‘Boys were already in Dan Bailey’s range. But, on this windy day, there was nothing certain from 45 yards out.
But, the Cowboys weren’t done making us sweat this out. They ran DeMarco Murray for no gain on first down forcing the Giants to use their second time out. On 2nd down, the Cowboys hit another huge play to Dez Bryant inside the 10 but he could not hold on all the way to the ground – and likely a good thing it was ruled incomplete as a result. If it was ruled a catch and a fumble, it would have given the ball back to the Giants and overtime was the best we could hope for. If you are anything like me, you wanted nothing to do with overtime at this stage of the game. The Giants are like vampires and we needed to put a wooden stake squarely in their hearts and leave it there. So, we kept possession but were once again facing a critical 3rd and 10.
Time for Cole Beasley to make an appearance. Beasley and Romo connected for 13 yards down to the Giant 15-yard line getting not only a first down but allowing the Cowboys to do two consecutive kneel downs to burn the remaining time before calling their final time out and bringing Dan “Money” Bailey in for the game winner.
Huge win. Enormous. It puts the Cowboys back in the driver’s seat in the NFC East. It’s not to be overlooked either what a good omen it is that this win occurred at the site of Super Bowl XLVIII. Just sayin’. But, all is not necessarily well with the Cowboys and there should be a great deal of hand wringing about this Thursday’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders. As great as Sunday’s win was, a home loss to the Raiders – long counted as a win for the Cowboys – would give us much less to be thankful for on Turkey Day. It would put us back at the dreaded .500 mark and cancel out any momentum the Giants win provided. Here are just a few other thoughts:
> The Cowboys have a maddening tendency to play down to the level of their competition. The Raiders can play better than their 4-7 record indicates and this is not the “gimme” game we once thought it was.
> Our defense managed some critical goal line stands against the Giants holding them to field goals instead of touchdowns that would have most likely put this game out of reach. But this defense was GASHED time and again by the running game of the Giants. There were some embarrassingly huge holes as Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs ran free and untouched into our secondary. The Raiders are the 4th best rushing offense in the NFL through 11 games. The Giants – ranked 25th – ripped off a total of 202 yards rushing. That is not a good stat for the Cowboys as the Raider game could become a track meet.
> Matt McGloin will start this game - the Cowboys need to crowd the line with 8 in the box and make the rookie QB try to beat them. Stop Jennings and McFadden (finally likely to return) and we’d better be able to make life miserable for McGloin – confuse him and make him run for his life. If not, the remaining games and our record likely won’t matter much.
> Cowboys will wear their dark jerseys at home on Thursday. As any long time Cowboys fan knows, these jerseys are bad luck. Not excited about them wearing them at home.
Other notes: Glad to see the Cowboys re-sign Sterling Moore. He played relatively well when called upon last season and had a productive pre-season. I was a little surprised to see him not make the final 53;
The Alex Tanney being groomed as Romo’s eventual replacement story line hit a snag this week as Tanney was claimed by the Cleveland Browns off the Cowboys practice squad. Maybe now the front office will actually draft a viable future option at QB this coming April;
The Cowboys get a “mini bye” after the Raiders game not playing again until Monday, 12/9 in Chicago – that’s a full 10 days off and one more than their typical 9-days rest after the traditional Thanksgiving Day game. At this stage of the season, every day counts and they’ll need the time to prepare for the likely return of Jay Cutler for that MNF game.
Five games to go Cowboys fans! Strap in as it is going to be a bumpy ride. But, at least we are still in the post season mix! Please take care of business this Thursday and let me slip into a food coma with a smile on my face. Go Cowboys!