The Dallas Cowboys held off the surging Miami Dolphins to escape with a narrow victory on Thanksgiving day, 20-19. Rookie Dan Bailey kicked his second straight game-winning field goal with a mere three second left on the clock to extend the Cowboys winning streak to four games. It also effectively ended the Dolphins own three game winning streak.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo struggled early on, throwing two interceptions. But it was a bad snap by Miami’s offense and the resulting fumble recovery by Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware that turned the tide. That turnover in the second quarter lead to the games’ first score that wasn’t a field goal, when Romo scrambled to find wideout Laurent Robinson in the endzone. Robinson would score two touchdowns on the day.
Miami Quarterback Matt Moore was very effective moving the ball the entire game as Dallas’ defense struggled to pressure him in the pocket. But the Dolphins were relegated to field goals until late in the third quarter, when Moore found wideout Brandon Marshall in the endzone. Marshall had a great day with five reception for 103 yards and the touchdown. Last week against the Bills, Marshall recorded just one reception for five yards.
Dallas’ defense continued their declining play as Miami’s receivers were constantly getting wide open. And without pocket pressure, Moore was dissecting the Cowboy’s weaken secondary. Cornerback Mike Jenkins is still out with a hamstring injury. And safety Gerald Sensabaugh played with a foot injury he sustained in Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
5’10 cornerback Terence Newman had a hard time covering the 6’4 Marshall in one on one match-ups. And cornerback Alan Ball looked utterly lost. I honestly think Ball would be cut tomorrow if Dallas wasn’t in such desperate need for experienced players in their secondary. And corner Orlando Scandrick plays like a bona fide starter at times. Then at other times, he plays like a bench player.
The cracks in this Rob Ryan defense, who started the season off so well, are starting to show…and expand! Expect more close games like this one if the defensive front line struggles to get to the quarterback like they did today. Ware did manage to get his fifteenth sack of the season but it was taken away due to a penalty in the secondary. But linebackers Sean Lee and Anthony Spencer seemed to pick up the slack and helped to keep Miami’s backfield threat, Reggie Bush, to under 100 yards total.
One other glaring problem all game for the Cowboys were penalties. Specifically on the offensive line. Tackle Doug Free had three penalties called on him alone. Free, the sole veteran on an offensive line full of inexperienced players, has struggled with this issue in other games this year. Is it possible that Free is the weakest link on the young O-line? I don’t know but there is one thing for sure: He should know better.
Despite the turnovers and penalties, Romo was able to pull out the win. There were times when Romo made a big play when any other quarterback in the league would have given up or conceded. He was constantly being rushed and pressured outside of the pocket. It is a credit to Miami’s defense and especially LB Cameron Wake, who played lights out.
But Romo stole the show with a game winning drive in the fourth quarter with less then three minutes left in the game. Two critical passes to TE Jason Witten and the consistent running of rookie sensation DeMarco Murray helped steal the victory. Murray ended the day with 87 yards on the ground and four catches for 41 yards by air.
Dallas’ running game has struggled the last two weeks without fullback Tony Fiammetta in the line-up. The former Carolina Panther has been out due to an unspecified illness. Another topic of note in the backfield is Felix Jones. The starting running back at the beginning of the season did not record a single rushing attempt today. Instead, Jones saw a majority of his action on special teams as the kick returner. This is a clear statement of just how much the team values Murray’s recent impact.
Wideout Dez Bryant disappeared again today. Bryant has a tendency to come on early and then disappear until the final moments of the game. Then he usually steps up to make a big play to help win the game, which he did again today. Bryant had a critical 20 yard punt return to set up great field position on the game-winning drive. On the day, he recorded just three receptions for 35 yards.
Romo finished the day going 22 of 34 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He continued to prove that the team’s playoffs hopes sit squarely sit his shoulders. In today’s game, he illustrated the best and the worst of himself as a player. When Romo is off, he’s a turnover machine. When he is on, Romo can make plays nobody else would even attempt. It’s always been a roller coaster ride with Romo, but as long as the Cowboys are winning it’s a ride Dallas fans are willing to stand in line for.
On a final note, is it just me or is CBS Commentator Phil Simms the most biased broadcaster in sports? He clearly has a distaste for the Cowboys declaring the game a “devastating loss for Dallas” before it was even finished. I suppose it’s a “once a New York Giant, always a New York Giant” thing. But how about you show a little professionalism? Take a note or two from Troy Aikman and Daryl “The Moose” Johnston. Those two never let their past effect their jobs as commentators and you know those dudes both bleed blue and silver. That’s why Michael Irvin doesn’t do game commentary. He’s too much of a Dallas Cowboy to be unbiased. Simms should instead be sitting beside “loud-mouthed” Shannon Sharpe and “I’ve been hit too much in the head” Dan Marino and simply avoid the broadcasting booth entirely.
The Cowboys are now 7-4 and take a game and a half lead over the New York Giants in the NFC East. The G-men will play the New Orleans Saints at home on Monday night. Dallas will now have 10 days before facing the 3-7 Arizona Cardinals at home.