Memory Lane: Bengals-Cowboys 2008


“Recovering” is the key word for this week’s article.

“T.O. and Ochocinco exchange remarks in the Week 5 ’08 encounter.”

The 2008 Dallas Cowboys were recovering from their 26-24 Redskins defeat that had dropped them to 3-1 tied with Washington and a game behind the 4-0 Giants who were marching over their schedule like Brandon Jacobs on LaRon Landry. The author was recovering from some stomach flu brought on by bad Starbucks and a spoiled Jimmy Dean sausage and egg breakfast bowl. Or maybe it was spending $400 the previous week to take my dad to see the Cowboys blow it against the Redskins that caused me to hurl. Nonetheless, both the Cowboys and myself had to pay for the Washington game during the week. I had to work 16 hours in a 24-hour stretch to make up the lost time, and the Cowboys had to hear it from the mediots all week how they were in turmoil and the season was on the brink. Ed Werder started instigating trouble between Terrell Owens and the rest of the locker room, which prompted T.O. to say, “Next question” to every one of Werder’s inquiries from then on.

But we were both home: I in my college Fortress of Solitude, and the Cowboys in Texas Stadium. Bring on the Bengals.

Another gripe line going into the Bengals game was how the Cowboys defense didn’t have an interception up to that point. Never mind that they had 3 fumble recoveries to that point. No, because they didn’t have an interception, their defense was more passive and soft than Wade Phillips asking for a bucket of chicken.

Well, to start off the contest, on the game’s very first play, Greg Ellis picked off Carson Palmer and took the return to the Bengals 17. The Cowboys went 3-and-out, of course, but going 3-and-out in your opponent’s red zone isn’t that big of a problem, especially when stellar second-year kicker Nick Folk drills one from 30 yards out to put you up 3-0.

The Bengals weren’t able to move the ball on their second possession and had to punt it away to Dallas. Starting at their own 25, the Cowboys strided down the field in 10 plays to score a touchdown on a 33-yard toss to rookie runningback Felix Jones on a 4th and 4. It was Jones’ fourth touchdown in five games, and certainly a welcomed sight after offensive coordinator Jason Garrett didn’t give the kid one single carry against the Redskins. After the Cowboys added another 7 points after another 10-play drive culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten, things were really gliding smoothly for Dallas. They were up 17-0 in their own stadium on this first Sunday in October.

Sure, the Bengals got a 46-yard return to the Cowboys 48 and then added 3 points after an 8-play drive. Sure, the Bengals added 3 points before halftime thanks to a Tony Romo 6-yard scramble that resulted in a fumble recovery for Cincinnati. What could possibly go wrong?

When T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer after a 12-play drive wherein the Bengals only faced 2 first downs, that’s when things were starting to look wrong. Yeah, the Cowboys were still ahead 17-13, but the way the Bengals offense was moving the ball on this vaunted Dallas defense looked most trepidating. At least the Cowboys offense could be counted on to extend the margin.

Not really. The Cowboys only advanced the ball 21 yards in 6 plays before punting it back to the Bengals. The good news is Mat McBriar backed the Bengals up inside their own 10. The better news was a false start backed them up inside their own 5. It was easy pickings to force a punt at this point. The bad news is Marion Barber fumbled after gaining 3 yards to the Cincinnati 46. The worst news is Tony Romo threw an interception three plays later to close out the 3rd quarter.

Keith Rivers picked off the ball at the Cincinnati 20 and returned it to the Cowboys 41. Carson Palmer immediately threw a 19-yard completion to Chad Johnson on Pacman Jones. The Cowboys defense stiffened, but the damage was done. Shayne Graham attempted his third field goal of the day and made it 17-16 Cowboys. But probably his best kick of the day was an onside kick that the Bengals recovered early in the 4th quarter. They had just scored and now they had the ball close to midfield.

Now, you could panic.

And why not? These weren’t the 2009 Bengals that started off 3-1 with a shocking come-from-behind win against Pittsburgh. No, these were the 0-4 Bengals, you know, the kind of Bengals the rest of the NFL is used to. These were the 3-1 Cowboys and their 13 Pro Bowlers. Cincinnati was supposed to lie down and die; make their way towards extinction like their mascot. They weren’t supposed to put up a fight, not hear in Texas Stadium.

Ol’ “Mo[mentum]” started to put on a Cowboy Star three plays into that Bengals drive as Chris Perry fumbled a carry that future Bengal defensive lineman Tank Johnson would recover. The Cowboys offense didn’t waste any time. In two plays, Tony Romo found Terrell Owens on a 57-yard touchdown that was mostly yards after the catch for T.O. The Cowboys went back up 24-16 to take a comfortable 8-point lead with close to 12 minutes left to play.

It would be comfortable if the Cowboys special teams knew how to keep the Bengals from returning the ball more than 25 yards on a return. Third-year wide receiver Glenn Holt had taken this return 60 yards to the Cowboys 37 — the Cowboys 37! This was awful special teams play by Bruce Read, the only man outside of 1987 and a late night edition of Cold Case Files to still sport a bowl cut/mullet. Naturally, the Bengals marched down the short field and scored a touchdown. Again, it was T.J. Houshmandzadeh who caught the grab. Ol’ Chad Johnson hadn’t yet made good on his promise to dance on the Star. Tight end Ben Utecht didn’t make good on a two-point conversion, so at least the Cowboys were ahead 24-22.

There was 7:34 left and the Cowboys were starting at their own 20 — check that — their own 15. Tony Romo didn’t snap the ball in time so Bill Leavy called him for delay of game. All they needed to do was play smart football and score something, anything. If they even got a lousy field goal, that would put them up by five points and force the Bengals to score a touchdown to win. Oh, that sounds awful. A touchdown to win? For the stinkin’ 0-4 Bengals? What happened to this notion of just crushing them 34-9 and getting ready for the Cardinals?

People gave Marion Barber a lot of grief for his contract extension he received in the off-season preceding 2008. They claimed that he got soft after signing that paycheck. That’s not entirely true. There was a period there in 2008 before Leonard Davis stomped on his pinky toe in the Thanksgiving Day game against the Seahawks that year that Barber just closed out games. This was one of those times; just look at the play-by-play. Barber was running off that right side, picking up yardage, and melting 40 precious seconds with each carry. Felix Jones even got in on it for 25 total yards and a facemask. This was the time when it really counted to play smart football, as the Cowboys were now in the Bengals red zone with close to 2:00 left.

With 1st and 10 from the Bengals 14, Barber ran to the left side, which never produced in 2008 thanks to Cory Proctor not being as good as the injured Kyle Kosier, for no gain. At least the Bengals called a timeout. Tony Romo took a sack for a yard loss, and the Bengals let the time go down to the two-minute warning.

It was 3rd down and 11.

Tony Romo took the shotgun snap and saw Miles Austin after the first down marker and close to the end zone, so Romo fired the ball in there. Austin let the ball slip through his hands, but thankfully Patrick Crayton was running a parallel route and caught the errant pass for six points. An extra point put the Cowboys up by nine with about 1:50 remaining.

The game was in hand by that point. Palmer led the Bengals on a 7-play drive that resulted in a turnovers on downs. Two Tony Romo kneel-downs ended the game harmoniously, because Greg Schiano was still at Rutgers, and the Cowboys went to 4-1 on the season. It was an ugly 4-1 that left some Cowboys fans in a state of discontent.

That was Tony Romo’s last October win of 2008. It wasn’t because he lost any other games, but because he broke one of his metacarpals in his right hand the next week against the Cardinals. Felix Jones pulled a hamstring and then was out for the year while injuring his toe rehabbing from the hamstring. Go figure. Mat McBriar broke his foot. Jerry Jones’ hands shaking accidentally pressed the panic button and sent a 1st, 3rd, and 7th to Detroit for receiver Roy Williams, making it the best front office move of the Matt Millen era. Oh, wait. Matt Millen had already been gone from Detroit a month.

Dallas spiraled out of control, and then righted itself for a three-game winning streak before Terrell Owens went ape-grape insane after the Steelers loss. Dallas finished 9-7 on the year. Terrell Owens went to Buffalo in 2009, and eventually ended up in Cincinnati in 2010. So did Pacman Jones, who still remains with the team. Oh, I’m sorry. “Adam” Jones went to the Bengals while Pacman is still stuffed in an arcade machine in Valley Ranch somewhere, according to Marvin Lewis this week.

Marvin Lewis gets his teams ready to play every Sunday. That’s what we saw in 2008 when they were 0-4. Given the Bengals are 7-5 and playing for a wild card spot, or even the division since they face the Steelers and Ravens later this month, they will be ready to play us in Paul Brown Stadium. And they won’t be a pushover. If anything, the Cowboys need to go into The Jungle with the same intensity and confidence the ’08 Bengals had coming into Texas Stadium. Except, instead of having costly giveaways, the Cowboys need to play smarter football than their ’08 predecessors in order to give Santa Claus a reason to pack that bag and come on to Dallas this year.