Here we go again. A scant 3 weeks ago we were talking about a must-win, Sunday night game against the Giants, and a chance to win the division and essentially lock up a playoff spot. Nothing much has changed at this point except that this time the game will be in New York (New Jersey actually) and it absolutely means win or go home. The winner will finish the regular season at 9-7, wins the NFC East, and the #4 seed in the playoffs including a home playoff game the following week. The loser will finish 8-8, watch the playoffs from their couch, and face an off-season full of doubts and questions.
Heading into this rematch, you can absolutely throw out last week’s game against the Eagles. It tells you nothing about our chances to win this week. The game was meaningless once the Giants beat the Jets, and as hard as it is to admit, the Eagles are just not a good match-up for this year’s version of our Cowboys. We did a much better job stopping the run this time around, but Vick was hardly pressured at all; he picked our suspect secondary apart with ease. If not for a fumble that rolled out of the end zone and a late blocked punt, it easily could have been a 27-0 blowout on top of the 34-7 pasting they already laid on us. The only satisfaction we can take from that game is that despite sweeping our season series, the Eagles are assured of sitting out the playoffs.
We may ultimately be right behind them after Sunday night’s NFL season finale. The Giants are certainly already making their playoff reservations and feel like their win in Dallas gives them all the momentum they need. But, I think that may be very premature.
I sat down and watched the entire week 14 game again and although I watched every second of the game live, I noticed some things this time around that made me shake my head in disbelief. Thoroughly enjoying their late 12-point lead, I had forgotten just what an awful start the Cowboys had in this week 14 game. It is simply amazing that we recovered from this:
Cowboys receive the opening kickoff and start at the 20; Romo nearly throws an interception on the first pass to Witten, run to DeMarco Murray for 3 yards, and then an incomplete pass to Austin where he ran the wrong route, and that pass was nearly intercepted. Three and out with a :53 time of possession and two near picks. Awful start.
After a Giants drive of 3:34 that stalled after 2 first downs (including a dropped pick 6 by Newman) the Cowboys take over on their own 8-yard line after the punt. They run one play to Murray for no gain and then Romo essentially falls down in the end zone evading the rush and records a safety for the Giants. 2-0 Giants. Two possessions, 3 yards, and a safety.
After the free kick, the Giants start at their own 29 and complete a 64-yard pass to Nicks on the 2nd play that gets them to the Cowboy 5-yard line. At that point, after two incomplete passes the defense stuffs a 3rd down run to force a short field goal. Giants lead 5-0 on the scoreboard but are dominating the Cowboys.
On their third possession, the Cowboys start again at their own 20 and finally get their first 1st down of the game with 6:30 left in the 1st quarter. On the 4th play of this drive however, they lose DeMarco Murray for the game and the season to a broken ankle. The Cowboys somehow recover to mount a 4:18 drive that ends in a 12-yard John Phillips screen pass for a touchdown and a 7-5 lead with 2:49 remaining in the quarter.
The first quarter ends with the Giants chewing up the remaining clock by gaining 3 first downs and a total of 58 yards to the Cowboys’ 22. This included completions to Nicks of 23 and 12 yards and a Jacobs run of 15 yards. The defense was being gashed and Brandon Jacobs eventually scored with 12:45 remaining in the 2nd Quarter on an easy 1-yard run helped out by a Mike Jenkins interference penalty in the end zone on a 3rd and goal play from the 6. 12-7 Giants.
To recap, the Cowboys 1st quarter consisted of 3 offensive possessions, a total time of possession of 5:50, 2 near picks, a safety, and a season-ending injury to their starting running back. On the defensive side of the ball, they allowed the Giants to hold the ball for 9:10, dropped an easy pick 6 interception, and gave up a 64-yard pass play. Amazingly, they also held a 7-5 lead.
The Giants scored first in the 2nd quarter on an 80-yard, 5:04 drive capped by Jacobs 1-yard run giving them a 12-7 lead at the 12:54 mark. The Cowboy offense finally started to show some consistent spark at that point behind the effective running of Felix Jones. On our 4th possession of the game, the Cowboys held the ball for 6:26 with Felix gaining 49 yards in 6 carries (+8 ypc). Dallas scored on an 8-yard pass to Laurent Robinson to take a 14-12 lead. But, the Cowboys in their all too familiar “one step forward, two steps back” style weren’t done yet making mistakes.
The Giants, behind now, started at their own 20 with 6:19 remaining in the half and moved to their 41. They faced a 3rd and 10 when Cruz dropped a pass for a critical incompletion. But, Victor Butler was called for defensive holding and extended the drive. After one more first down, the defense stiffened at the Cowboys 38 and forced an all too rare punt.
The Cowboys 5th possession started with 1:38 left in the half and the ball on their own 5. On the first play, Felix Jones fumbled launching the ball forward and the Giants recovered on our 14. To their credit, the defense after only a one-play, 13-second rest on the sidelines held the Giants to a field goal despite the short field. The Giants now held a 15-14 lead with 1:03 left in the half.
Remarkably, on their 6th possession Tony Romo used only :48 to move the Cowboys into position for a 49-yard FG thanks to a 40-yard completion to Robinson. Dan Bailey put the kick through the uprights to give the Cowboys a 17-15 lead at halftime. The first half stats could not have been more even with Dallas gaining a total of 204 yards and New York gaining 206 yards.
The Cowboys played much better in the 2nd half and were pulling away building a 12-point lead before disaster struck. They had several missed opportunities to put the game away:
- Giants were not moving the ball and with just under five minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter had a 2nd down and 22 at their own 36 after an intentional grounding call on Eli Manning. The defense gave up a 17-yard completion to Nicks and then completely blew the coverage on 3rd and 5 at the Dallas 47 allowing an uncovered Mario Manningham to walk into the end zone and cut the Dallas lead to 22-20 with 4:30 remaining. Cover that play and even if the Giants ultimately score on the drive, it would have consumed a lot more time and potentially prevented their last score.
- Leading 34-29 with 2:25 remaining in the game, Tony Romo faces a 3rd and 5 at the Dallas 25 and overthrows a wide open Miles Austin. Hit that one pass and either Austin scores (likely) or at least gets a first down and chews up clock.
- On 4th down, McBriar manages only a 35-yard punt giving the Giants great field position at their own 40. A “normal” McBriar punt would have given the Giants a longer field likely requiring more time.
- Manning starts that drive with a 23-yard completion to Ballard with the clock stopping at the two-minute warning. That puts the ball at the Dallas 37. DeMarcus Ware who had re-aggravated his neck stinger returned for the next play and jumped offside on a play that was a bad snap resulting in an 11-yard loss. It would have been 2nd and 21 at the Dallas 48 – extremely low probability of converting that. Instead, it was 1st and 5 at the 32.
- After an 8-yard pass to Victor Cruz, Manningham broke open again and dropped a sure touchdown pass with 1:27 remaining. Normally, that would be a good thing, but it ultimately delayed the inevitable and chewed up clock. Manning hit Ballard again for 18 yards down to the 1-yard line forcing a Cowboy timeout with 1:00 remaining. Again, it would have been better if Ballard had scored on that play. Jacobs was stopped on his first attempt which only forced Dallas to call another timeout. Scoring earlier on either of those plays would have preserved time and time outs for Dallas’ last drive.
- Finally, Dan Bailey hits the last second FG only to find the Giants had called time out. On his second attempt, the line breaks down and lets JPP break through for the block. Nothing is certain in a game like this, but I fully believe had the Cowboys gotten this game to overtime, they would have won it.
The bottom line of all this analysis is simply to reinforce the idea that despite losing the game, the Cowboys experienced more than their share of uncharacteristic and frankly unlucky plays. It’s part of the game so I’m not making excuses. But, in the rematch they have every chance to come out with a win this time simply by playing a similar game, avoiding the miscues, and taking advantage of the opportunities. If we can get off to a good start and not give the Giants any chance to get back into the game, I like our chances. Time will tell. We’ll know soon enough if this team has the heart of a warrior or is content to go out with a whimper.
Come on Cowboys! Let’s do this!